Kent Ethnobotany: tracking literature on the Web

This is a page of useful links for Ethnobotany MSc students in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kent. Botanical and ethnobotanical literature is increasingly available on the Web: these pages offer pointers on locating citations and equally usefully) getting hold of books or papers once you know of them.

Any problems, or when you come up against something truly not available through the web, contact me at m.nesbitt (@)

Mark Nesbitt

Page revised 10 Oct 2012

Plant names

Before searching for information about a plant, it's vital to be sure you are using a correctly spelt and up-to-date plant name. There is no universal list of plant names that tells you which are in use ("accepted names") and which are obsolete ("synonyms"). Instead, ethnobotanists need to turn to regional or thematic checklists of accepted names. However, bear in mind that an accepted name in one checklist may not be an accepted name in another. This doesn't matter; so long as you are using an up-to-date checklist. If using the name in writing, it's a good idea to refer to the source of the plant names you are using (i.e. give the citation).

Universal checklist

The Plant List

Combines a variety of datbases into one. To be used with caution, can give ambiguous results or "name unresolved".

Catalogue of Life

Combines a variety of datbases into one.

Thematic checklists

GRIN (Genetic Resources Information Network)

Very useful, fast, checklist of c. 60,000 economically important plant species. Searchable by botanical and common names. Accepted names in bold.

Mansfeld database

6000 species of cultivated species. With useful supplementary data.

Kew World Checklist

Accepted names for mononcots and some dicot families. A growing resource.

ILDIS (International Legume Database & Information Service)

Accepted names for all members of the (Fabaceae) Leguminosae family.

IPNI (International Plant Names Index)

A list of all plant names ever published, whether accepted or not. To be used with great caution; not a guide to accepted names.

Regional checklists


Accepted names of New World plants, from the Missouri Botanic Garden.


Trees and shrubs of the Andes of Ecuador

Flora of Chile

Flora of China

Vascular Plants of Madagascar

Annotated Checklist of the Flowering Plants of Nepal

Flora of North America

Flora of Pakistan

Checklist of the flora of Britain & Ireland (includes common names)

See also online key.

Flora Europaea

Flora of Australia Online

Flora of New Zealand and Checklist

African Flowering Plants Database

Online version of 3 regional checklists, not fully integrated with each other. Most up-to-date for tropical and southern Africa.

JSTOR Plant Science

Very rich online resource with online herbarium specimens and texts for Africa, South America and Asia (including The useful plants of west tropical Africa). Search by genus/species name. Free access from Kent computers or VPN

Flora Zambesiaca online

Google offers a quick way of checking spellings & popularity of different names - use with caution!

Conservation status

Be familiar with IUCN conservation categories which you can check for a species at the (very incomplete) IUCN Red list - e.g. try searching sandalwood, Santalum album. Red Lists are also compiled for countries but these are rarely online (but the UK's Red List is available).

CITES listings are also a useful indicator of conservation status. See the UK CITES website and in particular Annex A & B in the Checklist (in the EU these replace the more usual Appendices I & II).

Finding citations

If working off-campus, be sure to access subscription databases through the Templeman Library website (Online Resources).

General databases

Web of Science (Science Citation Index)

Offers powerful search facilities on cited references. Try "Related records".

Google Scholar

Innovative search of scholarly literature on the web. Sometimes contains useful links to freely available online offprints. NB - if used on a Kent computer or VPN, you should be able to click through to any articles included in Kent subscriptions.


Article information taken from over 25,000 multidisciplinary journals. Copntains direct links to articles.

A variety of journal hosting services including AnthroSource, BioOne, Cambridge University Press, ScienceDirect, HighWire Press, JSTOR, MUSE, SpringerLink, and Wiley journals.

Specialist databases

KBD Kew Bibliographic Databases

Comprehensive record of taxonomic literature 1974-2009; selected ethnobotanical literature to 2003. Good for older references.


AGRICOLA (AGRICultural OnLine Access) is a database of bibliographic records created by the National Agricultural Library and its cooperators since 1979. The records describe publications and resources encompassing all aspects of agriculture and allied disciplines.

Anthropological Index

Covers 750 journals received by the Department of Ethnography of the British Museum. No subject keywording, so restricted search capability.

Native American Ethnobotany Database

Including foods, drugs, dyes, fibers and other uses of plants (a total of over 44,000 items). This represents uses by 291 Native American groups of 4,029 species from 243 different plant families. Based on American Indian Ethnobotany by Daniel Moerman.

Psychedelic Bibliography


Produced by the National Library of Medicine's premier bibliographic database covering the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, and the preclinical sciences. MEDLINE contains bibliographic citations and author abstracts from more than 4,000 biomedical journals published in the United States and 70 other countries. The file contains over 10 million citations dating back to 1966 to the present. Omits many medicinal plant journals.

Only available on Kew machines

CAB Abstracts

Covers the significant research and development literature in the fields of agriculture, forestry, aspects of human health, human nutrition, animal health and the management and conservation of natural resources. Very comprehensive.

Getting hold of papers - some hints