The Medicinal Plants of Tropical America
JANUARY 10, 2017;  1:30 - 3:30 PM (register through Olli at Duke)
Magic Wings Tropical Butterfly Conservatory

NC Museum of Life and Science

Durham, NC



Riverdave Owen

home telephone - 919-489-2934  



Photo by Joanne Pizzino:  Riverdave communes with a native Mahogany Tree, Everglades National Park, Florida, 1998

     Wish you were on a Caribbean Island?   Well, a modest local alternative might just be the break that will satisfy, or provide a good orientation for that upcoming tropical trip or cruise you've been planning.  


     Join Riverdave Owen as we take a slow walk through the Magic Wings Tropical Butterfly Conservatory at the NC Museum of Life and Science in Durham.  Riverdave has been a guide for many an ecotourism expedition to Central and South America and a cultivator of banana, papaya and gumbo limbo trees at his family's property on the West Indian Island of Abaco.  

     In Durham's giant indoor greenhouse we will focus on important trees native to the American tropics. We will reflect on their traditional medicinal, ritual and aesthetic importance.  This is not a modern pharmaceutical approach to the medicines of isolated chemical extracts. Instead, this is an introduction to a holistic healing path using root, bark, leaf and fruit in the Vegetalismo, Curanderismo and Root Medicine herbal traditions of the Americas.
PLANT FOCUS LIST FOR THIS CLASS (Selected from over 380 species of plants in the Butterfly House) These are trees that I have personal experience with that are native to the American tropics.  I have both studied them on site in Amazonia, Central America, the West Indies and southern Florida and used them in my own practice of herbal medicine.  With the particularly strong Amazonian medicines of Wild Coffee and Angel's Trumpet, I studied under the close supervision of an experienced native specialist.

Canopy Trees:

Kapok - Ceiba pentandra (Hibiscus Family - Malvaceae)

Pau d'arco / Ipe - Tabebuia impetiginosa (Catalpa family - Bignoniaceae)

Gumbo-Limbo - Bursera simaruba (Incense family - Burseraceae)                                 

Cashew - Anacardium occidentale (Cashew family - Anacardiaceae)

Understory Trees:

Embauba - Cecropia palmata (Cecropia family - Cecropiaceae)

Cacao - Theobroma cacao (Hibiscus family - Malvaceae)

Guava - Psidium littorale (Myrtle family - Myrtaceae)

Annato - Bixa orellana (Annato family - Bixaceae)


Treelets and Shrubs:

Papaya - Carica papaya (Papaya family - Caricaceae)

Damiana - Turnera ulmifolia (Passion Flower family - Passifloraceae)

Wild Coffee - Psychotria species (Coffee family - Rubiaceae) 

Angel Trumpet - Brugmansia versicolor (Nightshade familiy - Solanaceae)

***The best reference guide for the traditional medicine of the American tropics is The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs by Leslie Taylor.  Access her extensive medicinal herbal database at

Link to Tropical Tree Camp - Part Two:  Tropical Tree Camp - Part 2 
RIVERDAVE'S JOURNAL - Click links below for my essays about tropical nature
Killer Bees                                                                                                                   
Mountain Medicine
Orinoco Moonlight Wafting 
Amazon River Travelogue