Spatial and Seasonal Diversity of Wild Food Plants in Home
Gardens of Northeast Thailand1
GISELLA S. CRUZ-GARCIA*,2,3,4 AND PAUL C. STRUIK4
Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area, International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Km 17 Recta
Cali-Palmira, Apartado Aéreo 6713, Cali, Colombia
Botanical Research Institute of Texas, 1700 University Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76107, USA
Centre for Crop Systems Analysis, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 430, 6700 AK, Wageningen,
*Corresponding author; e-mail: email@example.com
Wild food plants (WFPs) are major components of tropical home gardens, constituting an important
resource for poor farmers. The spatial and seasonal diversity of WFPs was analyzed across multi-species
spatial configurations occurring within home gardens in a rice farming village in northeast Thailand. Data
were collected in 77 sampling sites corresponding to five different home garden spatial configurations,
namely fenced plot, fenced plot margin, yard, home garden boundary, and pot. Absolute abundance and
frequency of occurrence were quantified per individual WFP species in both dry and rainy seasons, and data
on additional uses (besides food) were collected through focus group discussions for each WFP species. A
total of 20 species corresponding to 13 botanical families were reported. Results show that species
abundance and frequency of occurrence varied seasonally and spatially within home gardens. Diversity, as
observed in the analysis of Shannon and Simpson diversity indexes, also differed seasonally and across
different spatial configurations. Home gardens showed higher diversity in the dry season because of the
presence of human management. Ninety-five percent of the WFP species presented additional uses, with
nine different types of uses in total. Finally, as this study demonstrates, the results on both the spatial and
seasonal diversity of WFPs over different spatial configurations comprise a new perspective in home garden
research by providing new understandings about their composition and management.
Key Words: Abundance, frequency of occurrence, seasonality, Southeast Asia, spatial configuration,
Home gardens are diverse and multi-layered
agro-ecosystems (Fernandes and Nair 1986) comprising
small-scale production units surrounding
the homestead of families maintained with family
labor. Home gardens complement the functions of
other farming systems such as agricultural fields.
Home gardens have existed in the tropics since
prehistoric times (Niñez 1985) and have probably
been the oldest expression of agriculture in Southeast
Asia (Wiersum 2006), playing an essential role
in the process of domestication and the development
of agriculture (Miller and Nair 2006). Nowadays,
home gardens provide households with food,
medicine, fodder, and other products grown for
self-consumption and, sometimes, for sale
(Galluzzi et al. 2010; Kumar and Nair 2004;
Most research has focused on home gardens as
integrated multi-species systems, giving greatest
1Received 24 April 2014; accepted 26 May 2015;
published online 20 June 2015.
Electronic supplementary material The online version
of this article (doi:10.1007/s12231-015-9309-8) contains
supplementary material, which is available to authorized
Economic Botany, 69(2), 2015, pp. 99–113
© The Author(s) 2015. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com, by The New York Botanical
Garden Press, Bronx, NY 10458-5126 U.S.A.
attention to the variation of species diversity among
home gardens (e.g., Padoch and de Jong 1991;
Perrault-Archambault and Coomes 2008; Peyre
et al. 2006; Soemarwoto 1987). Additionally, several
studies have paid special attention to the vertical
variation of species by comparing the different layers
of canopy strata constituting home gardens (e.g., de
Clerck and Negreros-Castillo 2000; Fernandes and
Nair 1986; Gajaseni and Gajaseni 1999). Nonetheless,
little attention has been given to analyzing the
horizontal variability within home gardens, for instance,
their spatial structure and the variation of
species diversity in different spatial configurations
within home gardens (Abebe et al. 2010; Lok 2001;
Méndez et al. 2001). Certainly, more rigorous research
on the ecological basis of home gardens is
needed (Nair 2001).
Home gardens possess layout structures (or
configurations) that vary spatially in terms of
species diversity and, in each configuration,
species are mixed in specific ways, according
to the particular needs of a family (Lok 2001;
Méndez et al. 2001). For example, Alvarez-Buylla
Roces et al. (1989) observed in southwest Mexico
the presence of different areas constituting home
gardens, such as the yard surrounding the house
with sparsely distributed woody species, the
ornamental garden densely planted mainly with
herbs, the living fence, and the orchard containing
useful trees and shrubs. Similarly, Greenberg (2003)
observed that Mayan home gardens have different
spatial configurations; for example, some plants
grow along the street, others behind the house near
the kitchen, and others in different kinds of containers
(cans, bowls, and buckets). Home garden
structure and composition have not only been studied
in Latin America, but also in Africa (Abebe et al.
