About a new Spanish-Quichua Plant Names Dictionary

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua - Español, Español - Quichua

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua – Español, Español – Quichua

     Interacting with faculty and students in botany-related fields here in Ecuador, I’m frequently asked to give the scientific name for a plant. Sometimes I’ll know the botanical name, but more often I do not. There are far more plant species in Ecuador (over 20,000) than in Tennessee (under 3,000).

In many cases, someone will have a common name for a plant, and want to know the scientific name (botanical or Latin name). It is really not easy to find the corresponding scientific name (or names) for a plant common name. Several books on the plants of Ecuador include common names, but these books are not easily accessible. Also, they may not include an index to common names, or they may list names to genus only (not to species level).

There are good web sites that list botanical names for the plants of Ecuador, but these lack common name references (or list very few common names). I’ll discuss these in a future post.

A new web site is now available which gives scientific names for common names of Ecuadorian plants. It provides common names, in Spanish and in Quichua, for 1714 plant species – over 3400 common names. For each, it gives the scientific name for the species or multiple species associated with that name. It also provides an audio of the spoken name in Quichua. This is important, because Quichua is primarily a spoken language, so spellings of a given Quichua plant name may vary. In addition to the scientific name and common names in Spanish and Quichua, the on-line dictionary also give the uses for each plant.

entry window This is a tremendous new tool for people who study plants or are interested in plants and wish to know their botanical identifications. Scientific names provide an easy connection to all the information known about a plant – its distribution, taxonomic and evolutionary relationships, uses, actual photos and collection images, and so on.

As you might guess, common names don’t correspond one-to-one with scientific names. A common name may refer to many different species, sometimes related and sometimes not. A single species may have many different common names (even in a single language), and many plant species have no recorded common name. Nevertheless, this dictionary provides never-before available access to over 1700 species by searching on their common names in Spanish and in Quichua. As noted in the book announcement from its publisher, the Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito, it is an unprecedented advance in terms of our understanding of the names of useful Ecuadorian plants.

        I translate the book announcement below:

Omar Vacas Cruz and Hugo Navarrete, researchers at the Herbarium of the Catholic University in Quito, and Consuelo Yánez Cossío, or the MACAC Education Corporation, are authors of the publication “Dictionary of Useful Plants: Quichua-Spanish”, which has been produced with financial support of the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education and the DINEIB. This publication, unprecedented in Ecuador, presents information on the knowledge and traditional practices of the Quichua peoples in their use of plants, and classifies these uses into various categories, such as beekeeping, spices, fuels, building materials, medicines, and toxins, among others. It also provides supporting glossaries and pronunciations (in audio clips) for this national language.

The reference is:

Diccionario de plantas útiles del Ecuador. Quichua – Español, Español – Quichua.  by Omar Vacas Cruz, Hugo Navarrete, and Consuelo Yánez Cossío.  Published by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. December 14, 2012.  ISBN: 978-9978-77-189-1

Here’s the link again. Pick Español or Quichua button to enter, then pick the “Diccionario” button to access names list and search window. To hear the spoken Quichua name pick the speaker button on the right top near the written name.


There’s also information of their methodology and classification scheme for names and for plant uses, and a glossary of terms in Quichua and Spanish.

Dictionary listing for the plant Bixa orellana, common name "Achiote" in Spanish.

Dictionary listing for the plant Bixa orellana, common name “Achiote” in Spanish.

The  screen shot above shows the dictionary page for Bixa orellana, known by its Spanish name “Achiote”. This species provides a red food coloring which is used to give the orange color to cheddar cheese. Below are photos of the open fruit. The coloring comes from the outer coat of the seeds.

Fruit of Bixa orellana, the Achiote tree. The red food coloring from the seed coat colors cheddar cheese.

Fruit of Bixa orellana, the Achiote tree. The red food coloring from the seed coat colors cheddar cheese.

The entry from the “Diccionario de las Plantas Útiles del Ecuador” reads as follows, translated here to English.


Spanish Common Name: Achiote.   Quichua Common Name: Manturu.              Scientific Name: Bixa orellana


Human food: Leaves, fruit and seeds are edible.

Seasoning: Seeds and leaves used as spice and food coloring.

Cultural: Leaves for washing with after childbirth.

Material: Seeds used to paint face and body for ceremonies and festivals.

Medicine: Extract of the leaves and flowers used for cataracts, leaves for kidney pain, bladder, rheumatism and to accelerate delivery, and leaves and seeds used to treat “bad spirits” (“el mal aire”).


Here are the flowers and young fruits of Bixa orellana, or Achiote.

Bixa orellana, a tree which makes a red food coloring.

Bixa orellana, a tree which makes a red food coloring.

Have a look at the Dictionary. If you don’t speak Spanish you can at least listen to a few of the names spoke in Quichua!  With a knowledge of Spanish (or Quichua) you can learn about the uses of 1714 species of Ecuadorian plants, and get their scientific names.


About Tim McDowell

I'm a botanist from East Tennessee State University conducting a Fulbright project in Guaranda, Ecuador.
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