FWD 2 HerbalGram: One River: Excerpts from the new book about the life of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes.

Issue: 38 Page: 32

One River: Excerpts from the new book about the life of ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes.

by Wade Davis

HerbalGram. 199638:32 American Botanical Council

Most botanists working in the Amazon must come to peace with their ignorance. When they look at the forest, their eyes fall first on what is known and then seek what is unknown. Schultes was the opposite. He possessed what scientists call the taxonomic eye, an inherent capacity to detect variation at a glance. When he looked at the forest, his gaze reflexively fell on what was novel or unusual. And since he was so familiar with the flora, he could be confident that if a plant was new to him, it was likely to be new to science. For Schultes such moments of discovery were transcendent. He was once in a small plane that took off from a dirt runway, brushed against the canopy of the forest, and very nearly crashed.

A colleague who was with him recalled years later that throughout the entire episode Schultes had sat calmly by a window, oblivious to the screams of the terrified passengers. It turned out that he had spotted a tree, a new species of Cecropia, and had scarcely noticed the crisis. What all this meant was that Schultes could resolve botanical problems in the moment, write descriptions in the field, realign species and genera just by holding a blossom to the light. In the entire history of Amazonian botany, only a handful of scientists have possessed this talent. (394)

Though trained at the finest botanical institution in America, after a month in the Amazon Schultes felt increasingly like a novice. The Indians knew so much more. He had gone to South America because he had wanted to find the gifts of the rain forest: leaves that heal, fruits and seeds that supply the foods we eat, plants that could transport the individual to realms beyond his imaginings. Yet within a month he had learned that in unveiling the indigenous knowledge, his task was not merely to identify new sources of wealth but rather to understand a new vision of life itself, a profoundly different way of living in a forest. (1941-1942; 219)

In the afternoon of his first day in the city [Bogota, 1941] he hopped aboard an open-sided trolley, paid a penny, and sat back to see where it would take him. It went south, winding its way toward the outskirts of the city to the munitions factory where the line ended at the base of a steep hill lush with vegetation. Schultes got off and followed a group of schoolchildren and a nun up a stone stairway that climbed into a beautiful forest. As he walked through the trees, he noticed a small orchid partially concealed by a cluster of ferns. It was no more than an inch high and unlike anything he had ever seen. He carefully made a collection, which he pressed between the pages of his passport. He later sent it by post to Oakes Ames, who described it as a new species, Pachiphyllum schultesii. Thus on his first day in Colombia, at the edge of the national capital, Schultes had discovered an orchid unknown to science. It was his first botanical collection in Colombia, the first of mor e than twenty-five thousand he would make. (131-132)

It is difficult to know what it was like for him during his first months in the Amazon. In twelve years he rarely kept a journal. He had no time. His collecting notebooks record where he went and when, but they give no insight into his thoughts or emotions. He generally traveled alone or with one native companion, learning early to eschew the cumbersome gear that dragged down so many expeditions of his era. High boots, complicated tents, stools, and portable kitchens were not for him. He wore a pith helmet, khaki trousers and shirt, a kerchief, and, in the low country, leather moccasins saturated with oil purchased by mail order from L. L. Bean back in New England. Rarely did he carry a gun. Besides a machete, hammock, and his plant collecting gear, he brought a camera, a spare set of clothes, and a small medical kit complete with hypodermic syringe and snake-bite serum. For food he lived off the land, carrying as emergency rations only a few cans of his beloved Boston baked bea ns, less for sustenance than to boost his morale when things got rough. For reading he took Virgil, Ovid, Homer, and a Latin dictionary, as well as the eighteenth century journals of the Spanish explorers Ruiz and Pavon, which he intended to translate in his spare time.

