Costa Rican Plants

Date: 1908
Owner: H.L. and J.B. McQueen
Source Type: Images


Henri Pittier's Ensayo sobre las plantas usuales de Costa Rica (1908) was one of many national floras (books about plants) sponsored by Latin American countries circa 1885-1935. Prior to this time, the best works on Latin American plants were made by European specialists who traveled to the region to extract natural knowledge and publicize it in Europe. Costa Rica was one of the first Latin American countries to create national floras, works that categorized plant life by national boundaries and sought to make plants known and useful to the nation. Just as fin-de-siecle nations increased the state's power to observe and classify its citizens (see the Criminology topic for more on this) so too did governments try to bring nature into the national political and economic systems.

These national floras were both works of botany and lists of known and potential economic resources. They were not, then, purely "scientific" but sought to apply botany as a useful science. For example, the second page of this source describes medicinal plants and the third describes some ways that cacao could bolster the Costa Rican economy.

Pittier, a Swiss naturalist, was one of several foreign experts invited by Latin American countries to survey and study their natural resources and set up scientific institutions that would encourage and facilitate the sciences. Although Pittier's Instituto Fisico-geografico was short lived (see the Museums topic), he did produce three major floras for Costa Rica as well as several maps and ethnographic studies.

Reference: McCook, Stuart George. States of Nature: Science, Agriculture, and Environment in the Spanish Caribbean, 1760-1940. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

CITATION: Pittier, Henri. Ensayo sobre las plantas usuales de Costa Rica. Washington, D.C.: H.L. and J.B. McQueen, 1908.