2010) and Southeast Asia (Wiersum 2006). Different
spatial configurations within home gardens determine
the presence of various habitats that will
ensure the availability of useful species with diverse
environmental and management requirements
throughout the year.
The main function of the majority of home
gardens is providing fruits and vegetables for
home consumption, comprising several wild
food plants (WFPs), as complements to the
staples (Fernandes and Nair 1986 ;
Hoogerbrugge and Fresco 1993; Niñez 1985).
Farmers ensure the availability of food plants in
their home gardens all year round (Lok 2001;
Soemarwoto and Conway 1992), especially in times
of stress (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014a; Nazarea and
George 1997). Additionally, the structure given to
each one of the components of a home garden has
an established role not only in space but also in time
(de Clerck and Negreros-Castillo 2000). Vogl et al.
(2004) highlighted that seasonality should be one of
the main aspects that has to be taken into consideration
as part of home garden research. However,
little attention has been given to the study of the
seasonal variation within home gardens in terms of
species composition. This might partly be due to
the fact that most home garden research has been
carried out in the humid tropics of the developing
world (Vogl et al. 2004), where there is not a wellexpressed
WFPs, including fruits and vegetables consumed
as complements to the staples, constitute a major
component of home gardens (Chweya and
Eyzaguirre 1999; Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010). The
word Bwild^ does not necessarily imply the absence
of human management. Certainly, WFPs might be
locally cultivated (in situ or ex situ), protected, tolerated,
or promoted to different degrees by farmers
(Casas et al. 1997; González-Insuasti and Caballero
2007; Price 1997). WFPs might be transplanted to
home gardens without necessarily becoming a domesticated
species, and/or could spontaneously
emerge in them. Along these lines, Harlan (1975:
BSince domestication is an evolutionary process,
there will be found all degrees of plant and animal
association with man and a range of morphological
differentiations from forms identical to wild races to
fully domesticated races. A fully domesticated plant or
animal is completely dependent upon man for
This is well illustrated in the continuum
model of people and plant interactions along
a gradient of management intensity illustrated
by Harris (1989) and Wiersum (1997). Likewise,
WFPs exist on a management continuum from
Btruly^ wild to wild-cultivated and semidomesticated
species, excluding locally fully domesticated
plants, where the management of a species
might vary in time and space (Harris 1989). For
instance, some cultivated species are moving toward
domestication, whereas some species that used to be
intensively managed are nowadays moving toward
wilderness. In addition, a WFP species might be
protected and promoted in some regions, but hardly
ever managed in other places or even by other
farmers (González-Insuasti and Caballero 2007;
Ogle et al. 2001). From an ethnobotanical
100 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 69
perspective, using an emic approach (based on people’s
own interpretations of the environment),
WFPs are species classified as Bwild^ and Bedible^
by local people, where Bwild^ is a cultural domain
defined according to a local cognitive system
(Brosius et al. 1986).
It has been widely reported that WFPs are
crucial for assuring food security and dietary
diversity of farming households (Akrofi et al.
2010; Cruz-Garcia and Ertug 2014; Heywood
1999; Niñez 1985). They play an important role
in human nutrition, constituting an essential source
of minerals, vitamins, and secondary metabolites
including alkaloids, essential oils, and phenolics
(Heywood 1999; Johns 2007). Plants’ edible parts
range from reproductive organs like fruits, flowers,
and seeds, to vegetative organs like leaves, roots, and
stems (Cruz-Garcia and Ertug 2014). Nowadays,
many rural societies from around the world rely on
WFPs as essential components of their diet, especially
during lean seasons and scarcity periods
(Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014a; Etkin 1994; Heywood
1999; Turner and Davis 1993). However, the
seasonal and spatial diversity of species, including
WFPs, within home gardens have not received
enough attention in home garden research (Chweya
and Eyzaguirre 1999; Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010).
Certainly research of the different spatial and temporal
scales of species diversity within home gardens
is undoubtedly necessary in order to achieve a better
understanding of the relation between home garden
sustainability and diversity (Abebe et al. 2010;
This paper documents the spatial and seasonal
diversity of WFPs in home gardens in a rice farming
village of Kalasin, northeast Thailand, where it has
been previously documented that WFPs from home
gardens play an essential role in the diet of local
people (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014a; MorenoBlack
et al. 1996a). The hypotheses underlying this
article are that WFP species vary spatially and seasonally
within home gardens, and multiple use types
of WFPs occur in the different spatial configurations.
