Rehabilitating Botany in the Postwar Moment: National Promise and the Encyclopedism of Eduardo Quisumbing’s Medicinal Plants of the Philippines (1951)

in Asian Review of World Histories
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?



In 1951, plant taxonomist Eduardo Quisumbing published Medicinal Plants of the Philippines, a 1,234–page volume on the palliative and curative applications of Philippine flora. Considered the standard contemporary reference on medical botany, Quisumbing’s work has informed generations of human scientists, botanists, and chemists from the archipelago. This paper, however, poses the question: What did Quisumbing, a trained orchidist, have to do with such a wide-ranging postwar publication—one quite distant from his scientific specialization—that would be (mistakenly) remembered as his magnum opus? Through a close reading of the text informed by the work’s intertextuality and Quisumbing’s personal archive, I argue that Medicinal Plants of the Philippines captures a type of encyclopedism undertaken in order to recuperate Manila’s Bureau of Science following World War ii. This encyclopedism speaks to the book’s curious character: strictly speaking, it is neither a pharmacopoeia nor a flora. Instead, it is a compendium of principally invasive species and their medicinal uses around the world that draws from over 630 academic publications. Caught within the tangle of postwar national reconstruction efforts, Quisumbing’s book evidences a considerable investment in intellectual knowledge production to assert the country’s newfound independence while shoring up public support for Philippine botanic and scientific research.



Elmer D. Merrill Papers (1922–1956), Series iii, Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.

University of Chicago Philippine Studies Program Records (1930–1979). University of Chicago Special Collections.

Alvina, Corazon, and Domingo Madulid. Flora Filipina: From Acapulco to Manila. Manila: National Museum of the Philippines.

Anderson, Warwick. 2006. Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Anderson, Warwick. 2007. “Science in the Philippines.” Philippine Studies 55 (3): 287318.

Anderson, Warwick, and Hans Pols. 2012. “Scientific Patriotism: Medical Science and National Self-Fashioning in Southeast Asia.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 54 (1): 99113.

Asis, C. V. 1973. “Quisumbing and Friend.” Natural and Applied Science Bulletin 27 (1–2): 173.

Bantug, Jose P. 1953. A Short History of Medicine in the Philippines during the Spanish Regime, 1565–1898. Manila: Colegio Médico-Farmacéutico de Filipina.

Barroga-Jamias, Serlie F. 2000. “Eduardo A. Quisumbing: Botanist Par Excellence and Father of Philippine Orchidology (1885–1986).” In National Scientists of the Philippines (1978–1998), 164174. Department of Science and Technology—National Academy of Science and Technology (Philippines). Pasig City, Philippines: Anvil.

Belen, Yvonne K. 1989. Foreword to Common Medicinal Plants of the Cordillera Region, by Leonardo Co. Baguio, Philippines: Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region.

Bleichmar, Daniela. 2012. Visible Empire: Botanical Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Hispanic Enlightenment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bonneuil, Christophe. 2002. “The Manufacture of Species: Kew Gardens, the Empire and the Standardisation of Taxonomic Practices in Late 19th Century Botany.” In Instruments, Travel and Science: Itineraries of Precision from the 17th to the 20th Century, edited by Marie-Noelle Bourguet, C. Licoppe, and O. Sibum, 189215. London: Routledge.

Borlongan, Lilia N. 1981. “Paunlarin: Pananaliksik sa herbal medicine.” Kabuhayan, May.

Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. 1999. Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. 2007. Nature, Empire, and Nation: Explorations of the History of Science in the Iberian World. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Carruthers, Jane, and Libby Robin. 2010. “Taxonomic Imperialism in the Battles for Acacia: Identity and Science in South Africa and Australia.” Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa 65 (1): 4864.

Co, Leonardo. 1989. Common Medicinal Plants of the Cordillera Region. Baguio, Philippines: Community Health Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Region.

Connaughton, Richard, John Pimlott, and Duncan Anderson. 1995. The Battle for Manila. Novato, CA: Presidio.

Cruz, Elliah. 1981a. “Cheap Drugs.” Bulletin Today, April 20.

Cruz, Elliah. 1981b. “To cut dependence on imports: Local manufacture of drugs?” Business Day, April 6.

