A Zapotec Natural History, Part 2:
Data, Commentary, and Images in Digital Format


  1. Preface to the CD
  2. Illustrations and Tables from Part 1
  3. Background
  4. The Ethnoflora
  5. The Ethnofauna
  6. Fungi
  7. Plant Species Index
  8. English/Latin Name Index
  9. Spanish/Latin Name Index
  10. Zapotec/Latin Name Index
  11. Index of Images
  12. Index of Sounds

C. Background

1. A Catalog of woody vegetation. ^[TxtEcoTur1]

2. San Juan Gbëë ethnobiological classification in light of Berlin`s universal principles. ^[TxtTaxCla1]

3. San Juan Gbëë garden study summary, by Lisa Schneider ^[TxtGarLis1]

1: A Catalog of Woody Vegetation

1. The century plants or agaves
2. The cacti ^[TxtEcoCac1]
3. The guajes and their relatives ^[TxtEcoGua1]
4. Exploring riparian woodland ^[TxtEcoRip1]
5. The thorn trees and their relatives ^[TxtEcoTho1]
6. The copaleros ^[TxtEcoCop1]
7. Sumacs and their relatives ^[TxtEcoSum1]
8. Pines and other coniferous trees ^[TxtEcoPin1]
9. The oaks ^[TxtEcoOak1]
10. Odd trees of the montane forest biome ^[TxtEcoOdd1]
11. A brief summary of local habitats ^[TxtEcoHab1]

1. The century plants or agaves

It is an interesting fact that neither in English nor in Zapotec are century plants (the genus Agave) considered to be “trees,” despite their often massive proportions. In Zapotec they form the core of a mini-lifeform dòb. This highlights a general observation with regard to the universality of the life form “tree,” that it is more than mere size that makes a plant a tree. Also essential is a complex of features that are a consequence of the biophysical requirements that large size imposes on typical plants, that is, a strong central trunk axis and a characteristic pattern of branching that assures efficient transport of water and other nutrients between roots and branch tips (Hunn 1987). Century plants are atypical in this respect.

Century plants, or as they are known in Mexican Spanish, magueyes, cling tightly to the earth until it is time to throw all their effort into producing a giant flower stalk {^[[AgaAgaAme1]]}. This stalk does not have to last, to withstand the wind and reach for the sun, so the maguey´s flirtation with “treeness” is brief and partial. Nevertheless, the flower stalk, or quiote, is called yàgùts in San Juan Zapotec, though the plant itself is not a “tree” (yâg).

The genus Agave ranks with the oaks and pines among the most diverse and salient genera of plants in San Juan. At least nine species occur in or very near San Juan. Most magueyes are put to good use, whether as sources of food, fiber, construction materials, or medicines. Often a single species will have multiple uses.

It is convenient to begin in town, as we will find a good variety and great abundance of magueyes there, then range farther afield to complete our survey. The most distinctive local species is Agave angustiarum {^[[AgaAgaAng2]]} as it is the only local Agave in the subgenus Littaea, distinguished primarily by the spike-shaped inflorescence {^[[AgaAgaAng1]]}. Our other species raise a branching inflorescence, the flowers held well apart from the stalk on radiating lateral branches. A. angustiarum is the preferred source of ixtle cordage, or was not too long ago as nowadays commercial twine and rope are easier to come by. It is called dòb-guiêdz `ixtle maguey´, a.k.a., dòb-dòo `rope maguey´. The leaves are shredded, then soaked in a stream, to soften and loosen the fibers {^[[AgaAgaAng3]]}. It is planted throughout as a “living fence” along roads and trails {^[[AgaAgaAng4]]}, close together to form a formidable barrier to goats and other trespassers in the corn fields. It grows easily from leaf cuttings.

Several much larger species may be planted along the same road edge. The leaves of these species are much longer and broader than those of A. angustiarum and tend to be bluish-gray rather than olive-green. It is not easy to tell them apart with confidence, and it is no mean feat to make a herbarium voucher specimen of one, since they must be dismembered, scraped clean, tagged, and then dried in several sections before they can be admitted to the herbarium. One individual that bloomed and then died in my yard proved to be Agave seemanniana {^[[AgaAgaSee2]], ^[[AgaAgaSee4]]}, an outsized version of the distinctive wild Agave potatorum. Its leaves were more than two m long and the quiote seven m tall. An agave growing in a hedgerow at the edge of town was being tended for its rich harvest of aguamiel. This was either Agave americana var. oaxacana or Agave salmiana, both well known as sources of the raw material for pulque. A. salmiana has characteristically broad, flat, rather floppy leaves. Agave americana var. oaxacana has narrower, firmer leaves, at least when young, though these weaken and flex as they age, confusing the issue. Both are commonly planted in town.

This profusion of scientific names is more than matched by a jumble of Zapotec names, applied with less than perfect consistency, as far as I was able to judge. The primary species in pulque production is dòb-dzìn `sweet/honey maguey´, also known as dòb-mpiè `pulque maguey´. I believe these names should apply to Agave americana var. oaxacana, a cultivated species, frequently planted in rows in fields to hold the soil ^[[AgaAgaAme3]]. It may be distinguished from dòb-gú-lò `wide maguey´, A. salmiana, distinguished by its broader, duller-green leaves {^[[AgaAgaSal1]]}.

On disturbed sites on the edge of town one finds a rather small maguey with very broad leaves and spines that sit on a nipple-like base. This is A. potatorum {^[[AgaAgaPot1]]}, the famed tobala, favorite of Oaxacan artesanal mezcaleros. Tobala is a local Spanish term borrowed from some other Zapotec language at an early date (ironically borrowed back recently into San Juan Zapotec as dòb-tòbàlâ; the “tob” of tobala is the original cognate of San Juan Zapotec dòb). In San Juan it is distinguished as dòb-bé `Oxalis maguey´, the name alluding to the practice of adding Oxalis — several species of which are called x-có-bè `Oxalis´s tuber´ or guièe-bé `Oxalis flower´ — during the cooking of the maguey “heart,” an early stage in mezcal production. This apparently facilitates the chemical conversion of the inulin starches of the maguey leaf to fructose (Robert Bye personal communication).

Two other wild Agave species are common, one characteristic of the higher elevations above town, A. atrovirens, the largest species of all {^[[AgaAgaAtr1]]}, the other of the hot country below, A. marmorata, readily distinguished by the rough surface of its leaves and its showy orange flowers. A. atrovirens is often planted as fencing above 2400 m {^[[AgaAgaAtr3]]}(and it flourishes on the very highest peaks of the Sierra de Miahuatlán at over 3700 m where forest fires have created space for it {^[[AgaAgaAtr2]]}). A. marmorata, found below 1900 m, is more often left to grow wild {^[[AgaAgaMar2]], ^[[AgaAgaMar1]]}. While these two species are readily separated, there is considerable disagreement amongst my sources as to what they should be called. On the advice of Hermilo Silva I am inclined to equate A. atrovirens with dòb-guièn `plate maguey´, an allusion to the broad leaves and the use of the same as a sort of plate to catch meal when grinding corn, and A. marmorata with dòb-pcuêl `corn husk maguey´, dòb-zân `childbirth maguey´ being a synonym. The latter term fits with the reported use of A. marmorata medicinally as a fumigant to alleviate the pain of childbirth. The leaves of A. marmorata may also be heated and applied to treat sprains and the bites of poisonous snakes.

Two species commonly cultivated at lower elevations for mezcal production and only rarely transplanted to San Juan are the locally endemic A. karwinskii {^[[AgaAgaKar2]]} (which may represent a complex of several species; at least two quite distinct types may be seen growing side-by-side along the road east of Miahuatlán {^[[AgaAgaKar1]]}) and the espadín, A. angustifolia, preferred for commercial plantations where it is planted neatly in long rows {^[[AgaAgaAgf3]], ^[[AgaAgaAgf2]], ^[[AgaAgaAgf1]]}. A. angustifolia most closely resembles A. americana var. oaxacana but with even narrower, straighter leaves, hence the Spanish name `sword´. Though both A. karwinskii and A. angustifolia may be called dòb-mèzcâl `mezcal maguey´, A. karwinskii is sometimes contrasted as dòb-cuǐx `husk maguey´, a reference to the collar of spent leaves that skirts their trunks, for they are unique among our magueys in developing a distinct trunk beneath the leaf rosette.

To complete this picture we must mention three species of different genera that are included in the life form dòb. Furcraea longaeva is in the agave family but looks more like a palm tree than a century plant {^[[AgaFurLon1]]}, as it holds up its rosette of saw-edged leaves at the top of a sturdy trunk five to eight m tall. Like the maguey it rarely flowers, but when it does it is spectacular, lifting a tall spike of white flowers five m higher yet. Alejandro D´Ávila and I chanced upon such a display on our first trip into San Pedro of a half-dozen Furcraea in full bloom high on the side of the mountain opposite. In San Juan Furcraea grows where there are openings in the pine forest well above town. It is well known in San Juan but of no particular use, so it is named rather haphazardly. I have recorded the following alternatives, some of which might be applied another way by someone else: dòb-bæ̌æl `meat maguey´, dòb-cuǐx `husk maguey´, applied also to Agave karwinskii but quite descriptive as well of this Furcraea, and dòb-zéb, which I cannot interpret.

A terrestrial bromeliad, Hechtia cf. podantha and/or Hechtia pringlei, which looks quite a bit like a miniature Agave, is dòb-zhǐits `pineapple maguey´ {^[[BmlHecPod1]]}. It is an associate of Agave marmorata in the selva baja caducifolia. The leaves are chewed to quench one´s thirst while traveling in hot country. Finally, the African aloe vera, Aloe barbadense, is dòb-xtîl `Castillian maguey´ {^[[AspAloBar1]]}. It is widely cultivated in town for its medicinal properties.

2. The cacti

Cacti represent a major element of the local flora, notably in and below the town, both cultivated and wild, particularly in the “low deciduous forest” zone (selva baja caducifolia) below 2000 m. At least 21 species occur. Of these, the Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi) is a garden ornamental from Brazil cultivated but rarely in San Juan. Three others (Opuntia ficus-indica, Opuntia robusta var. larreyi, and Pachycereus marginatus), native to northern Mexico, are known here only as domesticates. The twelve larger species are classed in two polytypic folk genera, yàg-bdzì, the columnar cacti, and yàg-biǎa, the prickly-pears. Both are included in the life-form yâg `tree/shrub´. Indicative of the cultural significance of these cacti is the fact that there are special terms for the fruits of columnar cacti (viz. bdzì) and for the fruits and pads of prickly-pears (viz. brǔn, ptòl̲). Many species have multiple uses. Cactus fruits and, in some cases, their stems and flowers, may be eaten, and they may be planted vegetatively in living fences. One or more species host the cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus Costa, Dactylopiidae {^[[ArtHemDac1]]}), harvested during the colonial era to make a brilliant red dye for export (Dahlgren 1990). Six of the smaller species are grouped into three unaffiliated folk generics. The viney epiphytic Aporocactus martianus {^[[CacApoCon1]]} is ambiguously affiliated at the folk generic level.

The columnar cacti, yàg-bdzì include six species in five genera, Stenocereus treleasei, Stenocereus pruinosus, Pachycereus marginatus, Myrtillocactus schenkii, Pilosocereus (Cephalocereus) chrysacanthus, and Pseudomitrocereus (Mitrocereus) fulviceps, with the epiphytic Aporocactus martianus allied. The fruits of Stenocereus treleasei and Stenocereus pruinosus are edible and prized. Columnar cactus fruits are known variously in Spanish as pitahayas, tunillas, and garambullos, depending on the species. Pachycereus marginatus and Stenocereus treleasei are commonly planted as living fences.

Several varieties of columnar cacti may be differentiated as follows: yàg-bdzì-tsǒ `wide pitahaya tree´, a.k.a., yàg-bdzì-zhǒb `grain of corn pitahaya tree´ and/or yàg-bdzì-làs `slender/small pitahaya tree´ is Pachycereus marginatus, a species native to northern Mexico known only in cultivation in Oaxaca, primarily in “living fences” {^[[CacPacMar2]], ^[[CacPacMar3]]}. It is tall, straight, and smooth, with six ribs. The flowers are white, small, and grow along the length of the ribs {^[[CacPacMar1]]}. The fruits are small, which motivates the alternative names. The fruits are edible, though not choice. These alternate names may be extended (or may more properly apply) to Myrtillocactus schenkii, which is encountered rarely in relatively undisturbed selva baja caducifolia below 1900 m. Like Pachycereus it bears grape-sized fruits, called garambullos in Spanish.

The most common columnar cactus in the valleys and interior foothills of central Oaxaca is Stenocereus treleasei, distinguished in San Juan Zapotec as yàg-bdzì-nziù `tepache pitahaya tree´ {^[[CacSteTre3]]}. It may grow to 4 m tall. It typically has 13 ribs (though there may be as many as 19 or more) with closely-spaced spiny areoles. The flowers are rose-colored, relatively large, and form a ring at the crest of the column. Peak flowering season is May to July. The fruits (tunillas) are edible but not choice. The reference to tepache, a sweet, slightly intoxicating festive drink, most often made from pineapple, may indicate that the juice of these fruits could be fermented for that purpose as well. It is commonly planted in San Juan as a living fence {^[[CacSteTre2]]}. Plants growing wild on private property are considered to belong to the property owner, and permission is required to harvest their fruits.

Far less common than Stenocereus treleasei is Stenocereus pruinosus, a tall, somewhat spreading cardón cactus to six m tall with typically seven sharp-edged ribs, compared to the 13 or more of S. treleasei {^[[CacStePru2]], ^[[CacStePru1]]}. Scattered individuals are found below town. This species is distinguished as yàg-bdzì-zhwěgw `cockroach pitahaya tree´, though I have no ready explanation for the choice of name. The flowers are showy, white, and grow on the upper portion of the ribs. The fruits are edible, called pitahayas in Spanish; (cf. Caballero 1998:55-56, “pitayo”).

Less common still is Myrtillocactus schenkii, yàg-bdzì-zhǒb `corn kernel pitahaya tree´ {^[[CacMyrSch1]]}. This is an organ-pipe cactus, that is, it has many parallel stems branching from near the base of the trunk. Its flowers are small, as are the fruits, called garrambullos in Spanish. A few individuals were encountered north of town in selva baja caducifolia. As noted, two additional columnar cactus species barely reach the lower margins of San Juan, though both are conspicuous at lower elevations to the north along the road to San José Lachiguirí, where a fine tract of nearly pristine selva baja caducifolia is found. These are yàg-bdzì-tǒop `white-haired pitahaya tree´, a.k.a. yàg-bdzì-zhǐil `cotton pitahaya tree´, the old-man cactus Pilosocereus chrysacanthus {^[[CacCepChr1]]}, and yàg-bdzì-nròob `great pitahaya tree´, Pseudomitrocereus fulviceps {^[[CacMitFul1]]}, a very large cardón cactus with a cap of golden spines. It is endemic to the region and uncommon.

