The Botany of Mungo Park’s Travels in Africa, 1795-1806

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R. Trevor Wilson

Abstract

Mungo Park journeyed through West Africa during 1795-1797 and 1805-1806.  The first journey was ostensibly purely geographical whereas the second journey was geographical plus the examination of British trade possibilities with the interior.  His main brief was to discover the source and outlet of the River Niger.  On both journeys he departed from the current Gambia, through Senegal and Mali the first time, and on to Niger and Nigeria the second.  He was the first European to see the Niger, at Segou (Mali), and noted its eastward flow (prior speculation considered it flowed westwards).  Botany was not in his brief but on both journeys he noted the vegetation and its use.  He brought new facts to Britain’s intellectual establishment including describing the preparation of indigo dye and its use in spinning and weaving.  His ‘discovery’ of the shea butter tree – given the specific epithet Butyrospermum parkii – is his outstanding contribution to botany.  He also contributed to science the locust bean Parkia biglobosa and another indigenous multipurpose tree Pterocarpus erinaceus.  Many of Park’s plants are important in regional agroforestry systems and continue to provide food and non wood forest products to the benefit of people and livestock.

Keywords:
Biogeography, West Africa, River Niger, ethnobotany, endemic species, botanic taxonomy.

Article Details

How to Cite
Wilson, R. T. (2019). The Botany of Mungo Park’s Travels in Africa, 1795-1806. Asian Journal of Geographical Research, 2(1), 1-19. https://doi.org/10.9734/ajgr/2019/v2i130075
Section
Original Research Article