My decision to put a lot of my textbook on the web will probably please some past students and people to no end, including who wanted to attended my class but couldn’t for whatever reason. For those familiar with my course and its book, the plans are to include my tables as well, along with some new analyses. This data is in such a form that some parts of it work very well on shapefiles on the ArcView and ArcGIS. This particular piece of my technology I am trying to make more universally applicable, enabling a map of the plant kingdom to be included in with any GIS work no matter what the coordinate system is. Accomplishing that however looks to be a couple or few years away.
So, for those unfamiliar with my course, I have to ask the most important question first, to hopefully demonstrate the value of this work . . . “what are the uses of this book?”
In the simplest sense it is a basic review of the taxonomy of plants, teaching its reader a way to better understand their relationships to one another. This information can then be applied to a, evolutionary tree that I drew up back in the 1980s, which allows you to assign certain information to it in your mind, making it easier to learn about and know the plant kingdom more completely and instrumentally.
In the most complex sense, this book provides insights into the metabolic pathways of plants and how they evolve and how this knowledge based can be applied to such archaic topics as the search for a new cancer drug in a methodical way based on science, or try to better understand why a particular spatial image has certain identifiable AVHRR features different from one forest to the next. Fortunately, from my end, knowing the chemistry of plants and how these chemical evolve provides some insights that are often very hard to learn about on your own, without spending all that time digging through thousands of medical, chemical, environmental and botanical journals.
I hope that by compiling things the way that I did, that there will be an increase in some of the progress being made out there in this field. Updating myself in this field, I see there are finally some applications of this line of reasoning to such fields as bioengineering phytochemical products, and determining new ways to review old data in some newer, more rational sense. Many times we look at the events of the past with just an eggshell view of what really underlies these writings. When we review plant uses and history, or the fields of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology, we find that sometimes, years into our work, that we are just rehashing something already published and since then forgotten more than a century ago, or by another country that we never really gave much respect to.
There are still a number of copies of my very old textbooks out there circulating. The people who first come upon them are quite impressed, and if they are book dealers seem to often want a lot of money for these items. These books were published the old-fashioned way in the university setting during the 1980s and 199os–we used to local photocopy chain or some on-campus photocopy department to produce and circulate copies of these books upon request. Back then th PC was IBM 286 and the writing software cumbersome and limited in font types and size. Now, that book could fit on half the numbers of pages, double-sided, with a smaller font, and still twice as much as it did during the earliest years of producing that textbook. The advantage to getting an older copy is that there are items I included each year in these that are hard to get from other years. The early to mid 1990s, and early 2000 versions had tables of plant products generated by tabulating 4 or 5 of the big plant dictionaries out there on this topic from about 1880 to 1950. There are about 120 pages of these tables, total, about 60-7o in any single book; these were produced from copies printed on 11’x14″ paper with large courier font size limitations–I wanted to have around 50-60 genera of plants covered per page of table in the book and so reduced these about 75%.
The plant charts I produced are scarce, but still around in my place if I search for them. There are usually the hottest item in the bookstore when my courses are given, and I tried not to restrict their purchase to students only, most of the time.
For people who took this course and can recall the scenes in class, I tended to get one or two people per year taking this course fram a large-scale technical and business end. These people tried to walk in on the course to see what it was exactly that I was teaching. On one occasion a Chinese medicine was being studied for AIDs therapy and the bioengineer hoping to market this engineered drug wanted to see what I knew about it and taught on the use of cucurbit proteins. Another time a student who took my class turned to bioengineering the proteases in a local plant, for sale to a distributor that planned to market it for the same therapeutic use. Another time I was in discussions with a biotech firm in New Jersey trying to produce a plant-derived spermaceti wax-substitute for the cosmetic industry using a local natural product–I sent him out to explore the local Arceuthobium. On several other occasions I had to identify why a particular plant was found in a Native American site, which was pretty easy since its genus related it to a highly edible family of plants with high nutritional value and potential uses as medicines. Each of these insights was developed due to the use primarily of the ethnobotany tables I developed. By understanding some of the basic rules of chemical evolution, a lot of the discoveries being made can be recongnized as unique, or as part of a series of similar observations yet to be made for other plants closely related chemotaxonomically.
With knowledge advancing at the moderate pace that it is, I knew that these tables are sooner or later going to be too old-hat to get your hands on, although they might still be useful to learners in the plant medicine and plant chemistry fields. So I’ll do the best I can to try to put as much of the materials that I taught in 20 years on natural products evolution in plants in this section on my textbook Plantae. Most of that is pulled from my old teaching outlines and occasional room-sized pathways and evolutionary tree representations drawn up on the sidewall blackboard of my classroom. (Stuff that never s.eemed to get erased the whole quarter or semester through, due to people who like to just sit there a gaze at it.)
As you may recall, there were two textbooks for the class–Plantae… and Natural Products Chemistry. The former was the evolutionary tree information and was about 500 pages in length, the latter consisted of chapters one each of the major classes of chemicals covered and was more in outline form, just 250-350 pages in length depending on the year and whether or not the tables were included. For now, I am just planning on developing the Plantae book, with inserted sections or chapters at times dealing with the evolutionary pathways and their relationship to historical ethnobotany and contemporary plant uses.