The region he entered, the Northwest Amazon of Colombia, was and remains the wildest area in South America. The Amazon has fifty thousand miles of navigable rivers and one thousand major tributaries, twenty of which are larger than the Rhine; eleven of these flow more than one thousand miles without a rapid. The Amazonian lowlands of Colombia, by contrast, contain only one major navigable river, the Putumayo; all others are interrupted by rapids and waterfalls. The riverboats that 150 years ago transformed the Amazon in Brazil and Peru into a highway have never been able to penetrate the heart of Colombia. The land explored by Schultes covers over half a million square miles. (179-180)

Schultes was a naive photographer. For him a beautiful image was one of something beautiful. But he was technically adept at using his format camera, and he approached photography with the same meticulous attention to detail that characterized his work with plants. His photographs have a timeless, ethereal quality, especially those taken on his first long expedition to Sibundoy and the Putumayo. His favorite is a portrait of a young Kamsa boy holding the leaves and blossom of a tree known as the jaguar's intoxicant. The boy is dressed in a white woolen poncho with broad stripes. His skin appears soft, unblemished, and his thick black hair has been cut with a bowl. His only adornment is a mound of necklaces of small white and dark glass beads. His expression is completely natural. He neither fears the camera nor is he concerned about its disapproval. He has the freshness and ease of a photographic subject who has never seen himself in a photograph. Though neither sentimental nor condescending, the image is touched with pathos. It is as if in taking the photograph, in freezing that moment of the boy's life, Schultes was both testifying to the youth's vulnerability and mortality, and beating witness to the relentless corrosion of time. (167)

It was in Sibundoy in 1941, on his very first expedition in Colombia, that he had come upon the greatest concentration of hallucinogenic plants ever discovered. In a valley that can be crossed on foot in a morning, there were over 1,600 individual hallucinogenic trees -- and that was just in one genus of the Solanaceae. At the approaches to the valley, near Laguna de la Cocha, Schultes made the second collection of the Tree of the Evil Eagle. In the foothills beyond the town of San Pedro he first found the hummingbird's flower, Iochromafuchsiodes. In the gardens of curanderos he documented 12 cultivated varieties of tree datura, including an aberrant form that he later described as a new genus, Methisticodendron amesianum, named in honor of his mentor, Oakes Ames. On the Páramo of Tambillo, two thousand feet above the valley to the northeast, he found yet another magic plant, a beautiful shrub with dark glossy leaves like those of a holly, tubular red flowers tipped in ye llow, and white berries, bright and lustrous. This was Desfontainia spinosa, known to the Kamsa as the "intoxicator," a source of dreams and visions employed by shamans from Colombia south as far as Chile. In his first month in the field, before he had even begun to explore the lowlands, Schultes discovered no fewer than four psychoactive plants new to science.

It was not only the hallucinogens that drew his attention. In the fields he found unfamiliar foods: tree tomatoes, taro, and arracacha roots, new varieties of beans and maize. Working with the healers he collected flowers used to treat fever, roots employed to kill parasites, herbal treatments for infections, tonics for nerves, and infusions taken to ease childbirth. To dress wounds the Kamsa chewed selaginella and tobacco, mixed in urine, and plastered the paste over the injury. Ant bites were soothed with a poultice of peperomia, and ulcers were relieved with the red resin of a plant from the lowlands known as sangre de dragon -- the blood of the dragon. (173-174)

...three species of hollies yield caffeine. The best known is yerba maté, Ilex paraguariensis, the national drink of Argentina. A second is the powerful emetic known in the Carolinas as yaupon, or the Black Drink, Ilex vomitoria, the only caffeine plant native to North America. The third and by far the most mysterious is Ilex guayusa. A tall tree native to the eastern montaña of Ecuador and Peru, yet sporadic in distribution, it has been collected only rarely. According to Tim it had never been found in flower.