The prickly-pear cacti of the genus Opuntia (including the distinctive sub-genus Nopalea) add character to the landscape. Most species are small trees with substantial trunks and spreading crowns, vaguely anthropoid. With a single exception all fall within the scope of the folk generic taxon yàg-biǎa. The exception is the low-growing, cylindrical-stemmed “cholla,” Opuntia pumila, classed as mǐts, its affinity with its congeners implicit in the synonym yàg-biǎa-mǐts. The fruits (tunas) of yàg-biǎa are known in San Juan Zapotec as brǔn (as is the large choice fruit of the night-blooming cereus, Hylocereus undatus, called brǔn-yǎl, see below). The pads (pencas) of the prickly-pears are called ptòl̲. Pads of some species, especially those of the low-growing Opuntia nejapensis, are collected when young and tender, cooked and eaten {^[[CacOpuSpc1]]}. These nopales are widely appreciated in salads in Mexico.

The folk generic yàg-biǎa includes seven scientific species classified in seven folk specific taxa. Two cultivated species, Opuntia robusta var. larreyi and Opuntia ficus-indica, are both nearly spineless. They are called respectively yàg-biǎa-nquǐts `white prickly-pear´ and yàg-biǎa-nguiǎ `green prickly-pear´. These are small trees three to four m tall cultivated in home gardens. Opuntia robusta, the “white prickly-pear,” has notably thick, smooth, round, bluish-white pads {^[[CacOpuRob1]]}. The flowers are also white, blooming in May. The fruits are preferred to those of Opuntia ficus-indica, the “green prickly-pear,” which is characterized by somewhat thinner, more elliptical, green pads and orangish flowers that bloom in March {^[[CacOpuFic1]]}. Fray Juan Caballero, an 18th century Dominican scholar, recognized a comparable distinction between “Nopal Guegue” and “Nopal de Castilla” (1998:74-75).

Two species that may grow to six m tall, common in living fences and on disturbed sites near town, are Opuntia streptacantha {^[[CacOpuStr1]], ^[[CacOpuStr2]]} and O. velutina {^[[CacOpuVel1]]}. I have difficulty telling them apart. Opuntia streptacantha is the prototype of the category, often referred to simply as yàg-biǎa. Opuntia velutina, by contrast, may be distinguished as yàg-biǎa-zhǐil `cotton prickly-pear´, with reference to the fine golden glochidia that give the pads a felt-like texture. The flowers of Opuntia velutina are red to red-orange, opening in May. The spines are rather few and dark colored. Opuntia streptacantha blooms in November. Pads and fruits of both species are eaten. Controlled experiments have demonstrated the hypoglycemic effects of consuming Opuntia streptacantha stems, and thus the value of the plant in controlling diabetes (Frati-Munari, Gordillo, and Altamirano 1988). Cochineal scale insects often grow on the pads of one or the other or both of these species, though these insects are no longer harvested for their dye.

Another tall prickly-pear is yàg-biǎa-dòoz `young corn field prickly-pear´, a.k.a. yàg-biǎa-lùdz-ngǒn `ox-tongue prickly-pear´, Opuntia (Nopalea) auberi, distinguished by elongated pads (hence “ox-tongue”) and red tubular flowers that are quite different from the cup-shaped flowers of typical Opuntia species {^[[CacNopAub1]]}. It is planted in gardens and in living fences, which perhaps suggests the nomenclatural reference to the early stage of milpa development.

At the lower margins of San Juan another tree-like species is found, Opuntia pilifera {^[[CacOpuPil2]], ^[[CacOpuPil3]]}, distinguished by pads covered with long white tangled hairs, hence the name yàg-biǎa-tǒop `white-haired prickly-pear´.

Opuntia nejapensis is a low shrubby prickly-pear to half a meter tall with bright yellow petals, flowering in May {^[[CacOpuNej1]]}. This is a highly localized, regionally endemic species. The long, white, downward-pointing spines are distinctive. It is set apart as yàg-biǎa-zǐ. The pads are harvested when immature, before the spines have hardened, and eaten. The fruits are eaten by some people, though they are not sought after.

Another low-growing species is the “cholla” Opuntia pumila, sometimes called yàg-biǎa-mǐts `cholla prickly-pear´ but more often known simply as mǐts. These are low, very spiny cacti with cylindrical pads and large yellow flowers that bloom in May {^[[CacOpuPum1]]}. The fruits may be eaten, though not by everyone. Two varieties may be distinguished, though whether the distinction reflects variation within a single species — which seems most likely — or whether two species may be involved is not clear. The unmarked variety is said to differ by having smoother spines, brighter yellow flowers, and somewhat less tasty fruits. By contrast, mǐts-nàad `grabbing cholla´ is said to differ in its particularly vicious, barbed spines, somewhat paler yellow flowers, and sweeter fruits.

The barrel cacti or biznaga, a name derivative of Nahuatl, are included in a single folk generic, bìznâgr in San Juan Zapotec. I have records of four species of three genera within San Juan. Each species is distinguished at the folk specific level in Zapotec, as follows: The most common species in San Juan is bìznâgr-guièts-clâv, Mammillaria karwinskiana {^[[CacMamKar1]]}. A similar species is bìznâgr-tǒop `white-headed barrel cactus´, Mammillaria haageana. Both are small, low-growing spherical cacti, often forming tight mat-like clusters of several to a dozen individuals. Mammillaria haageana sports copious white wooly hairs. As with Coryphantha elephantidens ssp. bumamma (see below), the tiny chili-like fruits are edible. The pithy core of the cactus exudes a milky sap; it is cooked with sugar and eaten.

Coryphantha elephantidens ssp. bumamma is bìznâgr-mâch `macho barrel cactus´ {^[[CacCorBum1]]}. It is superficially similar to Mammillaria karwinskiana but larger and with a distinctive longitudinal groove along the side of each segment. The tiny fruits, called “chilies” (guìin, chillitos in Mexican Spanish), are edible, but must be picked carefully from among the spines. This is a treat that may be enjoyed while hiking in the bush.

The large barrel cactus, Ferocactus latispinus var. greenwoodii, bìznâgr-ngòl `large barrel cactus´, is rare at the lower margins of San Juan. It grows to 0.5 m tall and as wide {^[[CacFerLat1]]}. No particular uses have been noted.

Vining cacti include the cultivated night-blooming cereus, Hylocereus undatus, brǔn-yǎl `frangipani prickly-pear fruit´, also known as guièe-brǔn-yǎl `frangipani prickly-pear fruit flower´. This species is planted in and near town as an ornamental and for its edible flowers and fruits. The lax sprawling stems are triangular. It blooms in May, briefly, the showy flowers, likened to those of the frangipani tree (yàg-guièe-yǎl, Plumeria rubra), open for one night only {^[[CacHylUnd1]]}. The flowers or buds are boiled and eaten as a delicacy, though they are rather too slimy for my taste. The fruits are likened to those of the prickly-pears (brǔn) but are larger, fine flavored, and encased in a smooth, red waxy skin {^[[CacHylUnd4]], ^[[CacHylUnd2]]}. Fray Juan de Córdova records it as “Pitayo orejón” (1998:58).

Aporocactus martianus is a locally rare epiphytic cactus {^[[CacApoCon1]]}, occasionally transplanted to hedgerows in town. It may be known by a variety of names, which hint at local perceptions of its place in the taxonomic scheme: brǔn-yǎl-guièts `spiny Hylocereus´ links it to the previous species, emphasizing as well the abundant, long spines that cover its trailing stems; yàg-bdzì-lbæ̀ `pitahaya tree vine´ aligns the species with the columnar cacti, as does yàg-bdzì-làs `small/slender pitahaya tree´. It is reported to be used medicinally to treat “fright.”

3. The guajes and their relatives

“Oaxaca” is a corruption of the Nahuatl toponym Guaxacac `place of the guajes´, the Zapotec settlement at the site of the modern city of Oaxaca and immediately below the 15th century Aztec garrison on Cerro de Fortín. The name indicates the importance of this wild food crop. The distinctively flavored seeds picked from the pods of the guaje tree, Leucaena esculenta, are relished raw today throughout Oaxaca.

The ethnobotany of this plant is complex. According to the most recent analysis there are at least four species of Leucaena in San Juan, and each is distinguished by name in San Juan Zapotec. The species best known in the Central Valleys, Leucaena esculenta, is found only at the lower margins of San Juan, replaced by Leucaena pallida near the town. A third species, Leucaena leucocephala ssp. glabrata, is occasionally planted, while a fourth, Leucaena trichandra, grows wild and is not considered edible. The general term for Leucaena is yàg-nlìbâd, or the phonological variant yàg-nlàbâd. The pods are called nlìbâd. Additional synonyms include yàg-nlìzhò and yàg-nlàzhò, named for the tender young leaves, which are also eaten.

From the perspective of San Juan, L. pallida is the prototype, referred to simply as yàg-nlìbâd {^[[FabLeuPal1]], ^[[FabLeuPal2]]}. L. esculenta or yàg-nlìbâd-tsǒ `wide guaje tree´ is distinguished by its broader pods and preference for hot country {^[[FabLeuEsc1]]}. It is also known to mature somewhat later in the year. L. leucocephala ssp. glabrata or yàg-nlàbâd-nguiǎ `green guaje tree´, a.k.a., yàg-nlìbâd-nquǐts `white guaje tree´, is distinguished by its green pods and smooth whitish bark. Though a few individuals are cultivated in town, it is more frequently cultivated at somewhat lower elevations, as in San Pedro Amatlán. Finally, L. trichandra, yàg-nlìbâd-làs `small/slender guaje tree´, is a spindly weedy tree of disturbed sites near town {^[[FabLeuDiv1]]}.

This folk generic is a taxonomic focal point, as two closely related genera are linked to it via synonymy: Lysiloma acapulcensis, properly yàg-yàz, is also known as yàg-nlìbâd-pěch `turkey vulture guaje tree´. It is a tree to eight m tall of the riparian zone, mostly below 1900 m. It resembles Leucaena, having bipinnate leaves and thin seed pods, but these are purplish-brown and split open readily to expose a papery white inner shell. Lysiloma pods and seeds are not eaten, but are fed to livestock. The tree is valued for it tough heartwood used to make plough-shares. It is also very good firewood. A second species, Lysiloma diversifolia, not named in its own right, was assigned to the extended range of yàg-nlìbâd-làs `small/slender guaje tree´.

Calliandra grandiflora and Calliandra houstoniana are most often designated guìzh-měets `louse plant´, an allusion to the tiny yellow anthers at the tips of the showy red filaments that make up the flower clusters in this genus {^[[FabCalSpc1]]}. Synonyms that suggest the perceived relationship to Leucaena include yàg-nlìbâd-měets `louse guaje tree´ and yàg-nlìbâd-tǒop `white-headed guaje tree´. Calliandra may also be known as yàg-nlìzhò-měets, patterned again on an alternate term for Leucaena. Calliandra is used for livestock fodder, firewood, and composting, as it binds nitrogen, in common with other leguminous species.

The conceptual centrality of Leucaena is further emphasized by extensions to two genera of the Caesalpinioideae, a distinct subfamily of the Fabaceae. Conzattia multiflora is an uncommon tree to eight m tall of hot spots in tropical deciduous woodland, below 1920 m. It is distinguished by smooth pale gray bark and showy yellow flowers in spikes that cover the tree in April and May, attracting hordes of bees. It is called variously yàg-x-quǐit-ngubǐdz `the Sun´s toy tree´ or yàg-nlìbâd-nguěts `yellow guaje tree´. It has pointy pods and the wood is weak, not even useful for firewood. Senna galeottiana is a shrub or tree to three m tall with thin flat sharp-cornered pods with a broad distinct margin and once pinnate leaves. It is named variously yàg-x-pàan-ngutsiěts `iguana-tail tree´, yàg-tèpèsquít `tepescuinte [agouti] tree´, and/or yàg-nlìbâd `guaje tree´. It is understood that it is not the real guaje. Rather, the pods are fodder to fatten goats and donkeys.

4. Riparian woodland

The dominant native trees along streams near and below San Juan Gbëë are alders and willows, with a shrubby dogwood beneath the canopy. I have recorded three distinct kinds of alders in San Juan, which represent two or three species, depending on taxonomic opinion. The tall alder common beside streams below 2400 m is Alnus acuminata ssp. arguta. It may grow to be 30 m tall. A low tree of the pine forest understory above 2400 m characterized by the yellow glands covering the leaves is Alnus jorullensis var. lutea. Above 2900 m a third species replaces oaks as the dominant deciduous tree in the Pinus hartwegii zone, Alnus jorullensis var. jorullensis, often considered a distinct species, Alnus firmifolia. It may be 20 m tall, with a broad crown. The last two alders are not particularly characteristic of riparian habitats but occur throughout on humid soils. All three are used for firewood; the foliage may be used also to cover temporary shelters.

All alder species are called yàg-guiàl in San Juan. Some consultants distinguish the montane forest species as yàg-guiàl-dán `forest alder´ or as yàg-guiàl-ngǎs `black alder´, referring to the darker color of the bark. The unmarked prototype is clearly Alnus acuminata ssp. arguta, which for clarity may be designated yàg-guiàl-nquǐts `white alder´. The local Spanish name is palo de àguila `eagle tree´, which may be a corruption of the more widely known term aile.

I have definite records of three species of willows in or near San Juan. Like the alders they are of two basic types, tall, riparian species of lower elevations and a shorter understory species of higher elevations not restricted to river margins. The best known species is Bonpland willow (Salix bonplandiana) common in and near town at stream sides {^[[SalSalBon1]]}. I collected Salix humboldtiana with S. bonplandiana below San Juan at the bridge on the road to San Pedro Martír Quiechapa. Both may grow to be 12 m tall. However, apparently only the Bonpland willow occurs in San Juan proper. In the pine forests above San Juan and along the high road to Rancho Conejo is Salix oxylepis (or Salix nigra), which may reach 6 m tall.

The San Juan Zapotec term for willows is yàg-zhguiès, applied without special distinction to the Bonpland willow. This term may be qualified as yàg-zhguiès-dán `forest willow´ or yàg-zhguiès-yá-guì `willow on the mountain´ to refer to the montane species. This willow was also named yàg-ngǎs `black tree´. However, I believe this involves confusion with a similar tree of the same habitat, Garrya laurifolia (see below). The local Spanish term for willow is sauce. Willows have important medicinal applications, while the foliage is decorative and the wood may be used for fuel.

The willow family also includes the poplars (Populus mexicana), of which a few individuals were observed along the major streams below San Juan. They were clearly distinguished from the willows but named somewhat inconsistently. One term applied to the poplar is yàg-blâg-ruêd `wheel-leaved tree´, incorporating the Spanish loan word rueda “wheel,” descriptive of the round leaves. This may be an idiosyncratic invention. These are tall trees, to 10 m, used for firewood or corral posts.

A common associate of streambank willows and alders in North America and Europe is the dogwood, sometimes named “red willow” or “red osier” from a French word for willow. The local dogwood species, Cornus excelsa {^[[CorCorExc1]]},is a sprawling shrub to 3 m tall. In San Juan Zapotec it is most often called yàg-zhàn̲ `tree beneath´, likely alluding to its preference for growing beneath the riparian canopy. The hard wood is used to make tops for children.