In order to test the hypotheses, we (a) quantified
the seasonal abundance and frequency of occurrence
of individual gathered plants (climbers,
herbs, shrubs, and trees) in different spatial configurations
within home gardens, (b) compared different
spatial configurations in terms of their diversity
indexes, and (c) quantified the multiple additional
uses of WFP species (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2011)
in relation to the spatial configurations where they
The study was conducted in Kalasin province,
located in the northeast of Thailand, which is the
poorest region in the country (National Statistical
Office of Thailand 2001). The study area is characterized
by having heavily leached fine sandy loam,
highly saline and poorly drained soils, with low
quantities of organic matter, phosphates, and nitrogen,
at an elevation that ranges from 100 to 300 m
asl (Parnwell 1988). Northeast Thailand has a
Tropical Savannah climate, corresponding to BAw^
in the Köppen climate classification system, with a
rainy season from May through October, and a dry
season from November through April. The dry
season includes a cool period followed by a hot
period (Tomita et al. 2003; Wijnhoud 2007). Meteorological
data were provided by Kamalasai station
in Kalasin Province, the nearest to the research
area, for the complete time range of data collection
that started in May 2006 at the beginning of the
rainy season 2006 and finished in April 2007 at the
end of the dry season 2006–2007 (Fig. 1). The
monthly average rainfall in the rainy season was
210 mm, and in the dry season it was 25 mm.
The rainy season thus comprised 88% of the annual
rainfall in the area. The natural vegetation of this
region is dry monsoon forest, mainly composed of
dry dipterocarp forest (Parnwell 1988; Prachaiyo
2000). However, the forest area has decreased from
90% in the 1930s to less than 14% in 2004, due to
the extension of the agricultural area and population
growth (Wijnhoud 2007).
The population of northeast Thailand,
which has farming as primary occupation, has
adjusted to this environmental variability by
developing a combined subsistence system that
depends on glutinous rice as main source of
income and dietary staple, corresponding to
70% of the arable land of the region
(Wijnhoud 2007). Glutinous rice is usually paired
with the consumption of wild foods, including
WFPs, crabs, insects, frogs, fish, and mushrooms
(Cruz-Garcia and Price 2011; Moreno-Black et al.
1996a; Price 1997). Cultivation of rain-fed
transplanted glutinous rice in paddy fields occurs
in the rainy season, whereas in the dry season
farmers cultivate either direct seeded rice, mushrooms,
and vegetables, or cannot practice agriculture,
depending on their access to irrigation (CruzGarcia
and Price 2011).
2015] CRUZ-GARCIA AND STRUIK: WILD FOOD PLANTS IN HOME GARDENS 101
Northeasteners constitute one of the largest minority
groups in the country. The majority are
ethnically of Lao origin. The most widely spoken
language in the region is called Isaan, which is Lao
with Thai influence, written using Thai scripts.
Thai is formally learned at school. The society in
northeast Thailand is characterized by having a
pattern of matrilocal residence, along with a customary
inheritance of land through women (Price
and Ogle 2008). Given the increasing rate of
outmigration and the important role that remittances
are playing for the family economy, the
traditional matrilocal stem family cycle is currently
being affected (Prapertchob 2001).
Kalasin Province has a population of approximately
one million inhabitants, with a density of
. Families have four
members on average and 24% are female-headed
households. Northeasteners (99.5%) practice Theravada
Buddhism. The population has attended
school for an average of 6.5 years. Fifty-two per cent
of the population is constituted by unpaid family
workers, and 36% are engaged in self-employment,
mostly in agriculture (National Statistical Office of
In Kalasin, WFPs are gathered from forests,
fields, and home gardens, among other places
(Cruz-Garcia and Price 2011; Moreno-Black and
Somnasang 2000; Price 1997). Cruz-Garcia and
Price (2014a) explained that WFPs play an essential
role in the food security of rural families, particularly
for the most vulnerable households. WFPs are an
important component of home gardens (MorenoBlack
et al. 1996b; Price 2005; Wester and
Yongvanit 1995), where women, who inherit the
land, play an essential role in their maintenance
(Moreno-Black et al. 1996b; Price and Ogle
2008). In Kalasin, farmers not only gather WFPs,
but also actively cultivate and manage them in their
home gardens, ensuring their availability throughout
the year (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014b; Somnasang
and Moreno-Black 2000). In this way, MorenoBlack
et al. (1994, 1996b) reported that 29% of
the useful plant species growing in home gardens in
northeastern Thailand are locally classified as wild,
and 95% of households presented WFPs in their
home gardens (Fig. 2). The presence of WFPs in
home gardens is related to their availability in other
areas of the farming landscape. For instance, in
research conducted in the same site where this study
took place, Cruz-Garcia and Price (2014b) found
that farmers actively transplant WFP species to
home gardens using transplanted material not only
from other home gardens and markets, but also
from rice fields, upland fields, and secondary woods.