Schultes had analyzed a 1,500-year-old bundle of guayusa leaves found in a medicine man's tomb high in the Bolivian Andes, far beyond the natural range of the plant. In the lowlands of Ecuador, Jivaro warriors traditionally used infusions of guayusa to purify themselves and their families before shrinking the heads of their slain enemies. To this day they employ guayusa as a ritual mouthwash before making curare or taking yagé. When the Jesuits first contacted the tribe, they declared guayusa the "quintessence of evil." Half a century later they were growing it in plantations, having persuaded all of Europe that it was a proven cure for venereal disease, which it was not. Following the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1766, the forests reclaimed the plantations and commercial production of the leaves ceased. Trade continued, but on a much smaller scale.

"Schultes looked for guayusa when he came here in the forties, but he never found it," Tim said. "The Capuchins had heard nothing about it, though they knew a great deal about plants. Twenty years later one of his grad students, Mel Bristol, happened to buy some dried leaves from an herbalist up in Sibundoy. Turned out to be guayusa. Eventually Schultes traced the leaves to this very bush. The old lady, like most healers down in the lowlands, sold herbs and preparations to the Inga, who in turn traded them throughout the country. By then Schultes knew from early Church documents that there had been a Jesuit plantation somewhere around Mocoa in the eighteenth century. So he asked the curandera where she had obtained the original material for her shrub. She told him about some old trees growing near a little place called Pueblo Viejo. He took off immediately on foot, four hours on a muddy track. That's how he found the plantation, two hundred years after it had been abandoned."

"He was almost sixty when he did that," Pedro said knowingly. (187)

Schultes got to know the Naré Trocha well. Instead of building a canoe on the Apaporis side, the company elected to have a sixteen-meter, 1.5-ton boat hauled overland, yard by yard, through the jungle. Under the best of circumstances a loaded mule required three-and-a-half days for the one-way trip. A unencumbered man could make it in two. Schultes hoped to complete the traverse in ten days.

It was a horrendous passage. From Naré to the first camp at Tacunema, a distance of eight miles, the path was broad and straight. But the soil was thick clay, and the rains that fell every afternoon and evening turned it into a muddy slough. What few bridges there were could not accommodate the weight or scale of the load. The men had to inch the boat down each embankment and drag it across the ground on rollers of wood cut from the forest. Between Naré and Victoria there were 120 creeks, and each had to be negotiated in this manner. Photographs taken at the time reveal exhausted men straining against a pole bound by rope across the bow of the boat. Their clothing hangs limp with sweat. Many are barefoot. All are filthy, including Schultes, who works beside them, distinguished only by his thick beard, pith helmet, and the cigar that appears to burn incessantly in his mouth. (1943; 322)

To a great extent logistics defined the expedition. A year or two later, while working in the wet tropics of South America, Schultes would pioneer a method of preserving plant specimens by dipping them in alcohol or formaldehyde before laying them between sheets of newspapers. Two or three bundles of specimens could then be sealed in waterproof bags and packed into costales, the large burlap bags available in any marketplace in Latin America. The advantages were enormous. Treated collections could be stored for a month or more. and because the specimens remained pliable, they could be transported without risk of damage. By monitoring the bundles and adding more preservative when necessary, it was possible to remain on expedition for several months and then dry the entire collection upon return from the field. This simple technique represented a revolution in field methodology and was later adopted by virtually every tropical botanist. (115)

Over the course of two hundred years of research, plant explorers in South America, beginning with Humboldt and Bonpland, have identified only twenty-one species of the genus Strychnos used as arrow poisons. In one week on the Sucumbios, Schultes found eight of these, each believed by the Kofan to have unique chemical and magical powers. He also collected Chondrodendron iquitanum, one of the curare plants brought back from the Canelos Quichua by Richard Gill, as well as two species of Abuta, a related genus in the moon-seed family. He also described for the first time the use of Schoenobiblus peruvianus, a plant known to the Kofan as shira"chu sehe"pa, a poison used exclusively for hunting birds. (224-225)