5. The thorn trees and their relatives

The local Zapotec term yàg-guièts `thorn-tree´ is a named intermediate taxon, that is, it is too complex and comprehensive to be a folk generic yet just as clearly it is a subcategory of the life form yâg `tree/shrub´. The generic subdivisions include yàg-guièts-clâv `nail thorn-tree´, yàg-guièts-yàas `black thorn-tree´ or yàg-guièts-dà `flat thorn-tree´, and yàg-guièts-nàad `grabbing thorn-tree´. All three are spiny trees representing two closely related genera of the pea family (Fabaceae, subfamily Mimosoideae), Acacia and Mimosa. A fourth generic, yàg-guièts-zhìg — possibly analyzable as `gourd thorn-tree´, though the allusion is obscure — might be included here as a fourth folk generic. It is the local ocotillo, Fouquieria formosa of the Fouquieriaceae {^[[FoqFouFor1]]}. Our focus here is on the first three genera and their confamiliars, which together constitute a large fraction of the local woody flora of the “hot country” (dán-ptsæ̌æ) habitats of the municipio, i.e., those below 2000 m.

I have recorded four species of Acacia in San Juan. Three are found in and below town. These are low spiny trees, to 5 m tall, often planted from cuttings to form “living fences” designed to keep goats from the corn crop. The sweet acacia or huisache (Acacia farnesiana) is the prototype, but may be distinguished as yàg-guièts-clâv-nquǐts `white nail thorn-tree´ {^[[FabAcaFar1]]}. It bears tiny balls of yellow flowers and straight, simple whitish spines, hence the name. It is native to tropical America from Arizona south but is now naturalized nearly worldwide. Goats and other domestic animals browse this species. The wood may be collected for fuel, and a spiny branch may be placed beneath a child´s bed to protect it from witching. Less common is Acacia cochliacantha, with similar flower clusters but broad, flat, reddish spines {^[[FabAcaCoc1]]}. This species is distinguished as yàg-guièts-clâv-nìzhniê `red nail thorn-tree´ or as yàg-guièts-clâv-guièe `flower nail thorn-tree´.

Acacia pennatula is also very common, characteristic of disturbed sites. It has a denser, distinctly flat and spreading crown and thick blackish spines {^[[FabAcaPen1]]}. This species goes by several names in San Juan, yàg-guièts-yàas `black thorn-tree´, yàg-guièts-dà `flat[-topped] thorn-tree, and yàg-guièts-ngǒn `ox thorn-tree´. The first name describes the dark spines and bark, the second the distinctive shape of the crown, and the third alludes to the fact that oxen are partial to the pods as browse. In pine forests above town we find one more Acacia, the unarmed A. angustissima, yàg-læ̀ `bitter tree´ {^[[FabAcaAng1]]}, the bark of which is added to the celebratory drink tepache to cut its excessive sweetness.

A particularly nasty thorn tree is the “wait-a-bit” or cat´s claw mimosa, uña de gato in Spanish (Mimosa aculeaticarpa var. biuncifera). It sports short but flexible, recurved spines that catch clothing, skin, or an eye of the unwary trying to make their way through second-growth scrub below town {^[[FabMimBiu1]], ^[[FabMimBiu2]]}. The Zapotec name is, appropriately, yàg-guièts-nàad `grabbing thorn-tree´. Unlike the Acacias, this Mimosa bears clusters of pink to whitish flowers. Two color varieties are noted locally, though both may represent this species: yàg-guièts-nàad-mòrâd `purple grabbing thorn-tree´ is the typical form; yàg-guièts-nàad-nquǐts `white grabbing thorn-tree´ is descriptive of the white variant. A second species, Mimosa galeottii, known as yàg-guièts-nàad-ngǎs `black grabbing thorn-tree´, is distinguished by the viciously jagged margins of its seed pods.

The vergonzosa “bashful” (Mimosa albida) is a curious low shrub with two pairs of rounded leaflets that close ranks when touched. The Zapotec name, guièts-làa-tó `bashful spine´, mirrors the local Spanish term. It bears spines and pink flower balls like its relations, but the spines are less ferocious in this species {^[[FabMimAlb1]]}. This slender shrub is an object of frank curiosity to the people of San Juan. Cándido delighted in demonstrating the plant´s peculiarity, remarking that it was “alive”.

6. The copaleros

At least nine species of copal trees of the genus Bursera grow in San Juan Gbëë {^[[BrsBurSpp1]]}. They are especially prominent in the tropical deciduous woodland below town, though two species, B. glabrifolia {^[[BrsBurGla1]]} and B. bipinnata {^[[BrsBurBip1]]}, are commonly planted near town in living fences, as they sprout readily from cuttings. Bursera trees, particularly Bursera glabrifolia, are the preferred material for alebrijes, the charming artesanal sculptures that have made San Antonio Arrazola and San Martín Tilcajete famous around the world (Peters et al. 2004). In San Juan they are valued primarily for the copal resin of certain preferred species.

Our Burseras vary from shrubs less than 2 m high to small trees to 4 m {^[[BrsBurSch2]]}. The bark varies in color — from beige to green or red — and may be either exfoliating or not. Most have pinnate leaves, divided into from three (Bursera fagaroides) to more than 37 leaflets (Bursera galleottiana), with one species having simple leaves (Bursera schlechtendallii). The leaflets also vary in shape from round to linear and in texture from glossy smooth to rugose to felty. The local Bursera species also vary in terms of the color and perceived quality of the pitch produced, which is used medicinally and burned for incense in religious rituals. The preferred source of copal incense is a species of the Burseraceae of lower elevations to the north that is not found in San Juan, likely either Bursera simarouba or Protium copal. The myrrh of biblical fame (Commiphora myrrha (Holmes), of the Burseraceae) is closely related.

San Juaneros recognize two folk generics within the genus Bursera, which they recognize as closely related: yàg-yàal and yàg-guín-quiè. The first is named for the pitch, which may be used as incense (gòx-yàal). The second Bursera folk generic, for which Bursera galleottiana is the prototype, is named for the rocky habitat it prefers. This species is quite distinct in having leaves finely divided into numerous (e.g., 18 pairs of) linear leaflets {^[[BrsBurGal1]], ^[[BrsBurGal2]]}. Bursera bipinnata is sometimes considered xín-yàg-guín-quiè `relative of the rock copal tree´ due to its bipinnately divided leaflets, though it is not restricted to rocky substrates.

7. Sumacs and their relatives

These species belong to the family Anacardiaceae, notorious for its poisonous plants, such as poison-oak, poison-ivy, and poison-sumac itself. Not all species are dangerous, however. Two introduced trees of this family, in particular, are widely appreciated, the Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus molle) {^[[AnaSchMol1]]}, a valuable shade tree with medicinal applications, and the mango (Mangifera indica). The native hog plum (Spondias purpurea) of this same family does not grow at the elevatiton of San Juan but is nevertheless known as yàg-biàdz, the fruits commonly sold in local markets.

The low brushy habitats known as matorral are dominated near San Juan by two groups of species, the manzanitas (Arctostaphylos pungens {^[[EriArcPun1]]}, Comarostaphylis spp.{^[[EriComGla1]], ^[[EriComSpc1]], ^[[EriComSpc2]]}) of the Ericaceae, more characteristic of elevations above 2000 m, and the sumacs of the genus Rhus of the Anacardiaceae, that dominate at lower elevations. Most sumacs are shrubs or small trees, 1-5 m tall, though one species is a streamside vine. My San Juan collections may represent as many as seven species, though the scientific nomenclature is notably confused. San Juan Zapotec distinguishes two major categories, though they are recognized as closely related: yàg-bèch-mbǎr `sour-knot tree´ and yàg-bèch-lsæ̀æb, which I cannot translate satisfactorily.

The prototype of yàg-bèch-mbǎr is Rhus oaxacana and/or Rhus pachyrrhachis. It is a low shrub of open, arid slopes with pinnate leaves divided into five to seven shiny, dark-green, oval leaflets {^[[AnaRhuOax4]], ^[[AnaRhuOax3]]}. yàg-bèch-lsæ̀æb appears to represent two quite distinct plants, the first is Rhus mollis, unique in the genus for its simple, round, rather fuzzy leaves {^[[AnaRhuMol1]]}. The second is Rhus costaricensis, which is quite different from Rhus mollis, with felty, pinnate leaves and vining habit {^[[AnaRhuCos1]]}. Alternatively, R. costaricensis may be distinguished as bèch-mbǎr-lbæ̀ `sour-knot vine´. These species all bear sour orange fruits that are chewed and sucked to treat canker sores (fuegos en la boca) or dried and ground for use as “talcum powder” for diaper rash. Both are sources of firewood.

The dread hincha-huevos `swollen-testicles´ (Pseudosmodingium multifolium) is common below 1900 m. It is a medium-sized tree to 8 m tall with pinnate leaves closely resembling those of the cultivated Brazilian pepper tree (Schinus molle), though the leaves of Pseudosmodingium are less finely divided {^[[AnaPseMul1]]}. Many people — myself included — are rather violently allergic to the plant, the slightest touch causing swelling and an itchy rash that lasts for a week or more. The Zapotec name, yàg-lǎadz `rash tree´, is descriptive. Not everyone reacts, however, as I have seen young boys climbing in the branches of this tree and it is said, as well, to be used for fence posts. Poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is known locally as lǎadz-lbæ̀ `rash vine´ or lǎadz-guiùu `water rash´ {^[[AnaToxRad1]]}. It is found in streamside thickets at the lowest elevations.

Similar to yàg-lǎadz but harmless is yàg-ràmôn, the Mexican pistacio or ramón (Pistacia mexicana). Like Pseudosmodingium multifolium the ramón is a tree to 8 m tall that is common in the relatively undisturbed selva baja caducifolia below San Juan. The wood may be used for fuel, and the wild pistacio fruits are important food for wild birds. Another harmless yàg-lǎadz look-alike of the selva baja caducifolia is a native ash, Fraxinus purpusii, known as yàg-guièe-còw [unanalyzable] or as xín-yàg-lǎadz `relative of hincha-huevos`. A larger native ash, Fraxinus uhdei, is associated rather with the oaks of its higher elevation habitat.

8. Pines and other coniferous trees

The great majority of San Juan´s ten pine species are considered to be yâg-guièr. Only the Mexican white pine, Pinus ayacahuite -- classified by pine experts in a separate subgenus -- is set apart (see below). The term yàg-dùr `pine-needle tree´ is roughly synonymous with yâg-guièr, though it might also be used more broadly, to include Pinus ayacahuite.

At least the following species occur within themunicipio: Pinus douglasiana; Pinus leiophylla; Pinus devoniana; Pinus pseudostrobus var. oaxacana; Pinus hartwegii; and Pinus teocote. In addition, Pinus pseudostrobus var. pseudostrobus is common just over the crest on the south slope of the Sierra de Miahuatlán where it is a primary commercial species (as I noted in San Juan Ozolotepec, where 12,174 m3, or 5000 trees, were harvested in 1995-1996). The conspecific Oaxaca pine, Pinus pseudostrobus var. apulcensis, is the commercial target in San Juan.

The diversity within our pines is inconsistently and partially recognized. The prototypical yàg-guièr is sometimes said to produce either “white” or “yellow” wood. Trees producing “white wood,” said to be characteristic of more humid soils, may be distinguished as yàg-guièr-nquǐts `white pine´, while those producing “yellow wood” are yàg-guièr-yěts or yàg-guièr-nguěts `yellow pine´.

A more basic distinction is involved in the recognition of “rock pines,” prototypically Pinus teocote (though perhaps including also the very similar P. lawsonii), which may be distinguished as yàg-guièr-quiè. The modifier -quiè `rock´ may refer to habitat or to the stunted growth form. The “rock pine” is common in pure stands on granitic gravels between 1900 and 2250 m. The road in from Miahuatlán, once past San Cristóbal Amatlán, passes through several groves of this species. It is a small, slender pine to 10 m tall, with needles in threes, 11-16 cm long, rather thick, gray-green, with persistent sheaths {^[[PinPinTeo1]]; ^[[PinPinLaw1]]}. The numerous persistent cones are small (to 5 x 6 cm) and nearly spherical, on short, curved stalks. The trunks twist (and thus the wood is not much use for planks) and the wood is pitchy, thus valued as a source of pitch pine kindling (“ocote”). Slabs are cut from one side of the trunk of the living tree near the base to use as kindling or for torches; the wood is also preferred for making the wedge-shaped trunnels (“cuñas”) that are used to hold house beams in place in the distinctive local architecture {^[[SceTecHou1]]}, likely because the pitch helps hold it in place. P. teocote is also used for firewood.

The striking Michoacán pine, Pinus devoniana, may be distinguished as yàg-guièr-dán-ptsæ̌æ `hot-country pine´ {^[[PinPinDev1]]}. This is a large, broad-crowned pine of lower elevations (1600-2000 m), hence the name. It is rare in San Juan, but one passes through stands of this pine along the road in from Miahuatlán, on either side of San Ildefonso Amatlán. The very long, thick, gray-green needles are in fives; the massive cones are somewhat elongate.

The remaining pine species are undifferentiated. Oaxaca pine (Pinus pseudostrobus var. apulcensis) is common at 1800-2250 m. It is distinguished by its long, drooping, light green needles and heavy, spiked cones {^[[PinPinPse1]], ^[[SceHabFor2]]}. It is commonly left standing in milpas as a source of firewood, collected by trimming the lower branches. A logging concession authorized by the community in 2000 harvests primarily Oaxaca pine. Pinus douglasiana is the dominant species on slopes above 2300 m where many grow to a very large size {^[[PinPinDou1]]}, as noted above. Pinus leiophylla is locally common amongst Pinus douglasiana at ca. 2400 m; it is a rather small, slender pine, the clusters of three needles with deciduous sheaths. Pinus hartwegii takes over above ca. 2900 m, forming single-species stands over large areas up to the highest summits at 3750 m {^[[PinPinHar1]], ^[[SceHabFor1]]}. These high elevation single-species pine stands are the preferred habitat for the rare pygmy nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea), a bird not previously recorded south of the Mexican Central Volcanic Axis (Hunn, Acuca Vásquez, and Escalante 2001:21).

Pine wood is the preferred material for house construction. Planks are cut by hand or with a chainsaw.

The Mexican white pine, Pinus ayacahuite, is set apart from all other pines as yàg-là, a.k.a. yàg-grètâd. The alternate name is from Spanish grietada `creviced, cracked´, presumably descriptive of the bark. P. ayacahuite is a fairly common tree in forests between 2300 and 2900 m. It grows to over 30 m tall. The long, pendant cones with thin flexible scales are highly distinctive {^[[PinPinAya1]]}. Under favorable conditions it may be a very large tree. We measured one individual in San Juan at 2850 m with a circumference at breast height of more than 500 cm. The wood is the most durable of all pines and is particularly favored for making boards used in house construction. It may also be used for firewood.

