Abstract Detail


Ojascastro, James [1], Hart, Robbie [2].

The papermaking syndrome: using functional traits to explain patterns in ethnobotany.

Fibers—substances that are much longer than wide—have played outsized yet under-researched cultural roles for millennia. In nature, plants and animals synthesize fibers to serve structural, conductive, absorptive, and thermal functions; mankind has in turn co-opted these functions by processing fibers into products like rope, nets, paper, brushes, brooms, and textiles. With many kinds of fibers available, cultures soon tailored specific fiber sources for specific products, often resulting in centuries-old traditions of use. Although ethnobotanists have now documented thousands of fiber-yielding source-product relationships, no test has yet been conducted to explain their specificity in origin and in use—which, moreover, could be used predictively to support claimed relationships lacking material evidence. In this study, we use fiber functional trait analysis to test a key ethnobotanical conjecture—the plant use value hypothesis, which posits that plant usefulness is a function of multiple traits evaluated together—on both plants with traditions of use in hand papermaking (paper plants) and plants lacking such traditions (non-paper plants). Using multivariate analyses, we show that paper plants have a fiber physiology distinct from non-paper plants, and that there is a clear “papermaking syndrome” that ancient artisans leveraged in deciding which plant species to harvest for making paper. Our work helps to uncover the rationale behind the choosiness of our ancestors in creating and tailoring plant-based products to meet human needs.

1 - Washington University in St. Louis, Evolution, Ecology, and Population Biology, 1 Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, 63110, United States
2 - Missouri Botanical Garden, William L. Brown Center, 4344 Shaw Blvd, Saint Louis, MO, 63110, United States

functional traits.

Presentation Type: Poster
Number: PET008
Abstract ID:606
Candidate for Awards:None

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