Below: A flower and leaves of the hallucinogenic Datura inrioxia, which belongs to one of the most highly evolved families of the flowering plants
Page 19 left: This fossil of blue-green algae (Collegia) is approximately 2.3 billion years old and is one of the earliest known specimens of life on Earth
Page Wright: A fossilized algae colony from the Cambrian ptriod in Bolivia demonstrates that life-forms can be successfully preserved over billions of years
Even though modern botany is only two centu ries old, estimates have greatly increased. They vary from some 280,000 to 700,000 species, the higher figures being generally accepted by botanists whose research is centered in the still only superficially explored tropical regions.
Modern specialists estimate the fungi at be tween 30,000 and 100,000 species. The great var iance is due partly to lack of comprehensive studies of many groups and partly to inadequate means of defining some of the unicellular members. One contemporary mycologist, realizing that the fungi are very sparsely collected in the tropics, where they abound, suggests that the total . figure might reach 200,000.
All of the algae are aquatic, more than half being marine This most varied group of plants is now believed to comprise from 19,000 to 32,000 species. Algae have been found in pre-Cambrian fossils dating from one to more than three billion years of age These procaryotic blue-green algae (Collenia) represent the oldest known form of life on Earth
Lichens—a curious group of plants comprising a symbiotic union of an alga and a fungus—num ber from 16,000 to 20,000 species in 450 genera.
The bryophytes comprise two groups: mosses and liverworts. They are primarily tropical, and many new species are to be expected from the tropics with increased field investigations. That they are not an economic group may be in part respon sible for our lack of understanding of their extent,
Present calculations assign 12,000 to 15,000 species to the pteridophytes: the ferns and their allies. An ancient group of plants, it is best represented today in tropical regions. The seed-bearing plants, or spermatophytes, clearly dominate the land flora of the present time The gymnosperms, or cone-bearing plants, constitute a small group of some 675 species; dating back into the Carboniferous Age, this group is apparently dying out.
The principal group of plants today—the plants that dominate the earth's flora and which have diversified into the greatest number of species and which, in the popular mind, comprise the world's flora—are the angiosperms. Angiosperms are seed plants in which the seed is covered or protected by ovarian tissue, in contrast to the gymnosperms, which have naked seeds. They are commonly called flowering plants. Economically the most important group of plants today, they have dominated the several terrestrial environments of the earth. Consequently, they may have a right to be known as the "most important" plants.
Estimates of their extent vary. Most botanists hold that there are 200,000 to 250,000 species in 300 families. Other estimates, probably more realistic, calculate 500,000 species.
There are two major groups of angiosperms: the monocotyledons, plants with one seed leaf; and those with usually two seed leaves. The monocotyledons are usually credited with one quarter of the total.
Some sections of the Plant Kingdom are of great importance from the point of view of biody-riamic species with compounds of significance to medicinal or hallucinogenic activity.
The fungi are of increasing interest: almost all antibiotics in wide use are derived from fungi. They are also employed in the pharmaceutical industry in the synthesis of steroids and for other purposes Hallucinogenic compounds may be
widespread in the fungi, but those that have been of importance in human affairs belong to the asco-mycetes (Ergot) and the basidiomycetes (various mushrooms and puffballs). The importance of fungi as sources of aflotoxins of foods has only recently been recognized.
Algae and lichens, interestingly, have as yet not yielded any species reported as hallucinogens. An impressive number of new biodynamic com pounds, some of possible medical value, have already been isolated from algae. Recent research has heightened the promise of isolation of active principles from lichens: they have yielded a large number of bacteria-inhibiting compounds and have been shown to be rich in chemovars. There are persistent reports of hallucinogenic lichens employed in northwesternmost North America, but as yet no identij;able specimens or reliable information has been forthcoming In South America, a lichen (Dictyonema) is used as a psychoactive. The bryophytes have been phytochemically neglected; the few that have been studied have given little hope as sources of biodynamic compounds. Similarly, in ethnomedicine, the mosses and liverworts seem to have been ignored.
Some ferns appear to be bioactive and psychoactive. However, phytochemical investigation has been far from exhaustive. Very recent investigations have indicated a hitherto unsuspected wealth of biodynamic compounds of potential interest to medicine and commerce; sesquiterpinoid lactones, ecdyosones, alkaloids, and cyanogenic glycosides. A recent survey for antibacterial activity of extracts from 44 Trinidadian ferns indicated the surprising fact that 77 percent were positive. No hallucinogenic constituents have yet been discovered in laboratory research or by indigenous societies, although several ferns are employed in South America as additives to hallucinogenic drinks (Ayahuasca).
Of the spermatophytes, the gymnosperms exh1-bit few biodynamic elements They are known primarily as the source of the sympathomimetic alkaloid ephedrine and the very toxic taxine. Many are of economic importance as sources of resins and timber. This group of seed plants is rich also in physiologically active stilbines and other compounds that act as protective agents against heartwood decay (essential oils).
From many points of view, the angiosperms are the important plants: as the dominant and most numerous group and as the elements basic to man's social and material evolution. They represent the source of most of our medicines of vegetal origin; most toxic species are angiospermous; and almost all hallucinogens used by man, as well as other narcotics, belong to this group It is easy to understand why angiosperms have been chemically more assiduously studied; but what is not fully recognized is the fact that the angiosperms themselves have been merely superficially examined. It is clear that the Plant Kingdom represents an only partially studied emporium of biodynamic principles. Each species is a veritable chemical factory. Although indigenous societies have dis covered many medicinal, toxic, and narcotic properties in their ambient vegetation, there is no rea son to presume that their experimentation has brought to light all the psychoactive principles hidden in these plants.
Undoubtedly new hallucinogens are lurking in the Plant Kingdom and, in them, possible constituents of extreme interest to modern medical practice
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