Ethnobotanist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an ethnobotanist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and recommended skills to find out if this is the career for you.

Ethnobotanists do fieldwork and lab research, working with indigenous groups to study their native plant life. Ethnobotanists gather samples and analyze them, record other data, and make reports. An ethnobotanist commonly holds an appropriate graduate degree, though a bachelor's degree can suffice for this job.

Essential Information

Ethnobotanists study how people from specific areas or cultures use indigenous plants. They do much of their work in the field, building relationships with local medical practitioners and studying the local plant life; however, they may also teach college-level courses and perform lab research. It is common for ethnobotanists to have graduate degrees, and their studies generally combine botany with other disciplines that focus on human history, culture and society.

Required Education Most have a graduate degree
Other Requirements Ability to learn other languages is highly valuable
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 7% for soil and plant scientists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $60,050 for soil and plant scientists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Ethnobotanists

The field of ethnobotany focuses on how native plants are used by certain populations for cooking, healing, hunting, building and wearing, as well as for ceremonial purposes. Ethnobotanists often travel to perform their fieldwork and research. While in the field, they collaborate with shamans, healers and specialists, such as doctors trained in traditional and modern medicine. They also spend time in the lab studying plants under a microscope. Because of the required level of education required for the profession, ethnobotanists could teach at the university level.

No specific employment information for ethnobotanists is provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, they do predict that job opportunities for soil and plant scientists, a broad field that covers ethnobotany, will increase by 7% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median yearly wage for these scientists was $60,050.

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Ethnobotanist Job Duties

Ethnobotanists study the botanical practices of the native people of a region, collect samples of plant material and record information about plant use. They assist physicians in the field by compiling information on diseases, such as herpes or hepatitis. They then show this information to healers and shamans to find out what native plants are used for healing these diseases within a community, tribe or culture. Ethnobotanists are usually expected to write about their research for publication in scientific journals.

Ethnobotanist Job Requirements

Because ethnobotanists often work outdoors in remote locations, they need to be able to handle primitive conditions and extreme weather. They must build trust with the indigenous people they're observing. Ethnobotanists must have the patience to withstand long hours in the field taking notes and collecting plant specimens.

Education Requirements

The National Health Museum stated that ethnobotanists usually have a background in biology or botany, but may do supplemental graduate work in other disciplines, including anthropology, archeology, linguistics, history and sociology (www.accessexcellence.org). Most have a master's or doctoral degree. Many schools offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs in botany, but a small number of ethnobotany programs are also available at both levels.

Bachelor's degree programs in botany offer coursework in plant anatomy and structure, algae and fungi, plant-insect interactions, marine plants, ecology and plant geography. Ethnobotany programs typically include similar coursework, but students also study cultural anthropology, economic botany, medicinal plants, sociology of religion, and field methods in ethnography. Graduate programs in botany provide more in-depth study of the same topics presented in undergraduate botany programs. Students studying ethnobotany at the graduate level generally focus on field research preparation, including documentation techniques, project development and data analysis.

A college degree in biology, botany, or sometimes ethnobotany, is required for this occupation. An ethnobotanist must also have a tolerance for working outdoors in varied weather conditions and be able to communicate with people of different cultures.


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