The Work of the Centre for Economic Botany
(With Particular Reference to Orchids)
Please note: The nature of this article means that since it's publication in September 1998 much of the information will have changed. For the latest information about the Centre for Economic Botany please visit the latest CEB web pages.
Economic botany has always been a key aspect of Kew's science and the Centre for Economic Botany (CEB) provides a focal point for current research into useful and potentially useful plants. The building which houses the CEB is named after Kew's most famous economic botanist, Sir Joseph Banks. This building also houses more than 73,500 botanical samples and artefacts, a collection originally conceived by the first official Director of Kew, Sir William J. Hooker, in 1847 to "render great service, not only to the scientific botanist, but to the merchant, the manufacturer, the physician, the chemist, the druggist, the dyer, the carpenter and the cabinet maker and artisans of every description, who might here find the raw materials employed in their several professions correctly named".
Almost 150 years later the significance of this statement is more apparent than ever, given increasing awareness of the importance of plants as sources of useful raw materials, and the Economic Botany Collections form an important component of Kew's scientific collections. Orchids are represented in the Collections by over 150 items representing a very diverse range of taxa. Some of the interesting items include medicinal tea from Jumellea fragrans; a tobacco pipe from Grand Caymen Island, formed from the pseudobulb of Schomburgkia thomsoniana; and fibres from many species including Cyrtopodium andersonii and Diplocaulobium solomonense. Medicinal species are also well represented, including Orchis, Ophrys, and Gastrodia species.
CEB is currently involved in a wide range of research projects, particularly in the UK and tropical dryland regions. Current projects include:
CEB also plays in major role in the collection and dissemination of information about useful plants throughout the world. Using the unique resources available at Kew, staff in the CEB are able to provide comprehensive, authoritative answers to many questions concerning economic plants. Around 700 enquiries are answered each year, and this number is growing rapidly. Enquiries are handled from the public, scientific and commercial bodies, and charges are made on a consultancy basis where appropriate. A prime source of information, which enables staff to answer such enquiries, is the Economic Botany Bibliographic Database. This contains over 156,000 literature references covering the uses of plants from around the world (excluding major crop species); there are estimated to be over 600 references to orchids in the database. It provides instant and flexible access to detailed information; searches are possible by species, vernacular names, geographical area, uses and/or properties, or indeed any combination of these parameters. The depth and breadth of the database's focus on plant uses are unique.
From this issue of the Orchid Research Newsletter onwards, recent literature on useful orchids will be extracted from the Economic Botany Bibliographic Database and added to the existing bibliography.
If you require further details on any aspect of the work of the CEB please contact:
Tel: +44 (0)181 332 5719; fax +44 (0)181 332 5768
World-Wide Web http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ceb
News from Correspondents
Update on Reference Collections of Orchid Flowers
Last Updated September 3, 1998.
© Copyright The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.