Farmers from Kalasin conceptually distinguish
WFPs, which are grouped under the term Bgeht
eng,^ meaning in Isaan language Bbirth itself^.
Nonetheless, they differentiate Bbirth itself^ type of
plant (WFP) from the verb Bto birth by itself,^
which means to grow without human intervention,
i.e., without the action of transplanting or sowing.
This distinction is necessary, given that some Bgeht
eng^ species (birth itself type of plant) can be
Fig. 1. Maximum temperature (T max), minimum temperature (T min), and rainfall during the period of data
collection (May 2006 until April 2007).
102 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 69
transplanted or sown. In addition, domesticates that
Bbirth themselves^ are not considered Bbirth itself^
type of plants; for instance, tomatoes that grow from
consumption debris are not considered WFPs (Price
METHODS OF DATA COLLECTION
The research was conducted in a rice farming
village in northeast Thailand called Ban Sa-at Tai,
situated in Tambon Nua, Ampher Muang, Kalasin
Province (145 masl). Ban Sa-at Tai was selected for
this study because previous research conducted in
this village by the senior author (Cruz-Garcia and
Price 2011, 2014a, 2014b) and other researchers
(Moreno-Black and Somnasang 2000; MorenoBlack
et al. 1996b; Price 1997) documented that
WFPs constitute a major component of home gardens,
where farmers keep and actively gather these
species throughout the year for home consumption
and, sometimes, for sale.
Twenty home gardens corresponding to 20 different
households were randomly selected in the
village. This constitutes 36% of all households present
in the village, taking into account that all households
have a home garden. Five different spatial
configurations occurring within home gardens,
namely fenced plot, fenced plot margin, yard, home
garden boundary, and pot, were identified together
with community experts. Fenced plots are small
fenced areas within the home garden where farmers
mainly grow domesticated plants and a few WFPs
to use for food (vegetable) and medicine. Fenced
plot margins include a 0.5 m wide border surrounding
a fenced plot. Yards comprise the home garden
area surrounding the house but excluding fenced
plots and their margins, hedgerows, fences, and
pots. Yards are characterized by widely spaced vegetable
plants and trees. Home garden boundaries
include hedgerows and fences that delimit the
household compound and respective home garden,
which are mainly comprised of woody species. Pots
Fig. 2. Home garden in Ban Sa-at Tai, Kalasin, northeast Thailand.
2015] CRUZ-GARCIA AND STRUIK: WILD FOOD PLANTS IN HOME GARDENS 103
are either small containers made of ceramic with a
mean diameter of 0.25 m, or big containers made of
old tires with a diameter of 0.50 m. Depending on
their size, pots could have only one species or mixtures
of plants, and one home garden could have
more than one pot. A home garden did not necessarily
possess all five types of spatial configurations.
In order to analyze the spatial and seasonal variation
of WFPs within home gardens and to compare
spatial configurations according to species diversity,
the abundance and frequency of occurrence
of all WFP species growing in each one of the 20
selected home gardens were registered for each spatial
configuration in both seasons. This yielded a
total of 77 sampling sites, where one sampling site
refers to one specific spatial configuration in a particular
home garden (Table 1). Altogether, the total
sampled area covered 2,749 m2
. Sampling sites were
analyzed in August 2006 (rainy season) and
February 2007 (dry season). Data for the dry
season were collected in February before
temperatures rise and it becomes difficult to
maintain WFPs in a home garden.