The first time Schultes felt the dull ache of malaria was on the afternoon of May 23, 1942, as he and his Italian companion, Nazzareno Postarino, paddled up the Rio Caraparana on their way to El Incanto. It was the height of the rainy season and both riverbanks were flooded. Still they had no choice but to make camp and rest until the fever passed. After stringing their hammocks above the boggy ground and kindling a fire from moss and bark they lay in the rain for three days as the paroxysms of chills and night sweats convulsed Schultes's body. On the morning of May 27 the fever broke, and Schultes awakened to a blue sky, a cool breeze coming off the river, and sunlight falling through the forest. Still weak, he rose slowly from his hammock and cautiously made his way down to the river to bathe. He stumbled and fell against the muddy bank. Looking up he saw a solitary orchid growing on the surface of a half-drowned, mossy trunk. He went closer and reached for the delicate inflor escence. The petals and sepals were light blue, the lip somewhat darker with pale veins, and the back and wings of the column were streaked with red. He had never seen such a perfectly pure shade of blue. Teasing a blossom with his finger, Schultes knew that he held in his hand the legendary blue orchid. "Never," he wrote years later, "could a doctor have prescribed a more effective tonic! I had found my friend...I was happy and could almost have believed that destiny had led me in these lowest of days to that one bright jewel of the jungle."

It was indeed an extraordinary prize. In three centuries the delicate plant Agansia cyanea, originally named for the lover of Apollo, the Greek nymph Acacallis, had been found in the wild by only four explorers.

In 1801, Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland collected it at the base of Cerro Duida, the mountain of the Lost World that soars above the beginning of the Casiquiare, the natural canal that runs between the headwaters of the Rio Negro in Brazil and the Orinoco in Venezuela. The better part of a century went by until the next collection occurred in 1939, a single plant found at the headwaters of the Uaupés by Schultes's friend José Cuatrecasas. This was one of the specimens that Schultes had asked to see when he arrived in Bogotá in 1941. (372-373)

[1941] Looking over the collection, Schultes marveled at his good fortune. On his first complete day of botanizing in the Amazon, he had discovered a new species of wild cacao, later named Herrania breviligulata, together with a new species of fish poison, Serjania piscetorum. Known to the Ingano as sacha barbasco, it was one of four fish poisons collected that first morning. The other three, all members of the Spurge family, remain unidentified to this day. Placed in slow-moving bodies of water, these poisons interfere with respiration in the gills of the fish. The fish float to the surface and are readily gathered. Many of the Amazonian fish poisons contain enormous concentrations of rotenone. Thus, in uncovering their identity, Schultes stumbled on the source of the most commonly used biodegradable insecticide available to the modem world.

This was just the beginning of a remarkable collection. Naturally his eye had been drawn to achiote, the yellow-orange pigment used as face paint throughout the Amazon and employed in Europe and America as a dye to color butter and margarine. There were two other dye plants, three rare and unknown fruits, and one hallucinogen, a sterile specimen of borrachero that came complete with a recipe: "two leaves for a drunk lasting all morning, four or five for all day." More significant was his collection of a nondescript tree in the genus Croton, one of twenty-five medicinal plants gathered in one day. Schultes noted that the red latex was "used by the Ingas to calm pain in aching molars." He recognized it as sangre de drago, dragon's blood, a plant he had first encountered the week before in Sibundoy. Now he learned of its extraordinary curative properties. Placed on an open wound, the resin dries into an antiseptic seal, a protective cover known to the Indians as a liquid bandage. In ways that modern science has yet to understand, the compounds in the resin accelerate healing in a remarkable manner. Wounds and lacerations that in the tropics would normally fester, instead heal within days, without infection and without leaving a scar. Finally, his field notes record that on December 6, 1941, he made his first collection of coca. The Inga chewed the leaves "for strength" adding to the quid a powdered lime made from the ashes of a burned white stone. (202)

"This is the one named for Schultes," he [Tim Plowman] said, handing me one of the silver leaves. "Esyletia schultesiana. He found it in December of `41 on his first trip. He made a century set."

