Economic Botany

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 241–265 | Cite as

Plant utilization: Patterns and prospects

  • David M. Bates


Concern for the future of mankind, in a world of expanding human population and increasing demands on the biota, has intensified interest in the greater use of less well-known plants that are presumed to have potential to ameliorate current and predicted shortages of food and other products derived from organic sources. The premise that a wide range of plants is underutilized is examined. Consideration of plant use in hunting-gathering societies and through the development of agriculture places utilization in a different perspective and indicates that man selects from the biota plants that reflect and support his needs in any given cultural context and at any level of technological achievement. The future of agricultural systems and practices is considered. The potential of plants is discussed as an outgrowth of historical trends and predicted changes in the earth’s plant resource base and its genetic diversity, modifications in primary, secondary, and tertiary pools of utilized plants, and advances in biotechnology. The evidence indicates continued humanization of the world, greater management of biotic resources, and increased applications of technology to agriculture, accompanied by a general decline worldwide in species and genetic diversity and increasing simplification and internationalization of the primary and secondary pools of cultivated plants. The direct utilization of wild plants by man will become more limited. Increased use of plants thought to be underutilized is likely to develop largely in relation to new needs and imperatives of mankind.


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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • David M. Bates
    • 1
  1. 1.L. H. Bailey Hortorium, 467 Mann LibraryCornell UniversityIthaca

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