With the purpose of quantifying the occurrence
of specific use types of WFP species in different
spatial configurations within home gardens, data
on multiple uses were registered for each one of
the observed species through focus groups and
complemented by interviews with local experts, as
explained in Cruz-Garcia and Price (2011). Focus
groups and interviews were conducted in Isaan
language with the help of local translators. Focus
groups were carried out with six to nine middleaged
or slightly older women (34 to 66 years old)
that were identified as knowledgeable on WFPs by
the villagers. Informants were women, given that it
has been reported for this village that women are the
knowledge holders on WFP use and management
(Moreno-Black et al. 1994; Price 2003; Price and
Ogle 2008). All informants who participated in this
study did so freely and with consent.
Data collection was carried out with the authorization
of the National Research Council of Thailand
(NRCT) and in adherence to the International
Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (2006).
METHODS OF DATA ANALYSIS
The botanical names of the species were based on
research conducted in the same village by the senior
author, who published a list of 87 WFPs (CruzGarcia
and Price 2011). In this study, plant names
were obtained by elicitation in focus groups conducted
with local informants who were asked to list
the plants they regard as Bwild^ and Bedible.^ The
local names of the plants were recorded in the local
Thai-Lao vernacular names using Thai script, and
their botanical identification was carried out by
taxonomists from the Department of Biology of
Chang Mai University and Walai Rukhavej Botanical
Research Institute of Mahasarakham University.
Herbarium specimens of most of identified species
are on repository in one or more locations in
Thailand, including the Herbarium of Walai
Rukhavej Botanical Research Institute (WRBG) in
Mahasarakham, the Bangkok Herbarium of the
Department of Agriculture (BK) in Bangkok, and
the Herbarium of Khon Kaen University (KKU) in
Khon Kaen. Botanical naming of species, genus,
and family follows BFlora of Thailand^ (Bangkok
Data were analyzed per species, spatial configuration,
and season. Absolute abundance and frequency
of occurrence were calculated per WFP
species for each spatial configuration and the whole
home garden ecosystem in both seasons (dry and
rainy). Absolute abundance, referred to as Ab, is the
number of individual plants of a species per unit
area (100 m2
, otherwise indicated), estimated by the
sum of the number of individual plants divided by
the total area (m2
) of all sampling sites belonging to
a spatial configuration. Frequency of occurrence
(presence frequency) is the percentage of
observations where the species was present: (a) the
percentage of sampling sites where the species occurred
in a spatial configuration, referred to as
FreqSS, and (b) the percentage of spatial configurations
where the species occurred, referred to as
FreqSUB-S. These measurements (Ab, FreqSS, and
FreqSUB-S) complement each other.
Species richness and Simpson and Shannon diversity
indexes were calculated per spatial
Table 1. TOTAL OF SAMPLING SITES PER SPATIAL CONFIGURATION
WITHIN HOME GARDENS AND AREA
(total in m2
Fenced plot 12 182
Fenced plot margin 12 126
Yard 20 2,266
Home garden boundary 12 172
Pot 21 3
104 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 69
configuration. Species richness (Spd) was obtained
as species density, quantifying the number of species
per unit area (100 m2
, otherwise indicated). The
Shannon and the Simpson indexes, referred to as H’
and D respectively, were obtained according to
Finally, the amount and variety of multiple uses
of WFPs present in each spatial configuration within
home gardens were calculated.
HOME GARDENS AND THEIR SPATIAL
All sampled home gardens (n = 20) presented
WFPs in at least one season and 90% in both
seasons, with a mean of 4.1 species per home garden
in the dry season (SD = 2.8) and 3.6 in the rainy
season (SD = 3.0). However, home gardens differed
in the number and type of spatial configurations
they contained. Home gardens showed a mean of
three different spatial configurations (SD = 1.7) in a
mean area of 137 m2 (SD = 184 m2
). Thirty percent
of home gardens showed all five spatial
configurations, and 10% presented four spatial
configurations, whereas 15% showed three spatial
configurations, 12% two spatial configurations, and
30% only one spatial configuration. Home gardens
with a bigger area usually possessed more spatial
configurations. For instance, home gardens with
four or five spatial configurations had a mean area
of 231 m2 (SD = 150 m2
), and the mean area of
home gardens with one or two spatial
configurations was 84 m2 (SD = 220 m2
spatial configurations, except yards, were observed
in 50% of home gardens. Yards were present in
95% of all sampled home gardens.
