Economic botany is the study of plants, fungi, algae and bacteria that directly or indirectly, positively or adversely affect man, his livestock, and the maintenance of the environment. The effects may be domestic, commercial, environmental, or purely aesthetic.
The direct effects refer to the use of food, fibre, fuel, medicine, etc. while the indirect effects can, for example, reflect otherwise plants that harbour beneficial pollinators, while the adverse effects recognize the non-beneficial role of weeds, pathogenic fungi, drugs, etc.
- Economic botany is a multidisciplinary study that involves not only the purely botanical disciplines of taxonomy, ecology, physiology, cytology, biochemistry, pathology, etc. but to some extent also those aspects of agriculture, forestry and horticulture concerned with plant breeding, propagation, cultivation, harvesting, manufacture and the economics of production and marketing.
- Other disciplines where plant life impacts man’s survival and well-being include archaeology and palaeoarchacology, anthropology, sociology, economic history, economic geography, conservation, etc.
- Even a basic knowledge of the etymology of scientific and vernacular names and plant products can reveal important information on former usage, development, product definition and past distribution of a species.
Useful Plant Products
- Fibre (cloth, gunny bags, rope, cordage, matting, canvas, carpet etc.)
- Wood (furniture, boat building, bridge building, railway sleepers, fuel etc.)
- Tannins and dyes
- Essential oil, fatty oil, vegetable fat
- Tea, coffee, cocoa
- Spice, condiments
- Cork etc.
Aside from their value as sources of food, drugs and many of the raw materials of industrialism, plants are important to man in many other ways. For example,
- the role of colourless plants in the economy of nature;
- the part that bacterial play in diseases and many industries; and
- the effects of forests and other types of natural vegetation in controlling floods and soil erosion are very important.
Important Plants & Plant Products
1. Food plants,
2. Plants and plant products of industrial uses,
3. Medicinal plants and drugs,
4. Food adjuncts and
5. Lower plants in economic botany.
1. Food Plants
(i) Cereals and Millets
Cereals (6 major types): Rice (Oryza sativa) wheat (Triticum aestivum), maize (Zea mays) barley (Hordeum vulgare), oat (Avena sativa), rye (Secale cereale).
Millets: Sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), finger millet (Eleusine coracana), Italian millet (Setaria italica).
(ii) Legumes and Nuts
Legume (Pulse): Lentil (Lens culinaris), Golden gram (Vigna radiata), Gram (Cicer arietinum), Black gram (Vigna mungo), Pea (Pisum sativum), Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan).
Nut: Chestnut (Castanea sativa), peanut (Arachis hypogaea), Cashewnut (Anacardium occidentale), almond (Prunus amygdalus), coconut (Cocos nucifera).
Potato (Solanum tuberosum), tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum), brinjal (Solanum melongena), gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), bitter gourd (Momordica charantea).
Tropical fruits: Mango (Mangifera indica), banana (Musa sapientum), litchi (Litchi chinensis), orange (Citrus sinensis), guava (Psidium guajava), papaya (Carica papaya), pineapple (Ananas comosus).
Temperate fruits: Apple (Malus pumila), pear (Pyrus communis), peach (Prunus persica), strawberry (Fragaria indica), grape (Vitis vinifera).
2. Plants and Plant Products of Industrial Uses
(i) Rubber and its products
- Euphorbiaceae, Moraceae, Apocynaceae; para-rubber comes from Hevea breasiliensis
- Important rubber products – tires and tubes for automobiles and cycles.
(ii) Fibres and Fibre yielding plants
- Important Families: Malvaceae, Tiliaceae, Linaceae, Bombacaceae, Aracaceceae, Musaceae.
- Types – i. Textile; ii. brush; iii. filling; iv. rough weaving; v. natural fabrics; vi. paper making.
(iii) Oil (Essential & Fatty oils)
- Essential oil – evaporate in contact with air; e.g. rose oil, citrus oil, lemongrass oil, jasmine oil.
- Fatty oil – drying oil, semi-drying oil, drying oil, vegetable fat.
- Examples of fatty oils: Linseed oil, soybean oil, corn oil, olive oil.
(iv) Sugar and Starch
- The most important complex sugar is sucrose or cane sugar, abundance in sugarcane and sugar beet.
- Starch – a complex carbohydrate. Commercial sources – wheat, barley, maize, potato etc.
(v) Gums and Resins
- Colloidal in nature; contain a large amount of sugar.
- Best gum-Arabic of commerce obtained from Acacia senegal.
- Resins are yellowish solids, insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol, turpentine and spirit.
- Pectins are fruit jellies.
- They are readily soluble in water and can be used as food.
(vii) Tannins and Dyes
- Tannins are organic compounds and mainly glucosidal in nature.
- Natural dyes are stains obtained from roots, leaves, bark, fruit or wood of different species.
(viii) Paper and pulp
- Paper is a cellulose product and one of the important use of cellulose is in the manufacture of paper.
- Paper can be made from any natural fibrous material.
(ix) Wood and Cork
- Wood is used for house building, furniture, board making, bridge construction, paper, fuel etc.
- Cork is used for many purposes, viz, hats, mats, tiles, gaskets, inner soles for shoes etc.
3. Medicinal Plants and Drugs
- A medicinal plant is any plant which in one or more of its organs, contains substances that can be used for therapeutic purposes or which is a precursor for the synthesis of useful drugs.
- WHO listed 21,000 important medicinal plants worldwide. In Bangladesh, there are approximately 1,000 medicinal plant species.
Fumitories and Masticatories
- From time immemorial the human beings all over the world have smoked or chewed various substances for pleasure. The substances used for smoking are designated as Fumitories and chewing as masticatories.
- In the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India and Bangladesh, very commonly used fumitory is tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) and masticatory, the betel leaf (Piper betle).
- They are vegetable bases containing nitrogen, and they are supposed to be decomposition products of proteins.
- They have a marked physiological effect on animals, and, therefore, they are of much value in medicine and drugs.
- Caffeine and theobromine, are usually classed as alkaloids.
- They are similar to alkaloids, but they are derived from carbohydrates and not from proteins.
- They are commonly used in the manufacture of medicine and drugs for human beings.
4. Food Adjuncts
- Spice and Condiments
- Non-alcoholic beverages
- Alcoholic beverages
5. Lower Plants in Economic Botany
- Edible Fungi: Agaricus campestris, Volvaria diplasia, Lycoperdon bovisia.
- Fungi, like yeasts, are responsible for fermentation.
- Penicillium is the source of Penicillin.
- The drug ‘Ergotine’ is obtained from Claviceps purpurea.
- Seaweeds (marine algae) are the richest source of vitamins.
- Vitamins A, M, & E are found in abundance in seaweeds.
- Important foodstuffs like Suimono, mitsu, dulse etc. are prepared from algae.
- Used as food and animal feed.
- Used for dyes.
- Sources of fermentable sugars for the production of ethyl alcohol.
- Medicinal properties.