"What's that?" I asked.

"A hundred specimens from the type locality of a new species. It's the best you can do, a hundred collections of an unknown plant dispersed to herbaria throughout the world. You've never heard of it because no one does it anymore. It's too much trouble."

"How did he know it was new?"

"He didn't. It was only the second time he had ever seen an espletia. But he had been on the páramos above Bogota with Cuatrecasas." José Cuatrecasas was a Spaniard who had fled Franco and settled in Colombia. The leading authority on the flora of the Andes, he was one of the few botanists alive who was in Schultes's league.

"They got lost for a while and ended up sleeping in a cave -- or what Schultes thought was a cave. Turned out to be an abandoned coal mine. It rained like hell, and they woke up black as night, completely covered in coal dust and mud. There was some American with them who was furious. Schultes just laughed about it."

"But what about the espletia?" I asked.

"Cuatrecasas was the expert, and he had never been to Sibundoy. So Schultes took an educated guess that no botanist had ever seen the plant. He was right. At least no one had ever collected it. That's why Cuatrecasas named it for him."

"It was that easy."

"The country was wide open."

I smiled in amazement. In North America and Europe the plants are so well known that the discovery of a single new species marks the highlight of a botanist's career. Schultes found over three hundred. Dozens of plants are named for him. Even genera. Panama hats, which are actually made in Ecuador, are woven from the fibers of Schultesiophytum palmata. Schultesianthus is a genus of nightshades. Marasmius schultesii is a mushroom used by Taiwano Indians to treat ear infections. The Makuna use Justicia schultesii for sores, Hiraea schultesii for conjunctivitis, Pourouma schultesii for ulcers and wounds. The Karijonas relieve coughs and chest infections with a tea brewed from the stems and leaves of Piper schultesii. The list goes on. So many botanists wanted to name plants for him that they ran out of ways of using his name and had to use his initials. On a cliff in the Vaupés he found an extremely rare and beautiful plant, a new genus in the African violet family. Schulte sia had already been used so the specialist named it Resia, for Richard Evans Schultes.

Schultes himself took all of this rather casually. The only creature named for him that he ever spoke about was a lowly insect. The story was one of his favorites. He disliked traveling with large scientific expeditions, but in 1967 he went up the Rio Negro in Brazil with a dozen entomologists, among them the world's cockroach expert, a fellow who worked for the U.S. Army. The river was as high as it had been in twenty-five years. Walking on shore was impossible. The expedition was equipped with four outboard motors, but only one worked. The scientists were at each other's throats. The cockroach man, a New Yorker who had never been out of the city, had sailed all the way up the Amazon without seeing a cockroach. He was going mad on the ship, so Schultes flagged down a dugout and hired an Indian to take them into the flood forest. Schultes doesn't know a beetle from a bat, but he knows the jungle, and as they paddled along he noticed some oropendola nests hanging over the river. He looked behind him and said, "Wouldn't your damned roaches love all that bird shit in those nests?" The nests, as it turned out, were crawling with some of the biggest cockroaches ever found. Every species of oropendola had a different species of cockroach living in its nest. There were three new genera, and the specialist was so happy he named one of them Schultesia. It was an ugly thing, but for years Schultes carded a photo of it in his wallet. (160-162)

[1943] "Buenas tardes," Schultes said. "I am --"

"Yo se. I know who you are. It is my business to know." The officer spoke with such authority one might have thought he had followed Schultes's progress by military radio, as opposed to the sporadic riverboats that were his only source of intelligence. Without introducing himself, the major spun on his heels and marched toward the compound, a number of shacks perched in a clearing hacked from the forest and connected by wooden walkways.

"Mi capitán," Schultes said. The major froze. "I was wondering if we might catch a plane for Bogota.""I am Major Gustavo Rojas Pinilla."