The native balsam fir, Abies guatemalensis {^[[PinAbiGua1]]}, is yàg-lgâzh or simply, lgâzh. It grows to 30 m tall and is fairly common on humid sites at high elevations, 2800-3500 m. The area near the San Juan municipal water supply intake is named for this tree Lètz-lgâzh `fir flat´ {^[[SceHabFor3]]}. The rare golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa), found here at the southern limit of its range, is closely associated with this tree (Hunn, Acuca Vásquez, and Escalante 2001:21). The aromatic foliage is used as a fumigant for “lifting airs” (“para levantar aires”). The wood is used for planks; the branches for decoration.

While conifers dominate the montane forests, two species occur at lower elevations, the Montezuma baldcypress (Taxodium mucronatum of the Taxodiaceae), a marginal element of the hot country streamside gallery forests, and the juniper (Juniperus flaccida of the Cupressaceae), occasionally encountered in the mid-elevation matorral. It is curious that these two species, of distinct genera and families, are called by the same name, yàg-guìzdòo or yàg-guìstòo, that is, `Miahuatlán tree´, without hint of distinction,

A few of the massive Montezuma baldcypress extend up the Río Grande to the bridge on the road to Santa Catarina Guì Gdán {^[[TxoTaxMuc1]]}, at 1635 m. A large isolated individual at a spring above the plaza in San Pedro Gbëë was most likely planted there, likely several hundred years ago judging by its size. Curiously, a rocky prominence north of San Juan is called Quiè-yàg-guìzdòo [`rock´ + `Montezuma baldcypress´] for a bald cypress that once grew there. (Not named for the more likely juniper, or so I was told.) The local juniper (Juniperus flaccida) is a shrub or small tree of arid, sunny slopes {^[[CupJunFla1]]}, a habitat radically different from that of the baldcypress, though it is its closest relation among the local flora. Fresh juniper foliage may exhibit a distinctly “spiny” leaf form. Such individuals were occasionally distinguished as yàg-guìzdòo-guièts `thorn juniper´. Juniper wood is collected for firewood and the branches for decoration. The category is further extended to include an introduced cypress native to central Mexico, Cupressus lindleyi, which is planted sparingly in town for shade.

9. The oaks

Oak woodland rings San Juan, forming a mosaic with matorrales dominated by Arctostaphylos and Comarostaphylis of the Ericaceae and Rhus of the Anacardiaceae, merging above with the pines and below with selva baja caducifolia. I have recorded 13 species of oaks in and near San Juan Gbëë. These are classified in five folk generic taxa, then further differentiated at the folk specific rank.

Quercus glaucoides extends down to the higher hills of the Oaxaca valleys; Quercus castanea, Quercus obtusata, Quercus liebmannii, Quercus conzattii, and Quercus magnoliifolia cling to the dry coarse sandy soils on the slopes of Cerro San Isidro and the ridges above and below town. Quercus deserticola and Quercus rugosa are apparently rare elements of these oak woodlands. A low shrub oak with leaves vaguely reminiscent of Q. glaucoides but with very distinctive acorns, Quercus sebifera {^[[FagQueSeb2]]}, is a rare element of the matorral at ca. 1800 m.

Quercus crassifolia replaces Quercus conzattii above ca. 2300 m as one climbs into the pines south of town. Quercus acutifolia favors humid canyons, occurring rather sparsely between 2000 and 2300 m. Quercus laurina, including some ancient individuals of surprising girth, occurs between 2400 and 2900 m, among the Mexican white and Douglas pines of the mid-montane forests, while Q. peduncularis seems partial to the humid canyon below San Juan´s western water intake. Above 3000 m oaks are replaced by a stocky alder, Alnus firmifolia in the Pinus hartwegii forest understory.

San Juan Zapotec applies distinct names to virtually every species we have definitively recorded in the region, which is no mean feat. However, there is no term for “oak” per se, though in sorting tasks it is clear that the kinship among the oaks is recognized. The thirteen local oak species are grouped around five folk generic prototypes. Curiously, Fray Juan de Córdova in his 16th century Zapotec dictionary likewise recorded five distinct terms for oaks (Hunn and Vásquez 2001).

To confuse the issue, two unrelated and rather dissimilar trees are named as if they were specific subtypes of an oak generic. These I treat as folk generic categories in their own right, as there is evidence that local people appreciate the fact that despite their names they are not close relatives of oaks, in particular, it is noted that they lack the acorns (mgàg) characteristic of the genus. The wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera, Myricaceae, is named yàg-xìid-sêd `silk yàg-xìid´, while the native ash, Fraxinus uhdei, of the Oleaceae, is named yàg-rèdz-bêy `rebozo yàg-rèdz´. However, the very similar introduced Fraxinus americanus ssp. texensis is set off as yàg-frêsm, > fresno, Spanish for ash.

Quercus castanea is the prototype of yàg-xìid `tangled tree´ {^[[FagQueCas1]], ^[[FagQueCas2]], ^[[FagQueCas3]]}. A synonym which may be an older term is yàg-yù `house tree´. Q. castanea is very common between 1950 and 2300 m, growing to eight m tall. It is tardily deciduous with new leaves appearing in April and mature acorns in November. In common with other oaks, it is important as a source of firewood. yàg-xìid is often extended to include Quercus obtusata {^[[FagQueObt2]]}. If so, the prototype may be distinguished as yàg-xìid-làs `slender/small yàg-xìid´ to contrast with Quercus obtusata, yàg-xìid-mběe `large yàg-xìid´, a.k.a. yàg-xìid-diè `dusty yàg-xìid´. Quercus obtusata is less common than Q. castanea but is larger, to 10 m tall, with dark bark, roughly broken into squarish blocks, not unlike Q. castanea. The wood is judged of superior durability, thus selected for posts, etc. Q. obtusata may also be called yàg-pxù-yěets `yellowish yàg-pxù´, as the leaves are somewhat transitional to Q. glaucoides, the prototype of yàg-pxù, larger than those of Q. castanea and lobed, like Q. glaucoides, though dark green.

Quercus glaucoides is a common tree between 1600 and 2240 m, the only oak below 1900 m {^[[FagQueGla3]], ^[[FagQueGla1]]}. It may grow to be 10 m tall, offering welcome shade in hot country. The leaves are bluish-green, often lobed; the bark is light gray, soft, and broken into vertical rectangles in older trees. yàg-pxù may be extended to include several less common species of oak. We have noted above that Quercus obtusata is seen to be somewhat intermediate between yàg-xìid and yàg-pxù and thus may be treated as a form of either, e.g., as yàg-pxù-yěets. A species I had confused with Quercus magnoliifolia but with rather smaller leaves, Quercus liebmannii, is quite consistently distinguished as yàg-pxù-yâas `black Quercus glaucoides´ {^[[FagQueLie1]], ^[[FagQueLie2]]}. yàg-pxù has also been applied to Quercus peduncularis, the rare Quercus deserticola, and to an example of Quercus rugosa noted along the trail in neighboring Santa Catarina Quiè Gdán. Finally, the low shrubby Quercus sebifera is widely recognized as yàg-pxù-làs `small/slender yàg-pxù´.

Quercus conzattii is the prototype for yàg-zhòg `rough-leaf tree´, a common and characteristic species between 2000 and 2400 m. It grows to nine m tall. Q. conzattii is characterized by large, thick, convex “spoon-shaped” (“cucharada”) leaves; the young foliage is covered with red powder {^[[FagQueCon1]]}; the wood is “white” and without “heart” (sin corazón), thus not particularly useful for construction, though it may be collected for firewood. The leaves are used as “nests” for pine-cone “livestock” during the Fiestas de la Santa Cruz (May 3, September 14) and the Fiesta de San Isidro (May 15), when San Juan families climb to the summit of Cerro San Isidro to petition for rain and a productive agricultural season. yàg-zhòg is extended to include Quercus crassifolia. The two may be distinguished by referring to Q. conzattii as yàg-zhòg-nquǐts `white yàg-zhòg´ and to Q. crassifolia variously as yàg-zhòg-yàas `black yàg-zhòg´, yàg-zhòg-diè `dusty yàg-zhòg´, and/or yàg-zhòg-yěets `yellowish yàg-zhòg´.

Quercus crassifolia is a characteristic hardwood of the pine forest zone above 2300 m, replacing Quercus conzattii from 2400 m to well above 2500 m {^[[FagQueCra1]]}. It may grow to 25 m tall. Like Q. conzattii it has large thick leaves, covered below by whitish to brownish felt, as two synonyms suggest, but the leaves are flatter than those of Q. conzattii. The wood is black — as noted in the first alternative name — and has “heart,” that is, it is durable, thus selected for making plough shafts and horcones (forked posts).

Quercus magnoliifolia is the prototype of yàg-rèdz. This species is conspicuously deciduous. The very large leaves turn yellow and fall in winter {^[[FagQueMag1]]}. The modifier -rèdz may allude to the yellowing of the leaves in winter. It is a common tree between 2000 and 2200 m and prominent groves may be used as toponymic landmarks. One large tree measured 115 cm in circumference at breast height. The bark on old trees is light gray with deep vertical fissures. The leaves may be used to pack apples, said to bring out the yellow color of the fruit. The wood is collected for firewood.

Though yàg-rèdz is monotypic, the Mexican ash, Fraxinus uhdei, is called yàg-rèdz-bêy, literally `rebozo yàg-rèdz´. This species is infrequent but characteristic of riparian groves within the altitudinal range of Q. magnoliifolia. Ashes and oaks both bear their male flowers in catkins, which might have suggested a relationship, however, ash fruits are samaras, not acorns. I am confident that despite the name, San Juaneros do not consider Fraxinus uhdei to be a kind of oak. This nomenclatural pattern is best treated as a “horizontal” or “metaphorical” extension, as opposed to marking a “vertical” or hierarchical relationship (cf. Hunn and French 1984). The fact that the very similar cultivated ash, Fraxinus americana ssp. texensis is known as yàg-frêsm, applying the Spanish loan “fresno,” supports this conclusion. In parallel fashion, the fact that the wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera (Myricaceae), is named yàg-xìid-sêd, literally `silk Q. castanea´ does not imply that it is thought to be a kind of oak.

Quercus acutifolia and Quercus laurina seem not to be distinguished. At least, both are considered to be yàg-lbìis without nomenclatural qualification. Q. acutifolia is a slender tree of humid canyons between 2000 and 2100 m with large, thin, but toothy deciduous leaves {^[[FagQueAcu1]]}. Q. laurina has smaller, somewhat thicker leaves {^[[FagQueLau1]]}, but is characteristic of pine forests between 2450 and 2900 m. One huge Q. laurina at 2640 m in the pine forest above San Juan measured 490 cm in circumference at breast height. The wood is notably strong and straight grained, preferred for ax handles and plough shafts.

10. Odd trees of the montane forest biome

Beneath and among the pines one may encounter low gnarled trees of distinctive appearance. These trees are typically uncommon and often inconspicuous and of little special utility for the people of San Juan. Nevertheless, they are recognized and named and their qualities understood.

Perhaps the oddest is a tree called yàg-x-quièe-bæ̀cw `dog flower tree´ of which the prototype is Schoepfia shreberi, unique representative here of the tropical family Olacaceae {^[[OlcSchShr1]], ^[[OlcSchShr2]]}. The wood is resistant to rot, thus selected for posts and horcones, forked poles used for roof supports. Apparently this same term is applied to other species as well, including Ilex cf. pringlei, a native holly, Leucothoe mexicana and Vaccinium leucanthum of the Ericaceae, and Bunchosia lanceolata of the Malpighiaceae.

Another understory tree of pine forests, small, gnarled with deeply furrowed bark, pendant white bell-shaped flowers, and dry capsules is yàg-guièe-ròb `tortilla basket flower tree´, Agarista sleumeri H.B.K. and Agarista mexicana var. mexicana. It has light-weight wood used for canes.

The madrone, Arbutus xalapensis, known as yàg-yǎn, reminds me of home {^[[EriArbXal1]], ^[[EriArbXal2]]}. This is a common tree of pine-oak forests, to 10 m tall. The wood is used for firewood; the flowers as a medicine for “fright,” the branches for decoration. The fruits are eaten by trogons, jays, and band-tailed pigeons.

Other trees with close relatives in the Pacific Northwest are the mountain mahoganies, Cercocarpus macrophyllus and Cercocarpus pringlei, known as yàg-lǎy `tooth tree´, apparently descriptive of the serrated leaf margin {^[[RosCerMac1]]}. This is a small native tree to five m tall of rocky places between 2000 and 2850 m. The wood is very hard; a nail won´t split it. It is preferred for making tops. The notorious 1990 attack upon the San Juan authorities on border patrol occurred at a place called Yàg-lǎy, high above San Juan.

The silktassel tree, Garrya laurifolia, is called yàg-ngǎs `black tree´ but may also be known as yàg-lǎy-blàd-nál `thick-bark mountain mahogany´, noting an affinity with the previous species. Like the mountain mahogany this is a small tree, to five m tall, of steep rocky slopes in pine forest, uncommon at 2000-2700 m. It has blackish bark and wood, hence the name.

There is a local species of serviceberry also, Amelanchier denticulata, known as yàg-lân `dust tree´, a.k.a. yàg-gbày `broom tree´ {^[[RosAmeDen1]]. ^[[RosAmeDen2]]}. This is a shrub or small tree to three m tall, with white flowers and red or blue-black fruits. It favors limestone soils. The wood is very strong but flexible; selected for making hammers and bows after being treated in fire. Wooden bookmarks sold by Indian women and children to tourists in Oaxaca are made of “yagalan,” which is likely this species. It is also used for brooms, hence the general term gbày; the modifier -lân apparently is descriptive of a dusty bloom on the leaves.

California lilac, Ceanothus coeruleus {^[[RhmCeaCoe1]]}, and ocean-spray, Holodiscus argenteus, both with close relatives in the mountains of the western United States, are called yàg-zhín-guièez, which appears to mean `rotten pot tree´, though there may be some fault in our semantic analysis. These are shrubs of rocky areas to three m tall found from 2200 m to the highest summits at 3700 m. Flowers are blue in Ceanothus; white in Holodiscus. The foliage is fodder for goats. Both are said to be especially good for firewood as the wood is resistant and charcoal made from it will burn all night, thus particularly favored for making tortillas. On the down side, build-up of brush of these species contributes to forest fires.

The manita de león `little lion´s hand´, Cheiranthodendron pentadactylon (Sterculiaceae), yàg-làz `lasso tree´, or yàg-guièe-làz `lasso flower tree´, is uncommon in humid canyons in pine forest at 2500-2800 m, growing to 15 m tall and to 0.5 m in diameter. The flowers are conspicuous, with bright red filaments that reach out like red fingers from the cup of the sepals (^[[StrChePen1]], ^[[StrChePen2]]). They are very attractive to hummingbirds and other nectar-feeding birds, though they grow well out of reach at the tips of the highest branches. The flowers are boiled to make a medicinal tea for coughs, often as part of a complex recipe involving several species. The name apparently describes the use of the bark of the young stems to tie bundles.

