Botanical Knowledge of a Group of College Students in South Carolina, U.S.A.

Gail E. Wagner

Abstract


Thirty-one 18-22-year-old college students in South Carolina, U.S.A., were asked to freelist garden flowers, local grasses, local crops, and native/local trees, vines, and wildflowers/weeds. Answers were scored as correct, wrong, or inappropriate. Whereas the students could list an average of 9.0 crops, 8.4 trees, and 5.4 garden flowers correctly, they could list only 1.9 vines, 1.7 wildflowers/weeds, and 1.4 grasses correctly. Incorrect answers (answers that were wrong or inappropriate) were listed by 22.5% to 58.0% of the students depending on the domain. The types of incorrect answers given indicate a fuzzy understanding or knowledge of local ecology, plant morphology or habit, and domesticated versus wild or weedy status. Results indicate the solicited life forms or domains of plants hold unequal cultural saliency for this selection of students. Knowledge appears highest for crops, trees (particularly planted trees), and showy garden flowers, reflecting highest familiarity with the surrounding managed landscape and least familiarity with wild and less noticeable vegetation. Some answers reflect vicarious knowledge of plants rather than knowledge gained through direct experience. This study points out the need to carefully consider which domains of plant knowledge should be compared cross-culturally, and the need to quantify and examine incorrect as well as correct answers.

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Ethnobotany Research and Applications (ISSN 1547-3465) is published online by the Department of Ethnobotany, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University.
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