ETHNOBOTANY- Rotenone

With the help of chemistry and a little human ingenuity, a potent rainforest plant is becoming increasingly important around the world. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

“Amerindian peoples in the Amazon have long used the Rotenone vine to stun fish. They crush it up, throw it into the water; the fish come to the surface because they can’t inhale the oxygen through their gills and the Indians pick them off with their bows and their arrows.”

Mark Plotkin is Executive Director of the Amazon Conservation Team, a group which studies traditional uses of rainforest plants, including Rotenone.

“In World War Two, American soldiers used Rotenone to kill lice in the foxholes and the trenches. So we know that not only does this stuff stun fish, it also has a lethal impact on certain types of insects. Now it is very important as a biodegradable pesticide. Given the absolutely mushrooming interest in organic agriculture, Rotenone becomes more important than ever before on a global basis. So what’s important here is that something which is used by indigenous peoples– whether it’s in the Northeastern US or in the southeastern Amazon– may have a very different, yet important use in our own culture. It’s not just a question of inventing new chemicals in the lab, it’s taking what Mother Nature has provided through three billion years of chemistry and putting it to a use which benefits our own species.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

ETHNOBOTANY- Rotenone

Thanks to an ancient fishing technique, the Amazonian Rotenone vine has found new use as an effective pesticide.
Air Date:11/12/1999
Scientist:
Transcript:

With the help of chemistry and a little human ingenuity, a potent rainforest plant is becoming increasingly important around the world. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

"Amerindian peoples in the Amazon have long used the Rotenone vine to stun fish. They crush it up, throw it into the water; the fish come to the surface because they can't inhale the oxygen through their gills and the Indians pick them off with their bows and their arrows."

Mark Plotkin is Executive Director of the Amazon Conservation Team, a group which studies traditional uses of rainforest plants, including Rotenone.

"In World War Two, American soldiers used Rotenone to kill lice in the foxholes and the trenches. So we know that not only does this stuff stun fish, it also has a lethal impact on certain types of insects. Now it is very important as a biodegradable pesticide. Given the absolutely mushrooming interest in organic agriculture, Rotenone becomes more important than ever before on a global basis. So what's important here is that something which is used by indigenous peoples-- whether it's in the Northeastern US or in the southeastern Amazon-- may have a very different, yet important use in our own culture. It's not just a question of inventing new chemicals in the lab, it's taking what Mother Nature has provided through three billion years of chemistry and putting it to a use which benefits our own species."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.