Richard Evans Schultes

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Richard Evans Schultes
Schultes amazon 1940s.jpg
Dr. Richard Evans Schultes in the Amazon
Born January 12, 1915
Died April 10, 2001
Residence Cambridge, Massachusetts
Citizenship United States
Nationality American
Fields ethnobotany
Institutions Harvard University
Alma mater Harvard University
Doctoral advisor Oakes Ames
Known for · studying Native American uses of
entheogenic or hallucinogenic plants
· ethnobotanical discoveries including
source of the dart poison (curare)
· alerted world to destruction
of Amazon rainforest and people
Influences Oakes Ames, Richard Spruce
Influenced E.O. Wilson, Andrew Weil
Daniel Goleman, Alan Ginsberg
Alejo Carpentier, William S. Burroughs
Wade Davis, Mark Plotkin,
Terence McKenna, Timothy Plowman
Notable awards

· Gold Medal - Linnean Society of London

· Gold Medal - World Wildlife Fund
· The Cross of Boyaca
Author abbrev. (botany) R.E.Schult.

Richard Evans Schultes (SHULL-tees) was a biologist (January 12, 1915 – April 10, 2001) and may be considered the father of modern ethnobotany, for his studies of indigenous peoples' (especially the indigenous peoples of the Americas) uses of plants, including especially entheogenic or hallucinogenic plants (particularly in Mexico and the Amazon), for his lifelong collaborations with chemists, and for his charismatic influence as an educator at Harvard University on a number of students and colleagues who went on to write popular books and assume influential positions in museums, botanical gardens, and popular culture.

His book The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers (1979), co-authored with chemist Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, is considered his greatest popular work: it has never been out of print and was revised into an expanded second edition, based on a German translation by Christian Rätsch (1998), in 2001.[1]


He obtained his Harvard BA in Biology in 1937 and his Master of Arts in Biology in 1938 and his Ph.D. in Botany in 1941, Schultes studied with Oakes Ames and specialized in botany, orchidologist and Director of the Harvard Botanical Museum, who influenced his student research with the ritual use of peyote cactus among the Kiowa of Oklahoma, as well as his discovery of the lost identity of the Mexican hallucinogenic plants teonanácatl (various mushrooms belonging to the Psilocybe genus) and ololiuqui (a morning glory species) in Oaxaca, Mexico.

The first of many prolonged trips to the upper Amazon began in 1941 when he was a Harvard research associate, and included a search for wild disease-resistant rubber species in an effort to free the United States from dependence on Southeast Asian rubber plantations which had become unavailable owing to Japanese occupation in World War II. The effort to create blight-resistant rubber plantations in Central and South America was eventually terminated for political reasons despite protests from rubber companies, including Firestone. No remaining rubber trees collected by Schultes are being cultivated for the production of rubber.

Schultes's botanical fieldwork among native American communities led him to be one of the first to alert the world about destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the disappearance of its native people. He collected over 30,000 herbarium specimens (including 300 species new to science) and published numerous ethnobotanical discoveries including the source of the dart poison known as curare, now commonly employed as a muscle relaxant during surgery.

Schultes became curator of Harvard's Oakes Ames Orchid Herbarium in 1953, curator of Economic Botany in 1958, and professor of biology in 1970. His ever-popular undergraduate course on economic botany was noted for his Victorian demeanor, lectures delivered in a white lab coat, insistence on memorization of systematic botanical names, films depicting native ritual use of plant inebriants, blowpipe demonstrations, and hands-on labs (using plant sources of grain, paper, caffeine, dyes, medicines, and tropical fruits). His composed and kindly persona combined with expressive eye gestures masked his exotic experiences and helped capture the imagination of the many students he inspired.


Schultes was initially influenced to study psychoactive drugs by Heinrich Kluver, a leading scholar of this subject (personal communication from Schultes). This interest evolved by way of Schultes's field observations on peyote, studying the peyote cult among the Plains Indians in his travels with Weston LaBarre in the early 1930s (in 1938, LaBarre based The Peyote Cult on these travels and observations).

Schultes's personal hero was Richard Spruce, a British naturalist who spent seventeen years exploring the Amazon rainforest.

Schultes, in both his life and his work, has directly influenced notable people as diverse as biologist E.O. Wilson, physician Andrew Weil, psychologist Daniel Goleman, poet Allen Ginsberg, ethnobotanist, conservationist and author Mark J. Plotkin, and authors Alejo Carpentier and William S. Burroughs. Timothy Plowman, authority on the genus Erythroxylum (coca) and ethnobotanist, and Wade Davis were his students at Harvard.


Schultes received numerous awards and decorations including:

Selected works[edit]

  • Schultes, Richard Evans (1976). Hallucinogenic Plants. illus. Elmer W. Smith. New York: Golden Press. ISBN 0-307-24362-1. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; Albert Hofmann (1979). Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-056089-7. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; Albert Hofmann (1980). The Botany and Chemistry of Hallucinogens (2nd ed. ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Thomas. ISBN 0-398-03863-5. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; and William A. Davis, with Hillel Burger (1982). The Glass Flowers at Harvard. New York: Dutton. ISBN 0-525-93250-X. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans (1988). Where the Gods Reign: Plants and Peoples of the Colombian Amazon. Oracle, Ariz.: Synergetic Press. ISBN 0-907791-13-1. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; Robert F. Raffauf (1990). The Healing Forest: Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia. Portland, Or.: Dioscorides Press. ISBN 0-931146-14-3. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; Robert F. Raffauf (1992). Vine of the Soul: Medicine Men, Their Plants and Rituals in the Colombian Amazonia. Oracle, Ariz.: Synergetic Press. ISBN 0-907791-24-7. 
  • Schultes, Richard Evans; and Siri von Reis (eds.) (1995). Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline. Portland, Or.: Dioscorides Press. ISBN 0-931146-28-3. 

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