"I beg your pardon, Major," Schultes said. "About the plane, I understand that --"

"There is service twice a month. The next plane is due in a week." As discreetly as possible Schultes asked if there might be a place to stay.

The major walked toward Schultes, looking him over as if he was a fresh recruit. Schultes glanced down and noticed for the first time his bare feet, the tattered legs of his trousers, the khaki shirt quite literally rotting on his back. He apologized for his appearance.

"Puede jugar ajedrez," the Major asked.

"Excuse me," Schultes said.

"Carrajo, hombre. Can you play chess?"

"Sure," Schultes replied, remembering how much he hated the game. "Why didn't you say so? They stick me in this hellhole of a jungle with a bunch of animales and one white man, and the son of a bitch can't play chess. Evangelista!" A soldier came stumbling out of one of the shacks.

"Mi major."

"Take these men to the bodega and get them in uniform. Dr. Schultes, come along with me. We have time for one match before dinner."

It was the first of many. For the next seven days, dressed in an oversized uniform of a private in the Colombian army, Schultes played chess from morning until night. He lost every game. (242-243)

It was several minutes before anyone came to greet them. The man who did walked alone. In an instant Schultes realized where the Ingano and Kamsa healers had learned to dress. The Kofan shaman was an old man, and he wore a cushma of bright blue trading cloth that fell as a mantle fell below his knees. Mounds of colored beads hung around his neck, and necklaces of seeds and shells, jaguar teeth and boar tusks draped in concentric rings down to the middle of his chest. His face was broad, his eyebrows plucked and painted, his lips dyed indigo, his wide and flattened nose decorated with a blue macaw feather that ran through the septum. Across his forehead and on both cheeks were intricate patterns of lines and dots, painted in orange and blue, motifs like visions.

There were bamboo tubes and feathers in his ear lobes. His hair had been shaved short and allowed to grow to a uniform length that tickled the tips of his ears. On his head was a magnificent feathered headdress with an iridescent band of turquoise hummingbird feathers, a circle of red and white toucan breasts, and a corona of green parrot feathers that created a strange halo effect as he moved. Emerging from the top of the headdress was a fan of five scarlet macaw feathers. Two long bandoliers of jungle seeds crossed his chest, iguana skins and leaves circled his wrists, and great manes of scented palm fiber hung from his upper arms.

When he turned to lead the Colonel into the center of the village, Schultes saw the long train of parrot feathers that fell over his back.

"Imagine what they look like when they dress up," the Colonel said as the stepped up the log ladder into the old man's house. (1942; 221-222)

There is a small photo album in the anthropological archives at the Smithsonian Institution that shows what it was like that summer nearly sixty years ago (1936) when Richard Evans Schultes, a young Harvard student, traveled west to Oklahoma to live among the Kiowa and participate in the solemn rites of the peyote cult.

The most intriguing image of all is also the simplest. It shows the Roadman, Belo Kozad, flanked by two young white men standing in a field. On the Kiowa's left is Weston La Barre, a graduate student in anthropology at Yale who would go on to write the seminal book, The Peyote Cult. His companion is the twenty-one-year-old Schultes. It is clear from the juxtaposition of the photographs in the album that all three men have just come out of an all night peyote ceremony. La Barre looks like it, his eyes shy away from the glare, his hair is wildly disheveled, his clothing loose. Schultes, by contrast, does not have a hair our of place. He is tall, dignified, and contained. In the heat of the morning and throughout a long night of chanting, prayers, and ritual vomiting, he has evidently not so much as loosened the red Harvard tie around his neck. One would never know that coursing through his blood is the residue of a sacred plant that has just sent a dozen Kiowa on a mystical journe y to their gods. (61-62)

Schultes took the mushrooms, placed them on top of the press, and carefully began to separate the species. In his notebook he recorded the date, description, and collection number of the specimens. It was July 27, 1938, Schultes and Reko number 231, the first identifiable botanical collection of teonanacatl, the Flesh of the Gods. Later that afternoon, a fortnight before his scheduled return to Boston, Schultes wandered through the moist fields outside of Huautla. He collected more than a dozen specimens, which are preserved to this day in the Farlow Herbarium at Harvard.

