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Evelyn Roe - Devoted to plants and their uses

Evelyn Roe - Devoted to plants and their uses

Evelyn Roe
Evelyn Roe

Evelyn Roe just loves her home. The floor is a wooden deck, the walls are reeds and the roof is thatch. It stands on the banks of an island in the Zambezi River. It has comfy armchairs, a gas cooker in a small kitchen and a dining table.

When I visited, the table was being used as the desk with her laptop open, connected to a cable running through the roof; solar panels glinted in the sun on the rickety veranda.

We took a walk along the island on narrow footpaths with dense vegetation either side, stopping to look at plants as we went along. Roe is a botanist and watches all the plants on the island, making notes constantly about their flowering, fruiting and habits. “That is called musokezebe or ‘cook ear,’” Roe told me. “The leaves are boiled and a concoction is made to cure an ear infection.”

Born and brought up in Scotland, Roe set off for Africa after studying at Edinburgh University, first to Nigeria and then to Botswana. She taught biology in school for many years until she decided that she needed a change. Her real love is plants and she wanted to know all about African plants. She needed the time and a place to work from; having visited Zambia, she decided that this had to become home.

Working with Helen Pickering, Roe helped produce ‘Wild Flowers of the Victoria Falls Area. ‘ It was a mammoth task to find, name and photograph the indigenous flowers in this region. The book is a wealth of information and an essential part of every nature lover’s library.

Today, Roe’s main field is ethnobiology, the relationship between people and plants. Talking with the villagers - traditional doctors, midwives and the old people, Roe is gradually recording the names and uses of all the plants. This is a race against time as the younger people are not learning from their parents as they once did. The old people have not written any of it down, since it was passed on to them orally by their parents, as has been done for generations.


Read more from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 06, Sept 2011)

Articles in Evelyn's Plant Encounters series:
Rainforest Riches (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Berry banquet (ZT, Issue 12, March 2013)
Marvellous Mangoes (ZT, Issue 11, December 2012)
Underground Forests (ZT, Issue 10, September 2012)
The healing powers of Aloes (ZT, Issue 09, June 2012)
Dogbane Drugs (ZT, Issue 08, March 2012)
Devil’s Claw (ZT, Issue 07, December 2011)
Elephant Toothpicks (ZT, Issue 06, Sept 2011)