A botanical survey team from the University of Texas, camped on the ridge above San Juan in the late 1980s, “discovered” two dozen species previously undescribed, including a giant lupine, Lupinus jaimehintoniana, named to honor the Mexican botanist Jaime Hinton (Turner 1995). It grows to eight m tall with a very substantial trunk, quite unlike the “blue bonnets” more familiar to the north (^[[FabLupJai1]]). It is not well known in San Juan as it grows only on the high ridges contested by San Juan´s southern neighbor, in forest openings at 2900-3450 m. Nevertheless, it was recognized as yàg-guièe-bziàa `pea flower [i.e., lupine] tree´ by two consultants.

11. A Brief Summary of Local Habitats

The woody dominants in each major habitat (following Binford 1989) are as follows.

Highland pine forest: Above 3000 m, forests are near-uniform stands of Pinus hartwegii with Alnus firmifolia (= A. jorullensis var. jorullensis) in clearings and along streams. Characteristic species of the shrub layer are Senecio spp., Lobelia spp., Arbutus xalapensis, Lupinus spp., Ceanothus coeruleus and Penstemon spp., often with a low ground cover of Pernettya prostrata. Agave atrovirens is common on open ridges and in areas opened by crown fires.

Humid pine-oak and pine-fir forest: At 2700-3400 m, particularly in moist canyons, one finds Abies guatemalensis mixed with Pinus hartwegii, P. ayacahuite, P. pseudostrobus var. pseudostrobus, Quercus laurina, Alnus jorullensis var. lutea, Arbutus xalapensis, Garrya laurifolia, Cercocarpus macrophylla, Salix oxlyepis, and Cheiranthodendron pentadactylon. Epiphytic bromeliads (Tillandsia spp.) are common on oaks. Common shrubs include Baccharis heterophylla, Senecio spp., Stevia spp., Lobelia spp., Sambucus mexicanus, Satureja macrostemma and Rubus spp.

Arid pine-oak forest (dàn-yǎ-guì `mountain forest´): Forests of this type below c. 2200 m are rather open and predominantly oak (and can be described as oak woodland); the pine canopy closes in above 2300 m. Dominant pine species include Pinus douglasiana, P. pseudostrobus var. apulcensis, and P. teocote; P. leiophylla occurs locally, while P. ayacahuite is conspicuous above 2500 m. Common oaks include Quercus acutifolia and Q. crassifolia, with Q. castanea, Q. magnoliifolia, Q. obtusata, and Q. conzattii at lower elevations. Quercus laurina is common above 2400 m. Alnus jorullensis var. lutea and A. acuminata var. arguta are common understory trees above 2400 m. Arbutus xalapensis is common in the understory throughout. Clearings in pine forests, above 2300 m, are typically associated with seepage areas and are ringed by up to 3 m-tall Baccharis heterophylla.

Oak scrub or chaparral (nlàak `matorral´): Drier slopes, at 2000-2300 m may lack trees but are covered by dense stands of 2-3 m-high shrubs, predominantly Arctostaphylos pungens, Comarostaphylis glaucescens and C. polifolia, Cercocarpus macrophylla, Calliandra spp., Dodonea viscosa, and Lantana spp. This chaparral may be broken by scattered groves of Pinus teocote, Juniperus flaccida, Quercus castanea, and Arbutus xalapensis. Agave potatorum, Furcraea longaeva, and Nolina longifolia are locally common, the last two especially on steep slopes subject to fire.

Arid subtropical scrub and woodland (dàn-ptsæ̌æ `hot country forest´): Below 2000 m a mosaic of low deciduous forest and shrub vegetation is dominated by Pistacia mexicana, Pseudosmodingium multifolium, Rhus spp., Plumeria rubra, Senecio praecox, Tecoma stans, Ceiba acuminata, Bursera spp., Cnidoscolus multilobus, Croton ciliato-glanduliferum, Acacia spp., Conzattia multiflora, Crotalaria spp., Dalea spp., Eysenhardtia platycarpa, Leucaena spp., Lysiloma acapulcensis, Mimosa spp., Senna spp., Krameria cuspidata, Buddleia spp., Fraxinus purpusii, Amelanchier denticulata, and Dodonaea viscosa. Scattered Juniperus flaccida, Pinus devoniana, P. pseudostrobus var. apulcensis, P. teocote, and Quercus glaucoides are prominent. Agave marmorata, A. seemanniana, and Hechtia cf. podantha are common, as are the arborescent or columnar cacti Opuntia pilifera, Stenocereus treleasei, and S. pruinosa; a few such as Pilosocereus chrysacanthus, Pseudomitrocereus fulviceps, and Myrtillocactus schenkii occur at the lower borders of San Juan Gbëë communal lands.

Riparian groves: These groves are prominent below 2300 m where the closed pine-oak forests give way to more open terrain. Characteristic trees of this zone are Alnus acuminata and Salix bonplandiana. Salix chilensis, Populus mexicana, and Fraxinus uhdei are scarce; Taxodium mucronatum, Ligustrum lucidum, and Lippia pringlei occur below 1700 m. Common shrubs are Baccharis salicifolius and Cornus excelsa. This zone is frequently planted with fruit trees, including Mangifera indica, Annona cherimolia, Persea americana, Byrsonima crassifolia, Psidium guajava, Crataegus pubescens, Malus pumila, Prunus persica, P. serotina ssp. calpuli, Casimiroa edulis, and Citrus spp.

Modified terrestrial habitats: Gardens, orchards, hedgerows, and road and trail margins in and near town (at 1900-2200 m) are characterized by anthropogenic woody vegetation. Exotic trees planted in town include Casuarina equisetifolia, Jacaranda mimosifolia, Melia azedarach, Ficus nitida, and Eucalyptus globulus. Cultivated fruit trees include Ficus carica, Persea americana, Morus celtidifolia, Passiflora quadrangularis, Cydonia oblonga, Eriobotrya japonica, Malus pumila, Prunus persica, Prunus armeniaca, Citrus limetta, and C. limonia. Living fences are of Agave spp., Bursera spp., Opuntia spp., Pachycereus marginatus, Stenocereus treleasei, Jatropha cordifolia, Erythrina americana, and Fouquieria formosa. Cultivated for food, drink, and fiber are Agave americana var. oaxacana, A. angustiarum, A. potatorum, A. seemanniana, Opuntia (Nopalea) auberi, Opuntia ficus-indica, O. robusta var. larryei, O. streptacantha, O. velutina, Pachycereus marginatus, and Stenocereus treleasei. Common shrubs of roadsides and field margins include Baccharis spp., Barkleyanthus salicifolium, Tithonia spp., Tecoma stans, Ipomoea intrapilosa, Ricinus communis, Acacia farnesiana, A. pennatula, Crotalaria spp., Eysenhardtia platycarpa, Leucaena spp., Mimosa spp., Senna spp., Buddleia sessiliflora, Byrsonima crassifolia, Rosa spp., and Brugmansia spp. Weedy roadside shrubs include Wigandia urens, Argemone mexicana, Nicotiana glauca, and Solanum spp.

2: San Juan Gbëë ethnobiological classification in light of Berlin´s universal principles.

1. Introduction
2. Does biological distinctiveness account for the selective recognition of folk taxa?
3. Nomenclature: primary versus secondary names
4. Taxonomies
5. Life forms and other suprageneric taxa
6. Where do fungi fit? The fungal domain in Gbëë Zapotec
7. Subspecific taxa
8. Conclusions

1. Introduction

One reason for my journey to San Juan Gbëë was my interest in testing current ethnobiological theories with regard to the universal and varying features of ethnobiological classification systems. I hoped a new study of a poorly documented and quite distinct language might suggest refinements of our current theoretical models. This might seem an assignment of interest to but a small coterie of academic specialists. However, I believe that is a misconception, as the broad question of how humans make sense of the biodiversity that sustains our lives is at the heart of attempts to understanding the human mind (which can outperform the most powerful computer at pattern recognition and judicious discrimination), human language (our most effective tool for thinking about and thus adapting to the world), human culture (how we have learned to live everywhere on earth), the trajectory of human history (marked by the progressive expansion of the human ecological “footprint”), and human-environment relationships (on which our continued survival depends). Perhaps all scholars imagine that their work is of the deepest significance. In any case, I hope to make a strong case for the universal significance of this one Zapotec village tucked away in the folds of the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca, Mexico.

The dominant theoretical framework today for analyzing ethnobiological classification is Brent Berlin´s perceptual/taxonomic model, first detailed in his 1973 American Anthropologist article, “General principles of classification and nomenclature in folk biology,” co-authored with Dennis Breedlove — foremost expert on the flora of Chiapas, Mexico — and Peter Raven — director of the famed Missouri Botanical Garden (Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1973). His work built upon that of Harold Conklin, whose 1954 Yale dissertation, “The relation of Hanunóo culture to the plant world,” set a standard still rarely matched for meticulous documentation and intelligent analysis of a system of ethnobotanical knowledge. Conklin´s work and Ralph Bulmer´s contemporaneous researches on ethnozoology in Papua New Guinea provided the “shock of recognition” that inspired Berlin to recognize universal patterns beneath the confusing abundance of detail in these ethnobiological case studies.

I had the good fortune to stumble into Berlin´s ethnobiology seminar at the University of California, Berkeley, during a formative stage in the development of Berlin´s theoretical ideas. I was a green graduate student, but already an avid birder and amateur student of natural history, so I found the material fascinating and personally meaningful. Berlin subsequently invited me to accompany him on a brief exploratory trip to Peru in 1970. As I recall we argued nearly non-stop for three-weeks about the nature of folk biological understanding, with local Indians there to reign in our more ambitious generalizations with real-time commentary on the forest around us. Twenty years and several dog-fights later, and with the benefit of hindsight and a substantial number of state of the art ethnobiological ethnographies, many inspired by Berlin´s “general principles,” Berlin took stock of the enterprise in Ethnobiological Classification (1992), which stands as the current standard for the field.

Like all “triumphant syntheses,” Berlin´s has drawn fire, serving as a lightning rod for both scholarly reformists and revolutionaries. Revolutionaries, such as Roy Ellen (1986), may question the value of the enterprise itself, refusing to accept the premise of comparability, arguing instead for a radical relativism of “invented natures” as historically specific creative products of the human cultural imagination that should not be reduced to the twigs and branches of a taxonomic tree. I´m no revolutionary here, but squarely in the reformist camp. I am firmly convinced that I could in short order master a sufficient vocabulary in any human language to carry on a lively discussion about the wonders of the local avifauna or the medicinal values of the local flora with a native. While the assertion that “we all live in the same world with just the labels switched” (to paraphrase Sapir´s characterization of the na…ve realist point of view) is a bit exaggerated, I believe it comes close to the truth with respect to flora and fauna, despite Sapir´s emphatic rejection of the idea (“The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached” [Sapir 1956:162]). However, I am not yet satisfied that Berlin´s current theoretical framework should stand as is, as I am acutely aware of a number of anomalous facts that are but poorly accommodated within the current theory.

2. Does biological distinctiveness account for the selective recognition of folk taxa?

The local Zapotec system recognizes 717 terminal plant taxa included within 452 folk generic taxa. Yet there are at least 1075 types of plants (monotypic species plus varieties of polytypic species) recorded for the local flora by professional botanists, and likely several hundreds more that have yet to be documented. These Zapotec taxa correspond in the great majority of cases to a category or to a small set of closely related categories named by professional botanists. Our task is to explain in what manner the two systems fail to correspond, whether at the most precise classificatory level of each system, that is, scientific species and varieties versus Zapotec terminal taxa, or at the most basic level, that is, scientific species versus Zapotec generics. Several measures of the correspondence of folk to scientific biological taxonomies have been proposed (e.g., Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1974; Hunn 1975b). I will employ here what I have called the Scientific Species Recognition Ratio or SSRR (Hunn 1999a).

It is undeniable that the people of San Juan have developed a “system of ethnobiological classification” that is less than exhaustive in recognizing the local biodiversity characterized by modern science. To determine what factors might guide the selective attention by local folk botanists to this ambient biodiversity, I will examine which types of plants are least precisely classified in the folk system. For example, one component of San Juan plant diversity treated with little attention to detail are the ferns, of which there are eight families, 20 genera, and 57 species in our records classified into just nine folk generics. In particular, the single folk genus guìzh-crùz `cross plant´ encompasses at least 24 fern species of 12 genera in six families. Are these ferns less “biologically distinctive” than a similar range of plant species treated in more detail? Compare the 13 species of oak, which represent a single genus (Quercus) of a single family (Fagaceae), but which are classified into five folk generics and some ten terminal folk taxa (see Table 4.5). In this case the most important factors would seem to be not biological distinctiveness but size and cultural salience or “utility,” broadly defined.

A close examination of the San Juan ethnobotanical system indicates that biological distinctiveness (to be operationalized below) is a key factor in shaping the final outcome, but that factors independent of biological distinctiveness also play major roles, in particular, cultural significance or “utility.” One measure of the biological distinctiveness of a taxon is the degree or level of taxonomic contrast in the Linnaean system between that taxon and its closest relatives, since the Linnaean system is intended to reflect judgments as to relative evolutionary divergence of taxa through time. Thus, two species of a single genus are less biologically distinct one from the other than two species of different genera, though they be of the same family. Two species of different genera and families should be judged still more distinct biologically. Thus we should expect that congeneric species will be distinguished with less finesse in the folk system than the average species.

We may test this assertion at both folk generic and terminal folk taxonomic levels. Given that the 1075 terminal scientific plant taxa (1065 species plus a few varietal distinctions) are grouped by San Juaneros in 452 folk genera and 717 terminal folk taxa, we may calculate the average Scientific Species Recognition Ratio, or more simply, the “recognition ratio,” for San Juan plants at the folk generic level as 0.42 (452/1065) and at the level of terminal folk taxa as 0.67 (717/1075).

Let us compare these overall recognition ratios with those for the 73 highly polytypic Linnaean genera [in six cases I have combined two closely allied scientific genera that are treated more or less equivalently in the folk system, e.g., Cosmos and Dahlia], that is, scientific genera that are represented locally by four or more species. These 73 exceptionally polytypic genera include a total of 427 of the terminal scientific taxa recorded for the community, viz., 14% of local Linnaean genera but 40% of local Linnaean species and varieties. These 427 species are subsumed by 119 Zapotec terminal taxa (and assigned to the extended ranges of 33 additional folk taxa that have prototypes elsewhere). The average recognition ratio for these congeneric taxa is 0.28, substantially less than the overall ratio of 0.42. Thus, the relatively low biological distinctiveness of congeneric taxa is reflected in lower recognition ratios, as Berlin predicts.

However, comparing overall taxonomic correspondence masks significant variation within the categories compared. By no means do all congeneric taxa exhibit this “lumping” tendency. Notable exceptions include: Chenopodium in which four local species are each named by separate Zapotec generic terms. The recognition ratio for Chenopodium is thus a perfect 1.0. The four local Acacia species are classified in three Zapotec generics for a recognition ratio of 0.75. These acacias are further distinguished at the Zapotec specific rank, so that the recognition ratio at the terminal taxonomic level is again a perfect 1.0. Each of the eight introduced Citrus species is clearly recognized in San Juan Zapotec, grouped in six Zapotec generics and in eight terminal categories. The generic recognition ratio is thus 0.75, the specific again 1.0. The native genus Agave, represented locally by nine species, is placed in eight Zapotec generics (recognition ratio = 0.89). All are included within the small Zapotec life form dòb, along with several superficially similar species of the Agavaceae, Aloaceae, and Bromeliaceae. The genus Solanum, with 13 local species, is sorted into no less than seven Zapotec generics, with some of these further differentiated at the specific rank. The generic recognition ratio for Solanum is thus 0.54, the specific ratio 0.68.

