Tropical Botany and Ethnobotany Field Course in Panama

Future Course Dates TBA

Bocas del Toro Archipelago, Panama, Central America

Porfirio teaching

This 2 week intensive field course will cover Ethnobotany in the context of tropical rainforest and island ecosystems. The material covered is equivalent to an upper level university course in Ethnobotany. The course explores the biocultural diversity of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago with visits to communities on 3 different islands.  Readings and lectures will focus on the plant use and traditional cultures of Panama and the surrounding regions of Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, as well as innovative methodologies and current theory in the discipline of Ethnobotany.

Much of the course is spent learning field techniques and carrying out various class activities and exercises in the surrounding rainforests and local indigenous communities. The course will include demonstrations by traditional healers, herbalists, artisans, and other specialists who utilize plants.  Students will have the opportunity to gain research experience through fieldwork in the local communities, that will contribute to our long-term ethnobotanical research program.

Oreba cacao farm

Topics Include:
- Cultures of Bocas del Toro and Panama
- Tropical Plant and Forest Ecology
- Neotropical Plant Families
- Traditional Medical Systems
- Spiritual Healing Practices
- Non-Timber Forest Products
- Biocultural Diversity Conservation
- Wild Foods and Traditional Diets
- Cacao Biology and Chocolate Culture
- Psychoactive Plants of the Neotropics
- Plant Collecting, Pressing and Drying
- Interviewing and Ethnographic Methods
- Ethical Considerations in Ethnobotany


Ethnobotany Faculty:
Jillian De Gezelle, PhD
North Carolina State University

Botany Faculty:
Jessica Peak, MSc

market survey

Required Textbooks: 

Martin, Gary J. 2004. Ethnobotany: A Methods Manual. Plants and People Conservation Series. Earthscan Publications: London and Sterling, VA.

Sample of Additional Course Readings:

Bletter, N. 2006. Talking Books: A New Method of Returning Ethnobiological Research Documentation to the Non-Literate. Economic Botany 60(1):85-90.

Fuller, R.J.M. 2007. Guidelines for Using Video to Document Plant Practices. Ethnobotany Research & Applications 5:219-231.

Gupta, M.P. et al. 2005. Medical Ethnobotany of the Teribes of Bocas del Toro, Panama. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 96:389-401.

Lincoln, K. and B. Orr. 2011. The Use and Cultural Significance of the Pita Plant (Aechmea magdalenae) among Ngobe Women of Chalite, Panama. Economic Botany 65(1):13-26.

NSF. 2003. Intellectual Imperatives in Ethnobiology. Missouri Botanical Garden.

Prance, G.T. et al. 2007. Ethnobotany, the Science of Survival: A Declaration from Kaua’i. Economic Botany 61(1):1-2.

Thomas, E., I. Vandebroek, and P. Van Damme. 2007. What Works in the Field? A Comparison of Different Interviewing Methods in Ethnobotany with Special Reference to the Use of Photographs. Economic Botany 61(4):376-384.

holiday hike

Prerequisites: This course is open to students from all post-secondary levels, from early undergraduates to graduate students, looking for field experience and/or a study site. The course is also open to individuals who are not enrolled in an academic program, who are interested in learning Ethnobotany.

Course Length and Schedule: The Ethnobotany field course is two weeks in length.

Tuition: TBD. Tuition for the course includes all room and board on Isla Colon during the two weeks of the course, as well as costs for all the course activities.

Course Credit: Up to four units of credit will be granted for this course. Credit must be arranged by the student through their academic advisor and university. Contact TCC for more details and the Course Credit Package.

Past Student References: Please contact if you seek previous student references for the Ethnobotany course.

Contact: Dr. Jillian De Gezelle -

To apply, please follow this link to the TCC-Ethnobotany Field Course Application

porfirio la loma