Local plant names tell us how enslaved Africans familiarized themselves with the New World flora
How did the forced migration of nearly 11 million Africans to the Americas influence their knowledge and use of plants? Vernacular plant names illustrate the process of recognition, acquisition of new knowledge, and replacement that must have taken place since the first Africans set foot on Neotropical soil. This study traces the origin of Afro-Surinamese plant names to those of local Amerindians, Europeans, and related groups in Western Africa, by means of literature, herbarium collections, and recent fieldwork in Suriname, Ghana, Benin, and Gabon. Half of the Afro-Surinamese plant names were derived from European lexical items, 10% came from Amerindian languages and 17% (Dutch Creole) and 30% (Maroon languages) could be linked to African plant names. Our study shows that enslaved Africans must have recognized a substantial part of the Neotropical flora on all taxonomic levels, which confirms their role as significant agents of environmental knowledge in the New World.