These five polytypic scientific genera run against the current. In each of these cases the exceptional cultural utility of the included species would seem to account for the finesse by which they are classified in Zapotec. In sharp contrast to these finely differentiated genera are five folk generics that correspond to no fewer than 90 scientific species and varieties of 51 genera and 17 families. The average recognition ratio for these broadly inclusive folk generics is 0.06, far below the average of 0.42. As previously noted, half of all local fern species and varieties (of the division Pteridophyta) — 24 species of 12 genera in 6 families — are called guìzh-crùz `cross plant´. Excluded are representatives of two “fern allies,” the horsetails (Equisetaceae) and the club-mosses (Selaginellaceae), plus several “true ferns” singled out as “fright medicines” or for some particularly distinctive morphological feature. There is ample biological distinctiveness among these “cross-plant” ferns (and many of these species are quite common and conspicuous near the village), yet they are classified summarily in Zapotec. Why? I suspect it has to do with the limited culturally recognized utility of most ferns. Aside from the medicinal value of those classified as ncuàan-dzéb `fright medicine´, ferns are appreciated for their ornamental value, but this is a value quite general to most if not all guìzh-crùz without distinction.

We may note a similar disinterest in the fine classificatory details for two additional Zapotec generics, guièe-dzǐn̲g `hummingbird flower´ and guìzh-dǐp `grass/rush/sedge´. Each encompasses some two dozen species and varieties distributed across several distinct plant families. guièe-dzǐn̲g names plants with showy, mostly red tubular flowers attractive to hummingbirds. However, this co-evolutionary adaptation of bird as pollinator and flower as nectar source has cropped up independently in various plant families via parallel evolution.

Notably, if one or more species of these broad categories are recognized for an outstanding peculiarity, they will be named for that characteristic and thus set apart from the more heterogeneous generic in which they would otherwise be placed. For example, Penstemon campanulatus, one of the more prominent hummingbird flowers, is sometimes named guièe-měets `louse/nit flower´, an allusion to the resemblance of the tiny yellow anthers prominently exerted from the penstemon´s red corollas to the eggs of lice. However, those who are ignorant of the term guièe-měets do not hesitate to call Penstemon campanulatus guièe-dzǐn̲g. Likewise, a species of Indian paint-brush common near San Juan town (Castilleja arvensis) may be distinguished as guièe-x-côl-mæ̀cw-zhǐil `sheep´s-tail flower´ (sheep are known as mæ̀cw-zhǐil, literally `cotton dogs´), though all other Castilleja species are considered guièe-dzǐn̲g, as is Castilleja arvensis by those ignorant of this nomenclatural alternative.

guièe-dzîl `orchid flower´ and guièe-ló-yâg `flower on a tree´ are somewhat less inclusive than the previous three cases, encompassing 12 and nine species respectively, each confined to the several genera (eight and five respectively) of a single plant family, orchids in the first instance, mistletoes in the second. Generic level recognition ratios in these cases are 0.08 and 0.11, well below the overall average. Nevertheless, in both cases there is a close, though imperfect correspondence between the Zapotec category and a modern scientific family.

Of these five cases, three are also poorly differentiated internally. Three weakly distinguished specific subtypes are noted for each. By contrast, guìzh-dǐp and guièe-dzîl are finely differentiated at the subgeneric level, with 11 subcategories of orchids named, for a terminal level recognition ratio of 0.92, and 14 of grasses, rushes, and sedges, for a terminal level recognition ratio of 0.67.

Finally, it should be noted that only guièe-dzǐn̲g constitutes a distinctly aberrant category vis-à-vis the perspective of contemporary evolutionary systematics, particularly if we interpret these broadly inclusive folk generics as “background” categories that span entire families, e.g., the Orchidaceae and the Loranthaceae, or closely allied groups of families, as the “graminoids” of the Poaceae, Juncaceae, and Cyperaceae, and the “true ferns.” It is as if “holes” were cut into this taxonomic background in order to recognize a few particularly noteworthy examples. I analyze this phenomenon of “highlighted” generic taxa emerging from a heterogeneous generic background in my “perceptual distance” model of folk biological classification (Hunn 1976).

In any case, we have illustrated two contrasting cases of low recognition ratios. The first fits Berlin´s expectation that species of relative low biological distinctiveness, i.e., members of large congeneric species sets, will be less finely differentiated than the average. The second does not match this expectation, as the low recognition ratios characterize taxa that subsume species sets of high biological distinctiveness, i.e., grouping many species ranging across several genera or even across several families. These cases, as well as the anomalous instances noted of large congeneric species sets exhibiting high recognition ratios require some other rationale. In each case, I believe, cultural salience, i.e., “utility” broadly defined, is the best explanation. Exceptional cultural significance counteracts the expected effect of low biological distinctiveness just as a relative lack of cultural significance can offset a high degree of biological distinctiveness that would otherwise motivate a more refined classification.

As I have argued elsewhere, two additional factors may play a role in driving the recognition ratio: size and ecological salience (Hunn 1999a). Size may be a factor in the high recognition accorded the oaks. (But why not the same focus in pines?) In fact, the majority of the high ratio-low distinctiveness cases are trees (e.g., Acacia, Citrus) or otherwise equally large plants (Agave), while none of the low ratio-high distinctiveness cases are trees. In the guìzh-dǐp case, the distinctive floral characters of the graminoids border on the microscopic.

The effect of ecological salience is less apparent, though perhaps the greater cultural salience of oaks versus pines may reflect the greater abundance and diversity of oaks close to town, with pines achieving their greatest diversity well above town. Ecological salience may also exert an influence “beneath the radar” of this study, as our collections are certainly less comprehensive at higher elevations within the municipio, areas less familiar to most San Juan people, in part due to the chronic and violent dispute between San Juan and its southern neighbor. This dispute has inhibited regular travel above ca. 2700 m for several decades.

In conclusion, we can affirm Berlin´s emphasis on the powerful influence of biological distinctiveness on the “design” of the San Juan botanical classification system, but must qualify this affirmation by recognizing the clear relevance of factors not strictly biological but having to do with the particular perspectives on the flora defined by local cultural adaptations.

3. Nomenclature: primary versus secondary names

Berlin argues that “ethnobiological nomenclature represents a natural system of naming that reveals much about the way people conceptualize the living things in their environment” (1992:26). This is an important and powerful generalization, but must be applied with caution, as languages vary a great deal in the specifics of how nomenclatural patterns map to underlying conceptual structure. Zapotec is a case in point. Specifically, Berlin´s argument that “secondary” names label subgeneric taxa (with a few exceptions noted) does not hold for Zapotec. The reason is simple. Berlin defines secondary names as linguistically complex, productive names [“productive” meaning that the name includes a constituent that labels a superordinate taxon] that occur “only in contrast sets whose members share a constituent that labels the taxon that immediately includes [all of] them” (my clarifications in brackets; 1992:28). He argues that one may distinguish secondary names from similarly complex and productive “primary names” by the fact that the latter “occur as the names for taxa in contrast sets some of whose members are labeled by simple primary names…” (my emphasis; 1992:28). For example, compare the productive secondary name “black oak,” which contrasts with “white oak,” “pin oak,” “water oak,” etc., with the productive primary name “blue bird,” which contrasts not only with “mockingbird” but also with such simple primary names as “cardinal” and “wren.”

In the first instance Berlin would classify the taxa so named (e.g., “black oak”) as of the specific rank. In the second (e.g., “bluebird”), as folk generics. However, he then notes cases of taxa he considers to be folk specifics that are labeled by primary names: 1) type specifics named polysemously by the generic head term (which I treat as covert folk specifics), 2) species of outstanding cultural significance, and 3) cases of abbreviation in which the generic head is optionally deleted. This key distinction between primary and secondary names thus rests on judging whether the exceptions noted above are to be counted as “some of whose members are labeled by simple primary names” or not.

Zapotec poses a problem in this regard for the simple reason that Zapotec plant nomenclature is preferentially trinomial rather than binomial, the pattern Berlin emphasizes. The great majority of Zapotec plant and animal names require that the life-form name be prefixed to the generic specifier, and to both the generic and specific specifiers in the case of a subgeneric taxon. Exceptions are by-and-large limited to Spanish loans, which often do without the life-form prefix. If the analysis rigidly followed Berlin´s strictures, one would be forced to treat yâg `tree/shrub´, guìzh `herbaceous plant´, and guièe `flower´ as gigantic generic taxa each including dozens of “folk specifics.” There are 135 taxa named yàg-X, 80 named guìzh-X, and 74 named guièe-X, X specifying the kind of tree/shrub, herbaceous plant, or “flower” named. The few exceptions, in which kinds of tree/shrub, herbaceous plant, or “flower” do not normally bear the life-form prefix could readily be explained as allowable exceptions under Berlin´s rules

This result is clearly counterproductive, as the categories so named (i.e., yàg-X, guìzh-X, guièe-X) are in every essential respect what Berlin and I understand as folk generic taxa. Furthermore, if we were to treat these 289 “secondary names” as labeling folk specific categories, the number of “folk specifics” would substantially exceed the number of “folk generics” in the system, violating a key expectation of Berlin´s theory.

The Zapotec nomenclatural system is not as extraordinary as this analysis would suggest. In fact, it conforms very well to Berlin´s general scheme, if due allowance is made for the peculiarities of Zapotec plant naming.

4. Taxonomies

Berlin´s theory is perceptual and taxonomic. We are largely in agreement as to the perceptual basis for folk biological classification, viz., that people name categories of plants and animals that are there for all to see, real “natural discontinuities,” as Levi-Strauss noted some time ago (1966), but real “things” that require complex powers of abstraction to recognize. Human babies come into the world well prepared to perform those feats of abstraction. Berlin and I disagree in our emphasis on the motivations that guide the recognition of some perceptual realities but not others, but not on the fundamental role of perceptual patterning for the recognition of natural kinds.

Berlin´s theory is taxonomic in his insistence that the categories recognized are then arranged hierarchically as sets within sets, culminating with a “unique beginner” at a level roughly equivalent to the kingdoms of modern biosystematics. Though some analysts suggest that `plants´ and `animals´ might be grouped at still more abstract and inclusive taxonomic levels as `beings´, `things´, or `entities´ (cf. Conklin 1962), ethnobiological theorizing has opted for the more concrete realities of just two domains, flora and fauna. There are difficulties aplenty within the kingdoms without confronting yet deeper abstractions.

Berlin´s taxonomic model affirms the existence of six universal ethnobiological ranks, that of the kingdom — usually left unnamed — and five subordinate ranks: life form, intermediate, generic, specific, and varietal ^[[LinTaxBer1]]. An individual plant will be classified first of all within a generic taxon. Some fraction of the generic taxa will be polytypic, that is, subdivided into two or more specific taxa, while a very few specifics may be further subdivided into two or more varietals. The great majority of folk generic taxa are subsumed within a small number of life forms. A few oddball generics will remain unaffiliated with any life form. Clusters of generics perceived to be similar or related may be recognized, though rarely named. Berlin considers these clusters to be taxa of the intermediate rank. Such taxa are most often demonstrated by sorting tasks, as I have done in the case of the Zapotec oaks. However, the perceived family resemblance among folk generic taxa that would motivate the recognition of covert intermediate taxa more often defines complex chains of “horizontal” relationships — as opposed to the “vertical” relationships of set inclusion that define the taxonomic hierarchy (cf. Hunn 1975a; Hunn and French 1984) — with ill-defined boundaries that are not always consonant with the notion of contrast set. For that reason, I have chosen to recognized only a handful of covert intermediate taxa in this analysis.

This taxonomic structure has been defined mathematically (Kay 1971, 1975) in set theory by defining the Unique Beginner or Kingdom as the master set that includes every individual plant or animal. This comprehensive set is divided by the generic partition; viz., each individual plant should belong to one and only one folk generic -- each generic taxon including a set of plants that share a “family resemblance” (Wittgenstein 1999, aphorism 67) -- such that the folk generic rank partitions the kingdom.

As noted, a minority of generics are polytypic. These polytypic generics are in turn partitioned by a set of contrasting specific taxa. Polytypic specifics may be partitioned by a set of contrasting varietal taxa. Note that neither the specific nor the varietal ranks partition the kingdom. Intermediates include sets of related generics, as do life forms, but neither life forms nor intermediates fully partition the kingdom.

Berlin believes that the taxa sharing a common rank also share significant psychological properties. Most notably, folk generics will be more information-rich than either more or less inclusive taxa. Atran has tested this hypothesis in a clever series of experiments with Itza Maya and Michigan college students (Atran 1999). Like Berlin, he is convinced of the psychological reality of taxonomic ranks, and insists that every taxon belongs to one and only one rank. I remain highly skeptical on this point (cf. Hunn 1976, 1977; Randall and Hunn 1984).

5. Life forms and other suprageneric taxa

Firstly, life forms are a rather motley crew of taxa, varying in scope, that is, internal heterogeneity, whether measured in terms of the number of folk generic taxa or the range of scientific taxa included. I recognize here “maxi,” “mini,” and “micro” life forms, only half in jest. Life forms also vary in their conceptual basis. The broadest life forms, such as `tree´ or `bird´, pose few problems, as each may include dozens, even several hundred, subordinate folk generic taxa. The near universal recognition of such broad life forms may be based on evolutionary relationships, as in the case of `bird´ (note that `bird´ corresponds rather well with the scientific class Aves, presumed to be a monophyletic group), or to convergent evolution constrained by common problems of adaptation, as the constraints on form imposed by large size in plants that give `trees´ their distinctive outlines (Hunn 1987). However, at the narrow end, life forms may be indistinguishable from the more complex, heterogeneous folk generics, not to mention taxa of intermediate rank.

I recognize the following “greater” or maxi Zapotec life forms, three life forms that each include between 91 and 144 folk generics. These are:

yâg `tree/shrub´, which includes a total of 144 folk generics, including 135 explicitly marked as such (e.g., yàg-X);

guìzh `herbaceous plant´, with a total of 141 folk generics, including 80 preferentially marked as such (e.g., guìzh-X) and another 61 optionally so marked; and

guièe `flower´, with a total of 91 folk generics, including 74 preferentially marked as such (guièe-X) plus another 17 optionally so marked.

