Economic Botany

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 24–39 | Cite as

Cultural Importance Indices: A Comparative Analysis Based on the Useful Wild Plants of Southern Cantabria (Northern Spain)1

  • Javier TardíoEmail author
  • Manuel Pardo-de-Santayana


Cultural Importance Indices: A Comparative Analysis Based on the Useful Wild Plants of Southern Cantabria (Northern Spain). This paper compares four indices based on informant consensus. Each index aims to assess the cultural significance of plant species and is suitable for statistical testing of different hypotheses. For the comparison, we used data concerning plants traditionally used in the Campoo area of southern Cantabria in northern Spain. Our results show a positive and significant correlation between the number of uses (NU) and the frequency of citation (FC) of the species. It seems to be a general rule that the more versatile a plant, the more widespread its usefulness. In addition, NU is highly influenced by the number of use-categories in the study. Consequently, an objective index must rely on FC more than NU. We propose the use of the cultural importance index (CI), which is defined as the summation of the informants’ proportions that mention each of the uses of the species. The CI index is highly correlated with FC and, although it also considers diversity of use, each use-category is conveniently weighted by the number of informants mentioning it. Despite the use of cultural significance indices being questioned, we believe that indices based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews are still very useful for compilation studies of passive knowledge, such as most ethnobotanical works conducted in the last three decades in Europe.


Quantitative ethnobotany cultural importance index traditional knowledge Spain 



We are grateful to all the people of the Campoo region who kindly shared their knowledge and time and to everyone who provided introductions to local people. We also thank the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education for financing this work (AP97 00827638, CGL2006-09546/BOS) and Ramón Morales for his help and encouragement during the fieldwork and for revising the manuscript. We are also grateful to Lesley Ashcroft, Roy Thompson, Marisa Tello, Susana González, and Laura Aceituno for checking the manuscript and to three anonymous reviewers and Daniel Moerman for their valuable remarks.

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto Madrileño de Investigación y Desarrollo RuralAlcalá de HenaresSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Biología (Botánica)Universidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

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