Discussions surrounding ethnobiological classification have been broad and diverse. One of the recurring questions is whether classification is mainly based on the “inherent structure of biological reality” or on cultural, especially utilitarian needs. So far, studies about ethnobotanical classification have mainly been done in indigenous societies. Comparable data from industrialized countries are scarce. In this paper, folkbotanical classification data from the Napf region in central Switzerland is analysed and cross-culturally compared.
Structured and semi-structured interviews were conducted with 60 adults and children chosen by random sampling. Descriptive statistics, t-tests and cultural domain analysis were used to analyze the data.
Close to 500 folk taxa have been documented during field work. As life-form taxa appeared tree, bush, grass, herb, flower, and mushroom. Intermediate taxa mentioned regularly were sub-categories of the life form tree and bush, i.e. conifer, deciduous tree, fruit tree, stone fruits, pomaceous fruits, and berry bush. The rank of the folk generic was by far the largest with 316 taxa (85.4% monotypical). The specific rank contained 145 taxa, the varietal 14 taxa. The 475 generic, specific and varietal folk taxa could be assigned to 298 wild growing plant species, which make up 28.13% of the local flora, and to 213 cultivated plant species, subspecies and cultivars.
Morphology, mainly life-form, fruits, leaves, and flowers, was the most important criterion for classifying plants. Other important criteria were their use (mainly edibility) and habitat (mainly meadow, forest and garden). The three criteria emerged spontaneously out of open questioning.
The classification system of the Napf region is comparable to classification systems of indigenous societies, both in its shallow hierarchical structure and in the amount of recognized taxa.
The classification of plants was mainly guided by morphology, habitat and use. The three aspects seem to be mutually linked for certain plant groups, which results in always the same groups, independent from the different sorting criteria. Sensory perception allows for a broader explanation of the known coincidence of morphology and use groups.