Economic Botany Data Standard


Studies on the uses of plants are becoming increasingly important. Standardisation of terms and a unified system to describe uses are of enormous benefit to gatherers of information, especially where exchanges of data sets are involved. One such standard is

Cook, F.E.M. (1995). Economic Botany Data Collection Standard. Prepared for the International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases for Plant Sciences (TDWG). Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1995. x + 146 pp. 15. ISBN 0947643710.

The standard provides a system whereby uses of plants (in their cultural context) can be described, using standardised descriptors and terms, and attached to taxonomic data sets. It resulted from discussions at the International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases for Plant Sciences (TDWG) between 1989 and 1992.


Users and potential users of the standard include:

  1. economic botanists and ethnobotanists whose purpose is to record all known information about the uses of a taxon;
  2. educationalists, taxonomists, biochemists, anatomists etc. who wish to record plant use, often at a broad level;
  3. economic botany collection curators who need to describe accurately the uses and values of specimens in their collections;
  4. bibliographers who need to describe plant uses referred to in publications and to apply keywords consistently for ease of data retrieval.


Since the publication of the standard, efforts have been made to evaluate just how useful the standard has been and what future developments to facilitate users should occur. The results of a questionnaire circulated to users are reported in the TDWG Economic Botany Subgroup Report, 1999. Respondents to the questionnaire and the attendees at the 1999 TDWG meeting strongly urged that the Economic Botany Data Collection Standard should be available on the web by the TDWG meeting in 2000 and that information regarding how the standard might be implemented should be made available also. This web publication hopes to satisfy these needs.

The example of implementation of the Economic Botany Data Collection Standard deals with Levels 1-3 of the standard. It shows how the use of a plant can be described and linked to a taxon name. This is the major part of the standard but the standard also includes descriptors that are known as Stand-Alone Use Descriptors and Notes Categories. Both these are used to describe and record information on use-related properties or characteristics of a plant that may help to evaluate individual uses or overall value. The standard states that the these are an adjunct to the main three level system of the standard and so information on implementation of these is not given here.


It is hoped that the example of implementation of the Economic Botany Data Collection Standard will help potential users to use the standard in their own economic botany databases. For clarification of computing and implementation details or if you have suggestions of how to further improve interpretation of the standard, including information on uses that are currently difficult to describe using the standard, and any required additions or suggested changes to the details of the standard please email us: The more specific the comments the better! We would also be very pleased to hear about your experiences in using and implementing the Economic Botany Data Collection Standard.