On February 21, 1939, Schultes reported his discovery in the Botanical Museum Leaflets, a journal established seven years earlier by Oakes Ames and printed privately on a hand-set press located in the basement of the museum on Oxford Street in Cambridge. It was a major ethnobotanical breakthrough. With the assistance of Harvard mycologist David Linder, Schultes had positively identified teonanacatl as Panaeolus campanulatus var. sphinctrinus, a variety now recognized as the distinct species Panaeolus sphinctrinus. By securing a proper voucher specimen with an accurate botanical determination, Schultes had distilled ethnographic reports and rumors into scientific fact. It would take many years, but eventually others would follow in his wake; a series of expeditions in the 1950s would result in, among other things, the birth of the psychedelic era. (111-112)

When on May 13, 1957, Wasson published an account of his [Schultes's] expedition in Life magazine, a young editor attempted to capture the ineffable quality of the experience in a snappy title, "Seeking the Magic Mushrooms." Neither the editor nor Wasson could have anticipated that the name would stick or that the article would mark a certain watershed in the social history of the United States, the beginning of the psychedelic era. Before its publication, the general public was completely unaware of the existence of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Among those who read it. and whose interest was sufficiently piqued that he sought out the more sober academic articles of Richard Evans Schultes, was a young Harvard lecturer named Timothy Leary.

In the summer of 1960, Leary would travel to Mexico and ingest the magic mushrooms in Cuernavaca. "Like almost everyone else who has had the veil drawn," he would later write, "I came back a changed man." Shortly thereafter Leary returned t o Harvard where he began the controversial experiments that eventually culminated in his dismissal from the university. Naturally he consulted Schultes. One of their conversations touched on the use of the word "psychedelic," a term that had been recently coined by the psychiatrist Humphrey Osmund.

Schultes cautioned Leary that the word, meaning "mind manifester," was appropriate, but the spelling was incorrect. The proper Greek was "psychodelic," and Schultes was concerned lest a Harvard man be associated with the bastardization of a classical language. Leary suggested that "psychedelic" sounded better. An unverified account of the meeting indicates that long before Harvard fired Leary, Schultes had disowned him for using improper Greek. (119-120)

San Agustín is one of a handful of towns in South America -- Santa Marta and Cuzco are two others -- where itinerant travelers, particularly those interested in drugs, invariably end up. The land is stunningly beautiful, the rains mysterious, the living cheap. An added attraction is the San Isidro mushroom, Psilocybe cubensis, a powerfully hallucinogenic species that grows throughout subtropical South America but does especially well in the mountain pastures of Colombia, including those around San Agustín. Found always in association with cattle manure, it has a light tan cap that may be several inches across, dark gills, and a distinctive black veil around the stem. Schultes was the first [scientist] to find it, in Oaxaca in 1938, growing on cattle dung in the mountains above Huautla. (150-151)


I began this project by conducting some thirty hours of interviews with Professor Schultes in the spring of 1990. Consisting of reminiscences and somewhat more elaborate accounts of many of the same stories and anecdotes I had heard over the years at Harvard, the transcripts nevertheless provided a framework from which to proceed. Perhaps most significantly, they revealed Schultes's strengths and weaknesses as a source of information about his life and times. His recollections and sense of chronology were vague, his capacity for introspection limited. Although proud of his achievements, it had never dawned on him to place his work in historical context. On the subject of plants, however, his memory proved almost eerily infallible. I soon learned that if I could anchor a question to a specific botanical collection, then, as if by magic, people, places, dates, and events would emerge.

With the exception of three months in the fall of 1947, Schultes never kept a journal during his many years in the field. But like all botanists he recorded the date and location, and assigned a personal num