The first unusual feature of the Zapotec system is the recognition of `flower´ as a life form. Such a category has not been previously accepted among the potentially universal life forms (Brown 1977; Berlin 1992), perhaps because it has been assumed that to qualify as a life form a taxon should reflect characteristic gross morphological properties as opposed to focusing on some particular part of the plant, such as flower, fruit, leaf, or tuber (for contrary views see Clément 1995; Turner 1987). However, in the Zapotec case the term guièe `flower´ is employed in forming plant names precisely as are yâg and guìzh, two classic universal life forms. Nevertheless, recognizing `flower´ as a life form complicates the taxonomic theory in that the defining presence of a prominent flower may occur on woody trees and shrubs (e.g., yàg-guièe-yǎl, the frangipani tree, Plumeria rubra). As a result, the three Zapotec macro life forms broadly overlap, violating a key expectation of taxonomic theory (see Figure 4.3 ^[[LinLfrPla2]]). One could resolve this anomaly by decree, by ruling that `flower´ is not a truly “taxonomic” category and thus not a life form, but in my view that would be a quite arbitrary and unsatisfactory solution.

Turning next to the “lesser” or mini life forms, I recognize the following, though with some misgivings:

blâg, literally `leaf´, plants with prominent leaves; including a total of 25 generics, 18 preferentially marked as such (blàg-X), plus seven optionally so marked;

lbæ̀ `vine´, with 16 total generics, 10 preferentially marked as such (lbæ̀-X) plus six optionally marked with this life-form term; and

dòb `century plant´, with 12 generics, all explicitly and preferentially marked as dòb-X.

In addition, one might recognize the following “micro life forms” on the basis of nomenclatural and semantic parallels with guièe `flower´ and blâg `leaf´:

`tuber´, with six total generics;

ngùd `ball-shaped fruit´, with four total generics; and

bâr̲ `stick´, < Spanish barra, with two generics.

Of these, only `vine´ is normally cited as a “universal” life form. `Leaf´, like `flower´, highlights a particular plant part distinguished by size or, perhaps, utility. This is true as well of the three “micro life forms,” `tuber,´ `ball-shaped fruit,´ and `stick.´ Yet there are certain parallels between the application of these terms and the use of `flower´ in Zapotec plant names that could motivate their consideration as life forms. All may be subsumed by other more inclusive life forms, e.g., yàg-blàg-bnù `tree morning-glory´ (Ipomoea intrapilosa), yàg-ngùd-guèy `white zapote´ (Casimiroa edulis), lbæ̀-gù `potato´ (Solanum tuberosum), gù-blâg `sweet potato´ (Ipomoea batatas).

One other possibility should be considered: ncuàan, literally `medicine´ or `poison´, here `medicinal plant´, which is prefixed in 14 cases to form the names of folk generic taxa. Note that there are well over 200 locally recognized plants with medicinal uses. Therefore, those plants named ncuàan-X do not constitute a medicinal plant taxon, whether life form, intermediate, or generic. ncuàan seems to represent something other than a life form, not only because it is defined in terms of how it is used, but also because it is applied so infrequently to plants with medicinal applications. It is best treated as a component of the generic name, rather than as a life-form prefix.

While ncuàan seems best translated in San Juan Zapotec as `medicine´ or `medicinal plant´, cognate terms in other Zapotec languages often refer to edible wild plants or, to borrow a Nahuatl loan, quelites. It is likely the term once had a parallel meaning in San Juan also, since ncuàan-yê, literally `unripe medicine´, refers to a category closely equivalent to quelite, including a diverse range of herbaceous species, mostly wild but some also cultivated, that are cooked and eaten with meals. This category contrasts with zhlæ̀ `condiments´, which are not considered foods, properly speaking, but are added to meals as flavoring only. San Juan consultants often use ncuàan-yê to refer to the prototypical quelite, the chepiles (Crotalaria spp.), more properly named pxǐizh. Such categories are clearly what Berlin distinguishes as “special purpose” concepts defined not in terms of common intrinsic features of the species included, but in terms of contextual features, in this case, how they are used in the kitchen.

The `century plant´ category stands out in that it is unaffiliated with any other life form, that is, it is neither `tree/shrub´, `herbaceous plant´, nor `flower´, though it has a “tree,” i.e., the giant flower stalk or quiote called yàgùts (as opposed to *yàg-dòb `century plant tree´), and bears “flowers.” I could demote it to the status of a broadly polytypic folk generic, but it would then be an exceptionally heterogeneous example of a taxon of that rank. The 12 taxa named dòb-X belong to five genera in three families recognized by professional botanists. Perhaps one might compromise and call it an intermediate, though unusual in being explicitly named. In any case I count the 12 dòb subtaxa as folk generics, which seems the best solution in my judgment.

There are several Zapotec folk generics that are quite comparable to dòb with respect to their taxonomic range and/or internal complexity, for example:

guìzh-crùz, literally `cross herb´, < Spanish cruz, the true ferns, which incorporates at least 24 fern species of 12 genera in six families (of a total of 48 species of ferns and fern allies of 20 genera in eight families of the Pteridophyta so far recorded for San Juan), and

guìzh-dǐp `grass´, which incorporates at least 43 species of 34 genera in three families.

These two taxa could be considered either small life forms or named intermediates except that they are clearly subsumed by the major life form guìzh. More significant from the perspective of Berlin´s taxonomic theory is the fact that they include relatively poorly defined subcategories in comparison to those of dòb and that both clearly contrast with closely related folk generics. guìzh-crùz includes just three poorly defined subcategories, which by no stretch of the imagination should be considered folk generics, as they should be if guìzh-crùz were an intermediate or life form. guìzh-crùz contrasts with x-pàan-ngùtsiěts `horsetail ferns´ of the Equisetaceae, fern allies though not true ferns, but also with several categories of true ferns notable for their medicinal values or distinctive morphology, such as:

guìzh-bàz, or simply bàz, for which Phlebodium aureolatum is the prototype;

lùdz-mdzìn, literally `deer´s tongue´, prototypically Elaphoglossum spp.;

ncuàan-dzéb-guièel, literally `night fight medicine´, for which Pellaea ovata is the prototype;

ncuàan-dzéb-mæ̀cw, literally `dog fright medicine´, for which Cheilanthes sinuata is the prototype; and

guìzh-guìc-mæ̀cw, literally `dog head herb´, Dryopteris paleacea, named for the large root stock shaped like a dog´s head.

guìzh-dǐp `grass and grass-like plants´ is considered a universal life form by Brown and Berlin. The Zapotec category does include 14 named subtaxa, more than dòb `century plant´ and nearly as many as lbæ̀ `vine´, two of our smaller life forms. However, most of these subtypes seem less than generally recognized and some might be better treated as nonce forms. An exception is guìzh-dǐp-guièe `flowery grass´, Melinus repens, a common weedy grass bearing a showy mass of reddish glumes, also known as guìzh-dǐp-zhǐil, literally `cotton grass´, or guìzh-dǐp-nìzhniê `red grass´. However, as with the ferns, several particularly distinctive grasses are set apart and thus contrast with guìzh-dǐp:

gòob-guì `giant reed´ Arundo donax, a very large African grass cultivated and used in many ways;

zhǒb-bèl `wild oat´ Avena cf. fatua, an important forage grass (but not a kind of zhǒb `maize´, see below);

nìt `sugar cane´ Saccharum officinarum, introduced cultivar; and

zhǒb `maize´ Zea mays.

We should note in this context that the staple crops lbæ̀-bziàa `beans´ Phaseolus vulgaris and zhǒb `maize´ Zea mays, both include a range of subtaxa, mostly Creole land races that are distinguished by morphological details such as size and color of the seed, which are often correlated with maturational rates and preferred soils and elevations. These subtaxa are certainly not what Berlin nor I would consider to be folk generics, having rather the psychological properties of specifics or even of varietals. In each case also, the generic concept has been extended to incorporate introduced cultivars of the same botanical family but of different genera, a pattern described previously for the Tzeltal Maya by Berlin (1972; Berlin, Breedlove, and Raven 1974). These cases are best analyzed as folk generics contrasting within a polysemous (or covert) intermediate category ^[[LinTaxZea1]] ^[[LinTaxPha1]].

In short, I find the boundaries between life forms, intermediates, and generics to be difficult to discern in several instances. It is necessary to balance several at times conflicting considerations to arrive at what seems the most expedient analytical result. I believe these difficulties in the application of Berlin´s taxonomic model to real life data are not due to inadequate data but rather to inadequate theory. Our consultants must classify a complex fabric of family resemblances into a finite set of discrete categories, which may then be named. Except at the species population level, that fabric of biodiversity is not uniformly structured into a hierarchy of discrete sets of contrasting taxa. Thus the conceptual task of reducing the natural fabric to a finite set of discrete taxa of varying degrees of internal heterogeneity involves inevitable compromises and approximations.

6. Where do fungi fit? The fungal domain in Gbëë Zapotec

One last puzzle is the case of měy `mushroom´, or, more precisely, macro-fungi. At first glance this is a life form of moderate complexity, less so than our three macro life forms but somewhat more so than the mini life forms. Like dòb `century plant´ it stands apart from the major dichotomy dividing the plant kingdom into woody and non-woody plants. In fact, it is not clear in which kingdom of living organisms měy belongs.

The standard analytic framework for ethnobiological classification presumes that living things are classified into floral and faunal domains (“kingdoms”), each of which consists of a hierarchical taxonomic structure. The folk generic rank is the foundation of each domain, including in the neighborhood of 500 folk generic taxa each of plants and animals, which represent the most perceptually salient “natural” kinds within the experience of the local community. As noted above, moving down through the taxonomic hierarchy, one may find folk generic taxa subdivided by specific and varietal taxa; moving upwards one finds that the majority of folk generic taxa are subsumed by a few life-form (and perhaps intermediate) taxa.

However, actual folk taxonomies exhibit a number of “irregularities” that require some theoretical refinements to this basic scheme. For example, it has long been recognized that some folk generics will be “unaffiliated” with any life form. These generics are directly included in the “unique beginner,” the kingdom plant or animal. This is attributed to either the perceptual aberrancy of the unaffiliated taxon or some extraordinary cultural significance of the taxon, such as might be associated with domestication (Berlin 1992).

I believe that the Zapotec classification of fungi motivates an extension of unaffiliated status to life forms with respect to the kingdom rank. The Gbëë Zapotec category měy `mushroom´ could be analyzed as either an exceptionally large, heterogeneous folk generic taxon or as a small life form. Each “kind of” mushroom — some 20 are widely recognized — is named binomially (e.g., měy-guìin `chile mushroom´, měy-yâg `wood mushroom´), which might argue in favor of considering these names to be “secondary lexemes” and thus as referring to folk specifics within a single generic taxon. However, as I have noted above, San Juan Zapotec routinely incorporates the life-form name into the names of folk generic plant taxa, e.g., yàg-guièr `pine tree´, guièe-bgùs `spindle flower´, the zinnia. Thus there is no compelling reason to treat měy as other than a life form on a par with yâg `tree/shrub´ and guièe `flower´.

Given that the mushroom life form exhibits a nomenclatural pattern common in the plant domain why not simply treat měy as a plant life form? The problem is that měy begins with m-, which appears to be a prefixed element, a reduced variant of `animal´, a feature shared with a large majority of animal names, e.g., mguǐn̲ `bird´, mèel̲ `snake´, mèedz `wild cats and allies´, and mrè `ant´. This interpretation of the initial m- of měy is further supported by the fact that a negative response to the query, “Are there mushrooms here?” (i.e., when there are none) is “guiènd mâ” `there are no animals´. This contrasts with the appropriate response to the parallel questions: “Are there flowers here?” “guiènd-á” “There are none [inanimate]”; “Are there women here?” “guiènd mé” `There are none [persons].” One consultant responded to my direct question as to whether mushrooms were plants or animals that they were neither.

Mushrooms are “neither fish nor fowl,” that is, neither `plant nor `animal´. Thus, they are affiliated with neither kingdom, though certainly considered to be living things, e.g., they have “life” (guièl̲-mbán) and some claim also that they “have a heart” (rquiànié zdòo); as do many plants, such as maize). Furthermore, the nomenclatural and conceptual structure of the mushroom life form is in no way exceptional.

The simplest solution would seem to be to treat měy as an “unaffiliated life form,” that is, a life form affiliated with neither kingdom, analogous to Berlin´s unaffiliated generics with respect to plant or animal life forms. Lampman's account of Tzeltal Maya ethnomycological classification (2007) documents striking similarities to the San Juan Zapotec data. However, he prefers to treat the Tzeltal macrofungi as constituting a kingdom on a par with though distinct from the Tzeltal plant and animal kingdoms. A valid case could be made for either analytic solution.

7. Subspecific taxa

Something of the same complexity is noted with taxa of the folk generic rank. The distinction between generics, specifics, and varietals at times is blurred by conflicts between the structural position of the taxon, that is, the relationships of inclusion with respect to higher and lower level taxa, and the psychological quality of the taxon, in particular, whether monothetic or polythetic, or better, the degree of “polytheticity,” to introduce a neologism. Generic taxa are prototypically complexly polythetic, capable of definition only in terms of a concatenation of co-varying features expressed as a coherent gestalt (Hunn 1976). The prototypical folk generic taxon bears a simple primary name and corresponds to a single highly distinctive biological species. For example, blâg-wè is Wigandia urens, a common and conspicuous tall weedy shrub or small tree and a species with no close relatives in the region to confuse the issue. The huge leaves covered with irritating hairs motivate its inclusion in the life form blâg `leaf´.

Varietal taxa, at the opposite extreme, are prototypically monothetic, that is, defined by a single contrasting quality, such as color, shape, or size. For example, bziàa-dùuzh-nguěts `yellow string beans´, which contrast with bziàa-dùuzh-ngǎs `black string beans´ according to the color of the beans. Both varieties are “string beans,” that is, bush beans with edible pods.

Specific taxa may be monothetic or polythetic, thus not of a single psychological type. Bziàa-dùuzh `string bean´, for example, is a specific distinguished by several co-varying attributes, growth form and edibility of the pod, and is thus more polythetic than the varietal bziàa-dùuzh-nguěts `yellow string beans´, which is monothetic. Neither is as complexly polythetic as the generic bziàa. However, bziàa also directly includes non-string bean varieties distinguished only by color, or by just color and size, e.g., bziàa-ngǎs `black beans´ and bziàa-guiès, a large black bean. These specifics are psychologically more like the varietal bziàa-dùuzh-nguěts than the specific bziàa-dùuzh `string bean´, though as immediate subdivisions of the generic they must be considered specifics rather than varietals ^[[LinTaxPha1]]. At issue is the question of what the taxonomic theory should explain, the taxonomic structure or the underlying psychological properties of taxa? I believe that Berlin is primarily concerned to account for the conceptual realities underlying folk biological classification, not the formal structure. But as structural considerations define the taxonomic ranks, when structural position and psychological process are at odds, the theory fails the conceptual test.

