6 Heritage Texts on Plants, Herbs, and Botanicals

I love finding troves of sometimes obscure information on the Internet. Today, I came across a wonderful find through the Internet Archive (archive.org) website: the Biodiversity Heritage Library sub-collection. Here is a list of heritage texts I found there dealing with Mexican plants, herbs, and botanical themes.

A botanical focus on Mexico

Trees and shrubs of Mexico – Standley, Paul Carpenter, 1884-1963


A monumental and comprehensive botanical reference with over 1400 pages detailing the trees and shrubs of all areas of Mexico.

Trees and Shrubs of Mexico

Notes on useful plants of Mexico – Rose, Joseph Nelson, 1862-


Maguey plantThis text covers almost every possible aspect of Mexican plants and their uses:

  • Cereals and vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Beverage plants
  • Seasoning and flavoring plants
  • Medicinal plants
  • Soap plants
  • Tanning and dye plants
  • Fiber plants
  • Brush and broom plants
  • Fence and hedge plants
  • Plants yielding wood
  • Miscellaneous useful plants

In talking about beverage plants and the agaves and magueys of Mexico, Rose states, “One of the most interesting studies connected with the botany of Mexico would be the determining of the species of Agave which are used by the people in making their drinks–a subject upon which there is much ignorance.” The fermented pulque and distilled mezcal and tequila particularly caught his interest, it seems.

He also describes a beverage called agua de cebada, made by mixing barley flour with water or by first softening the barley grains in water and then grinding them together with cinnamon, sugar, and sesame seeds on a “metate,” or stone mortar and pestle. “This mixture is of a muddy gray color, with a sweetish, starchy taste. It is carried about the streets in earthen jars and sold for 1 cent a glass.”

The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala. – Bateman, Jas.


Compiled from information and specimens collected during expeditions to Guatemala and Mexico in the mid-to-late 1830s

Inscribed on the cover of this book is a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude:

Like restless serpents, clothed
In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around
The grey trunks

The book includes beautiful color plates illustrating various orchid species with detailed botanical descriptions, listings of which varieties grow best in England, and notes on the care and cultivation of the orchid.


Stanhopea Tigrina orchid

Stanhopea Tigrina orchid

Plantæ Yucatanæ. (Regionis Antillanæ) Plants of the insular, coastal and plain regions of the peninsula of Yucatan, Mexico (Volume Fieldiana. Botany series v. 3, no. 1) – Millspaugh, Charles Frederick, 1854-1923


A serious botanical text providing detailed descriptions with illustrations of the true grasses, sedges (grasslike and rushlike plants), and ferns and seedless vascular plants of the Yucatan.

Catalogue of plants collected by Dr. Edward Palmer at Acapulco, Mexico, in 1894-95, 1894-1895. – Palmer, Edward


This is simply a hand-written field notebook cataloging the botanical names of the plants collected by Dr. Palmer in Acapulco in the late 1800s–more of a curiosity than anything. No additional notes or insights are provided.

Contribution [I]-III to the coastal and plain flora of Yucatan (Volume Fieldiana. Botany series v. 1, no. 4) – Millspaugh, Charles Frederick, 1854-1923


No illustrations, but plenty of information (some in Latin, most in English) on the flora of Yucatan, including botanical names, physical descriptions and characteristics, and habitats in which the flora grew and was observed.