Department of Science and Technology, National Academy of Science and Technology. 2000. National Scientists of the Philippines (1978–1998). Manila: Anvil.

Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Diguangco, Jose. 1950. Notes on Philippine Medicinal Plants. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press.

Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Grossholtz, Jean. Politics in the Philippines. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Gutierrez, Hermes G. 1980. An Illustrated Manual of the Philippine Materia Medica. Volume 1. Manila: National Research Council of the Philippines.

Ileto, Reynaldo. 2010. “Heroes, Historians, and the New Propaganda Movement, 1950–1953.” Philippine Studies 58 (1–2): 223238.

Ito-Tapang, Lisa. N.d. “Leonardo Co: Bringing knowledge of forests to the people.” Center for Environmental Concerns, Philippines. (accessed November 26, 2013).

Latour, Bruno. 1980. “Three Little Dinosaurs or a Sociologist’s Nightmare.” Fundamenta Scientiae 1: 7985.

Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1979. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Long, Joanna C. 2009. “Rooting Diaspora, Reviving Nation: Zionist Landscapes of Palestine-Israel.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34 (1): 6177.

Madulid, Domingo. 1987. “Status of the Philippine National Herbarium.” Unpublished paper. Botany Division, National Museum of the Philippines.

Madulid, Domingo A., and Ferdinand J.M. Gaerlan. 1994. A Bibliography on Philippine Ethnobotany, Ethnopharmacology, and Related Subjects. Manila: National Museum of the Philippines.

Malacañang Palace. 1982. “Reorganizing the National Science Development Board and Its Agencies into a National Science and Technology Authority and for Related Purposes.” Executive Order No. 784, March 17. Philippine Laws and Jurisprudence Databank. (accessed November 2013).

Mojares, Resil B. 2006. Brains of the Nation: Pedro Paterno, T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Isabelo de los Reyes and the Production of Modern Knowledge. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

National Wages and Productivity Commission. 2017. “Summary of Current Regional Daily Minimum Wage Rates Non-Agriculture, Agriculture (in Pesos) (As of July 2017).” Department of Labor and Employment. July 7. (accessed September 7, 2017).

Osseo-Asare, Abena. 2014. Bitter Roots: The Search for Healing Plants in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pardo de Tavera, Trinidad H. 1892. Plantas Medicinales de Filipinas. Madrid: Bernardo Rico, Travesía de Arenal.

Planta, Mercedes G. 1999. “Traditional Medicine and Pharmacopoeia in the Colonial Philippines, 16th to the 19th Centuries.” M.A. thesis, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman.

Quisumbing, Eduardo. 1951. Medicinal Plants of the Philippines. Republic of the Philippines, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Technical Bulletin 16. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

Quisumbing, Eduardo. 1965. “Peoples of the Philippines: Plants Introduced by Them, I.” Araneta Journal of Agriculture 12 (1): 4777.

Robbins, William J. 1958. Elmer Drew Merrill, 1876–1956. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

Saint-Amour, Paul K. 2015. Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form. New York: Oxford University Press.

Salaverria, Leila B. 2010. “Leonard Co, son of UP, is home.” Inquirer, November 21.–304405/Leonard-Co-son-of-UP-is-home (accessed November 26, 2013).

Santiago, Luciano P. R. 1993. “The Painters of Flora de Filipinas (1877–1883).” Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 21 (2): 87112.

Schiebinger, Londa. 2007. Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schmidt-Nowara, Charles. 2006. Spanish Colonialism and National Histories in the Nineteenth Century. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Smail, John R. W. 1961. “On the Possibility of an Autonomous History of Southeast Asia.” Journal of Southeast Asian History 2 (2): 72102.

Umil, Anne Marxze D. 2010. “Leonard Co: Scientist for the People.” Bulatlat, November 20. (accessed November 26, 2013).

Vera Santos, Jose. 1987. “Eduardo Quisumbing.” Taxon 36 (2): 557.

Winichakul, Thongchai. 1994. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 114 114 14
Full Text Views 50 50 4
PDF Downloads 9 9 4
EPUB Downloads 8 8 1