8. Conclusions

In conclusion, we should reiterate the many ways that San Juan plant classification and nomenclature fits well with Berlin´s theoretical expectations (Berlin 1992:31-35). In particular, with regard to categorization, the San Juan Gbëë system of ethnobiological classification:

1) recognizes a very substantial subset of the biologically distinctive species of the local habitat;

2) this system is based primarily on the affinities that humans observe among the taxa themselves, quite independent of the actual or potential cultural significance of those taxa;

3) this system is organized conceptually into a shallow hierarchic structure;

4) taxa… [are] distributed among … four to six … ethnobiological ranks, e.g., a covert kingdom, several life forms, and intermediate, generic, specific, and varietal taxa;

5) with regard to folk generic taxa:

5a) folk generics are by far the most numerous taxa, closely approximating the modal value of 500 (452 to be precise), of which roughly 80% are monotypic (75% in our case), and most are included in one [or more] superordinate life form;

5b) life forms are few and broadly polytypic [though quite variable in size and substance];

5c) intermediates are rarely named and elusive, mediating life form and generic ranks,

5d) specifics are fewer than generics and varietals are rare,

6) generic and specific taxa (at least) may exhibit an internal structural contrast between prototypical and less typical members, and

7) the great majority of Zapotec generic and specific plant taxa correspond closely to modern scientific phylogenetic categories, most often to scientific species or genera, while life forms correspond poorly.

With regard to nomenclatural regularities, we may affirm that:

1) kingdom and intermediate taxa are covert, with few exceptions;

2) plant names represent well-known lexeme types, simple, unproductive complex forms, and productive compounds, i.e., polynomials.

On the other hand, Berlin´s distinction between primary and secondary lexemes does not apply. Also, contrary to Berlin´s expectations, the correspondence of name types, structural positions, and psychological processes underlying the recognition of taxa is less than straightforward. The San Juan Gbëë ethnobotanical classification system and associated nomenclature has much in common with other well-studied systems, despite dramatic differences in language and habitat, but exhibits complexities that warrant fundamental revisions in the currently dominant perceptual/taxonomic theory.

3. San Juan Gbëë Garden Study Summary

By Lisa Schneider

1. Introduction
2. Methodology
3. Observations
4. Conclusions

1. Introduction

The following summary is an overview of my ethnobotanical research project in San Juan Gbëë during July and August of 1998. I first describe what I set out to do and then outline what I was able to do (Methodology). Next, I review interviews, data, and data analysis (Observations). In conclusion, I offer observations regarding San Juan women´s socio-economic roles via garden production and consider the importance of house gardens for a sustainable community.

2. Methodology

I planned to gather demographic, phenological, and linguistic data and to map a sample of gardens. I planned to identify as many garden plants and flowers as possible by their Zapotec and scientific names and to document use values, local aesthetic preferences, and symbolic associations of garden plants and flowers.

I considered also such questions as the impact of religious beliefs on attitudes towards plant use in ceremonies and as medicines and the applications of new technology, such as the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. I hoped to examine the time dedicated to various gardening activities and determine to what extent house garden resources augment milpa produce in the local diet. Finally, I wanted to survey whether gardeners in San Juan grew flowers, herbs, or produce to sell in the local or regional marketplaces.

I designed a research strategy that included an introductory interview, followed by garden mapping, and a final comprehensive interview that reexamined every plant identified in my consultants´ gardens. My goal was to map a 5% sample of the town´s gardens, ca. 15, selected to be representative of social and spatial variation. The sampling strategy in practice was more serendipitous than scientific. And given my limited time in San Juan, nine gardens rather than fifteen were mapped.

I believe my garden sample was adequately representative of San Juan gardens and gardeners. This conclusion is supported by observations regarding the wide range of garden dimensions, species diversification among gardens, and the relative plant knowledge and gardening interests of San Juan women. Notably, every garden in my sample has its own unique set of plants. I noted that gardens that were closer to one another seemed to share idiosyncratic varieties, whereas gardens more distant from one another were more distinct. This was particularly true for the gardens of two women that are divided by a single street. Each grows asuzena amarilla (yellow day-lily), Eysenhartia, and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Of the three species, I encountered only nasturtium in another sample garden. I suspect neighbors are more likely to share seeds or cuttings than non-neighbors.

Varying garden dimensions further support the assertion that my sample represents a cross section of San Juan gardens. The dimensions of the gardens range from 8 to 1500 m2 (Table 2). The average size of these nine gardens is 354 m2. I suspect that San Juan gardens are as distinctive in proportion, content, and design as my sample reflects. Plant knowledge and interest in gardening varies significantly within San Juan. In general, larger gardens with more idiosyncratic plant varieties or with specialized cultigens grown for resale are associated with more knowledgeable, avid gardeners. The most active gardeners tend to influence and teach their younger affines about plants. Such gardeners also tend to be older women. These observations will be elaborated upon later in the summary.

After an informal introductory discussion I explained my research strategy in more detail. Every woman who completed these preliminary interviews became a consultant. I offered each ten pesos (ca. $1 US) an hour for their time and expertise. The garden surveys and comprehensive interviews were the most informative and time intensive aspects of the inquiry. During the next and often several meetings to follow, my consultants guided me through their gardens as I documented locations and names of virtually all plants in their gardens. In general, plants were identified by their Zapotec referents first and then in Spanish if a name was known. Occasionally, plants were identified only in one idiom or another, and on rare occasions, my consultants were unable to identify a plant. Usually, such unnamed plants were relatively new arrivals to San Juan and had been purchased in lowland commercial centers.

Most herbaceous weeds that appear in San Juan house gardens are considered to `grow by themselves´ (“nacen sólo”), in other words, they were not planted. In order to learn whether gardeners intentionally cultivate wild species today, I noted in every case the plant´s origin, or how it came to be in the garden. It is noteworthy that the most culturally significant ornamental flowering plants in Mexico today, viz., marigolds, dahlias, and cosmos, were domesticated in pre-Columbian times.

After mapping each garden, I created spreadsheets listing every plant documented on each garden map. I recorded use values for every plant, and documented local or habitat preferences and seasonal patterns. The last column was used to record each plant´s humoral quality, that is, whether it was considered to be “cold” or “hot” (fresca or caliente).

My consultants shared detailed information regarding the uses of the plants in their gardens and had no difficulty answering such questions as “When is this plant in fruit/flower?” or “How is this plant sown; by seed, bulb, root, cutting?” However, they found it difficult to specify such ecological parameters as soil, light, and moisture preferences.

There appears to be little intentional design or pattern to the placement or care of plants in San Juan gardens. In the dry season gardens receive special attention as plants must be watered, annual varieties such as cempasuchil (marigold) planted, and in general all plants require special care. During the rainy season milpas -- cultivated fields of corn, squash, and beans -- receive the most attention while house gardens are left to flourish on their own. This would be expected given that milpas produce the bulk of food in San Juan.

Gardeners who specialize in growing certain flowers and herbs to sell in Miahuatlán give extra thought to the placement of plants and to soil conditions. In both Sofía´s and Florianna´s gardens, herbs, flowers, and fruit are grown for local resale. Sofía prepares and dries herbs and her husband sells them when he vends his apples in lowland commercial centers. Sofía´s husband Genaro is responsible for the 18 tree apple orchard that comprises a sizable portion of their house garden. Sofía also grows a generous patch of agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus) that she cuts and sells to local residents when the flowers are in bloom. Similarly, Florianna´s mother cultivates numerous herbs that she dries and sells, and neighbors often purchase calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica), pomegranates (Punica granatum), and avocados (Persea americana)from their garden.

3. Observations

Based upon the responses of eight women, ages 24 to 80, the following generalizations can be made about San Juan Gbëë gardens, gardeners, and local aesthetic preferences. In San Juan women are almost exclusively the caretakers of “los huertos familiares,” or house gardens. Most consultants agreed they learned about plants, flowers, and gardening from maternal kin or from older female siblings. Veronica Santiago Cruz, age 26, said she learned from her maternal grandmother, and the two most senior respondents, Sofía and Dionicia reported that they learned mostly from “watching others.” An unusual response came from Vírgen Martinez Santiago, age 43, who told me she learned about garden plants from her father. Vírgen´s father Blaas was an entrepreneur who experimented with new and exotic varieties in his garden with the hope of selling the fruits of his labor in his shop. Vírgen eventually inherited a parcel of her father´s land, an 80 m2 garden, which she maintains to this day.

Interest in flowers begins in early childhood. All women in my sample reported that young girls “play” with flowers. Indeed on more than one occasion I watched girls, aged 4 to 12 creating tiny bouquets and flower gardens to decorate the miniature stone dwellings they had created. Girls also enjoy gathering flowers in the fields and woods that surround San Juan. Young girls emulate their mother´s behavior early on, for example, helping gather flowers for the home altar.

It is the women who place flowers on the church altar and maintain freshly cut and planted flowers at the cemetery. On Sunday afternoons groups of women pass with armloads of flowers on their way to the cemetery. Here they water plants, pull weeds, wash grave markers, and replace wilted cut flowers with fresh ones. White flowers appear to be particularly prominent: chrysanthemums, gladioli, calla and canna lilies, geraniums, and several varieties of roses. At a recent grave there were hundreds of cut flowers; all were white.

I also noted flowers in the cemetery that appeared to have been transplanted from the wild. Two sisters reported they collected wild flowers from time to time to plant in the cemetery. This may be evidence of domestication in process.

Favorite flowers include: cartucho (calla lily), gladiolus, cempasuchil (marigold, Tagetes erecta), platanillo (canna lily, Canna indica), margarita (marguerite daisy, Leucanthemum x superbum), and penumbre (rainbow/china aster, Callistephus chinensis). Cempasuchil was considered by the majority to be the most fragrant flower. Also noted was the asuzena del campo (Milla biflora), an annual lily that grows in the hills surrounding San Juan, and the cultivated rosa de castilla (Rosa x centifolia).

All but two women interviewed were eager to try new and exotic flowers. Several women commented they sometimes receive cuttings of new ornamental or herbal plants from friends. Flowers and plants are commonly given as gifts. When women want to give flowers that are unavailable in their own gardens, they purchase or barter for flowers from known resources in San Juan. I was told the flowers often sought out are calla lilies, agapanthus, gladiolus, and chrysanthemum.

Vendors from the neighboring village of San Pedro carry bundles of cut flowers to San Juan (and likely to other villages) to sell. San Pedro flower vendors specialize in chrysanthemum and gladiolus. Occasionally, cut flowers are brought back from the regional marketplace in Miahuatlán. I do not know if these flowers are resold in San Juan, but I noted women carrying penumbre as they returned from the Miahuatlán market.

Women tend their gardens no more than one hour a day. The work includes such tasks as watering, fertilizing, planting seeds, bulbs or cuttings, and harvesting flowers, herbs, fruits, vegetables, or animal fodder. Three of eight respondents apply animal waste to their gardens; all water garden plants during the dry season; none apply chemical fertilizers or commercial pesticides. Virtually nothing goes to waste in the gardens. Corn cobs, apple cores, citrus rinds, and the like are used in many gardens.

Based upon analysis of the comprehensive interviews, at least 239 different species were identified in the nine gardens surveyed in July and August 1998 (table 7.1). The average number of species per garden was 64. Undoubtedly, this is a rough representation of the total population of garden species in San Juan. A more accurate list would be derived from a larger sample and recorded throughout the year, so as to identify seasonal variations in the appearance of annual plant varieties.

I calculated percentages for every garden of medicinal, food, and ornamental plants and averaged the percentages from all gardens across categories. Approximately 18% of garden plants have medicinal uses, 34% are primarily ornamental, and 49% are consumed by humans or given to livestock as fodder.

I performed the same calculations on the 20 most common garden plants (those present in five or more gardens). The use values for the most popular species corresponded closely with those calculated for all varieties: 15% of the most common garden plants were used medicinally, 35% were ornamental, and 50% were for food.

These data indicate the importance of garden produce for the local, subsistence economy. Huertos familiares provide significant dietary supplements. The cultural salience of flowers is dramatically evident in local floral production. Finally, the local pharmacopoeia provides relief for many common illnesses. The labor required to cultivate garden produce is slight; the most intensive labor occurs during the dry season when milpas require very little of women´s labor. In return, women´s garden labor provides valuable resources that need not be purchased elsewhere.

4. Conclusions

House gardens in San Juan Gbëë promote species diversification, support local sustainability, and serve as learning opportunities where horticultural knowledge is shared and passed on to the next generation of gardeners. Significantly, women are primarily responsible for developing and maintaining horticultural knowledge, for garden production, and for naming introduced species. Women who cultivate gardens create economic leverage for themselves within their community and potentially build economic enterprises that extend beyond San Juan.

Having noted 239 different varieties within a 9 garden sample over a two month period, it is clear that house gardens sustain a remarkable degree of biodiversity. Furthermore, because gardeners are interested in new and exotic plant varieties, there is reasonable certainty that diversity will continue to be encouraged.

Cochineal production, silk worm cultivation, and the use of a dye derived from Justica spicigera (flor de tinta, guièe-tînt) were once thriving local industries, but are now largely obsolete, perhaps as a consequence of global market forces. Though there are weavers in San Juan, lacking a market for locally woven silk or wool garments, both dye and silk production have become obsolete. The revitalization of dying and weaving as sustainable economic enterprises in San Juan might be a feasible undertaking now while locally skilled artisans are alive and can pass on their knowledge.

I believe that household gardens sustain important cultural uses of plants and flowers integral to the sustainable economy. Household gardens serve as classrooms where women may transmit their horticultural skills and knowledge. Women consult with one another particularly with regard to the use of medicinal plants in treating illnesses and injuries. I witnessed one discussion concerning the proper treatment of an eye injury sustained by a three year old girl. Three generations of women debated which herbs to use. The conversation truly served to educate the younger generation, to reinforce the knowledge of elder generations, and to foster the use of locally produced resources and empirical knowledge in resolving health issues.

Local horticultural knowledge is for the most part dependent upon Zapotec vocabulary. However, Zapotec is flexible in naming new varieties of garden plants. Recently introduced species were often given descriptive names such as guièe-mòrâd (that is, “purple flower”), lacking any other name. Some exotic species were simply not named, such as iris, crocosmia (Tritonia crocosmflora), aster novi (Aster novi-belgii), Swedish ivy (Plectranthus cf. australis), and the pink splash plant (Begonia x semperflorens). But some gardeners created names for new plants, such as Angela´s name for the recently introduced potato vine (Solanum jazminoides), “flor de teléfono” (literally, “telephone flower”). The plant was brought to San Juan by the Reeck missionary family during the 1970s, about the time the first telephone line was installed. Other consultants had no name for it (but cf. guièe-àsâr, cited in the Ethnoflora)

In sum, the women who cultivate household gardens in San Juan Gbëë contribute valuable resources to their families and to their community. Their horticultural expertise and desire to grow new varieties promotes biodiversity. The lush gardens they create serve as educational spaces where traditional ecological knowledge is reinforced and new information is welcomed. Household garden resources contribute to a sustainable local economy by providing people with low cost alternatives to goods that might otherwise be purchased in a commercial marketplace.

In a community where women have few opportunities to generate cash, their ability to sell or barter garden produce provides them with a significant degree of economic leverage within their community. There also exist opportunities for regenerating former enterprises such as weaving and dye production which both require garden resources. Additionally, gardeners who specialize in flower and/or herb cultivation have numerous possibilities for entry into the regional marketplace. With the cultural framework of language in place and integrated with household garden cultivation, community solidarity and economic sustainability will persist in San Juan Gbëë.