A Harvard student himself from 1934 to 1941, Schultes studied with Oakes Ames, 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 teonancatl (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 as 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 due 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’ 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 while wearing a white lab coat, insistence on memorization of systematic botanical names, films depicting native ritual use of plant inebriants, blow pipe demonstrations, and hands-on labs (plant sources of grain, paper, caffeine, dyes, medicines, tropical fruits). His composed and kindly persona combined with expressive eye gestures masked his exotic experience and helped capture the imagination of the many students he inspired.
Schultes’ personal hero was Richard Spruce, a 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, and authors Alejo Carpentier and William S. Burroughs. Tim Plowman, authority on the genus Erythroxylum (coca) and ethnobotanist Wade Davis were his students at Harvard.
Schultes received numerous awards and decorations including:
Gold Medal from the Linnean Society of London (1992), the most prestigious prize in botany;
Gold Medal from the World Wildlife Fund, considered by some to be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for Conservation.
Schultes, Richard Evans (1976). Hallucinogenic Plants. illus. Elmer W. Smith. New York: Golden Press. ISBN 0-307-24362-1.
Schultes, Richard Evans; and Albert Hofmann (1979). Plants of the Gods: Origins of Hallucinogenic Use. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-056089-7.
Schultes, Richard Evans; and 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; and 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; and 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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“You are not going back to the States, you are going right down into the Amazon and try to get the Indians to tap wild rubber. The Japanese have taken over all of Southeast Asiae have no more rubber, which is essential, especially for the heavy military planes.”
“You have a feeling of achievement when you discover a new plant, even a plant that has no use.” Richard Evans Schultes
“When he would make a mistake in class, students would shrug it off as the side effect from being intoxicated so many times” The Lost Amazon
The author of a Los Angeles Times article stated “…a psychedelic trip as an earth shaking experience.” In reply Schultes said, “That’s funny, Bill, all I saw was colors.”
Talking to a visitor of his station in the Amazon Schultes said, “Richard Spruce? He is my hero.”
He also said, “I know every tree, every single tree one can see from here to the Jirijirimo.”
^ Review of the expanded edition
Audio of Richard Evans Schultes on Hallucinogenic Plants
The Richard E. Schultes Research Award’
New York Times obituary
Harvard Square Library
Davis, Wade (1997). One River: Science, Adventure and Hallucinogenics in the Amazon Basin. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81812-4.
A Tribute to Richard Schultes
American Ethnography — The appeal of peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) as a medicine
Photo of Richard E. Shultes
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William Bale Brent Berlin Harold Conklin Wade Davis Roy Ellen Gary P. Nabhan Andrew Pawley Darrell Posey Richard E. Schultes Manuel Torres Nancy Turner
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Categories: 1915 births | 2001 deaths | Ethnobiologists | American botanists | Botanists active in South America | Psychedelic researchers | Guggenheim Fellows | Harvard University alumni | Harvard University facultyHidden categories: Articles needing additional references from May 2009 | All articles needing additional references