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Tropical Ecology Institute


Ethnobotany in Belize: A WebQuest

Grade Level: 9-12

Author: Scott Byington, Cary, NC

Student activity version


Approximately 25% of the medicines used in the United States have active ingredients that are derived from plants.  According to the World Health Organization, 80% of the people in developing countries rely on traditional medicines produced from plants.  Shamans are native tribal doctors and spiritual healers who utilize their wealth of knowledge about the healing properties of the indigenous plants to treat the sick.  Some ethnobotanists are actively working with Shamans to identity these unique plants and explore the phytochemical properties.  However, habitat destruction, especially in developing nations, poses a significant threat to the survival of these plants and the development of future medications resulting from them.  This activity allows students to understand what ethnobotany is, consider the effects of habitat destruction on ethnobotany, and to explore the medicinal value of these plants.


Students need access to the Internet, the Ethnobotany in Belize Activity Page, and the "Ethnobotany Questions" sheet (Word document).


Through the completion of this webquest and a subsequent class discussion, students will recognize the importance of these unique plants.  Students will be able to:

  • describe what ethnobotany is and what type of research is being done in this area
  • describe the medicinal use of some of the plants found in Belize
  • consider the consequences of not protecting the botanical resources of Belize


Students can be given a brief introduction to ethnobotany, or they can proceed directly to the activity web site and begin working on the WebQuest.  Following the completion of the activity, a discussion should follow.  Some excellent resources are found in the section below (these can be used by the teacher for additional background, as possible discussion topics, or could be the basis for student research).


Students will complete, either individually or in small groups, the Ethnobotany Questions sheet.  Students may also be evaluated on participation in a class discussion of ethnobotany at the completion of the webquest.  Students may also be assigned specific areas of research (e.g., a particular plant or treatment) for an additional assignment.

Resources/Further Information:


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