Management varied per type of spatial configuration
within home gardens. WFPs growing inside
fenced plots were generally transplanted, watered,
and protected. The plot fence also prevented the
entrance of animals into the garden. In fenced plot
margins, plants were not protected against animals,
and farmers usually did not take care of the plants
growing in this area directly (as they did for these
plants growing inside the fence), but they did it
rather indirectly; for instance, these plants incidentally
received water and nutrients applied to the
species growing inside the fence. Plants growing in
yards might be transplanted and/or protected, for
example by placing sticks around small trees. In
addition, some species that were important for the
local cuisine were planted near the kitchen, water
jar, or toilet so they could indirectly receive water
while cooking and washing the dishes or body.
Plants growing in home garden boundaries had
mainly been transplanted and were pruned. Plants
in pots had been transplanted, were protected, and,
when necessary, were watered. Pots were placed on
the top of columns or walls higher than one meter,
so chickens and other animals could not destroy
SEASONAL ABUNDANCE AND FREQUENCY
OF OCCURRENCE OF WILD FOOD PLANTS
(WFPS) IN DIFFERENT SPATIAL CONFIGURATIONS
A total of 20 WFP species corresponding to 13
botanical families were observed, and 1,390 individuals
were counted, with a mean of 0.5 individuals
. The family with the highest number of
species was Leguminosae (six species), followed by
Cucurbitaceae and Menispermaceae (two species
each). All species were observed in both seasons,
except for the weedy herb Limnophila aromatica
Merr. that was only observed in the rainy season
(Appendices 1, 2, 3, and 4, Electronic
Supplementary Material [ESM]). According to
their growth form, 45% of species were trees, 20%
climbers, 20% terrestrial herbs, 10% shrubs, and
one species was a rattan. Only three species were
annual (one climber and two herbs), whereas the
rest were perennials.
The tree Tamarindus indica L. was the most
abundant species in both dry and rainy seasons,
with 286 and 386 individuals counted respectively
(a hundred more individuals were counted in the
rainy season because new seedlings started to grow
due to the presence of rainfall). Tamarind, which
mainly grows in home garden fences, yards, and
fenced plots, is an important tree in the region with
multiple uses as food. For instance, its fruit, locally
called Bbak kaam,^ is widely consumed ripe and
unripe as snack, or its juice is added to some dishes,
and its shoots are eaten as vegetable.
In the dry season, the perennial herb Centella
asiatica (L.) Urb. also showed a high absolute abundance
(284 individuals observed in the total sampled
area). C. asiatica is a medicinal herb very
common inside fenced plots, where it showed its
highest density (137 individuals per 100 m2
species was also present in yards and pots. The tree
Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit was also
abundant in this season. L. leucocephala has
2015] CRUZ-GARCIA AND STRUIK: WILD FOOD PLANTS IN HOME GARDENS 105
multiple edible parts (shoots, leaves, and fruits) and
many additional uses besides food such as medicine,
fuel, and fodder. The annual herb Amaranthus
viridis L., the tree Phyllanthus acidus (L.) Skeels,
the rattan Calamus sp., and the perennial climber
Tiliacora triandra Diels were also abundant in this
In the rainy season, the annual herb L. aromatica
and the tree L. leucocephala were also abundant,
with 79 and 54 individuals counted, respectively.
L. aromatica or Bphak kayeng^ is commonly
transplanted from rice fields, where it naturally
grows, to home garden pots (2,633 individuals per
). This plant, which is also used as medicine,
constitutes an important ingredient of the local
cuisine, especially liked for its aromatic smell.
A. viridis, C. asiatica, P. acidus, and the perennial
herb Ipomoea aquatica Forssk. were also abundant
during this season.
The species with the highest frequency of occurrence
in spatial configurations within home gardens
(FreqSUB-S) were T. triandra and the tree Spondias
pinnata Kurz, both found in 80% of the spatial
configurations in the dry and rainy season.
T. triandra, locally called Byaa nang,^ plays an essential
role in local cuisine and as medicine, reasons
why most households transplant it to their home
gardens. The fruit of S. pinnata, called Bbak kawek,^
characterizes the Bsom tam^ (papaya salad) prepared
and frequently consumed in this region, in contrast
with the Bsom tam^ prepared in the rest of the
In the dry season, 47% of the plants were observed
in three or more spatial configurations,
whereas in the rainy season the majority of plants
(85%) were only found in one or two spatial configurations.
WFPs presented low abundance (Ab)
and frequency of occurrence (FreqSS) among sampling
sites of fenced plots. The only species observed
in more than one home garden’s fenced plot were
T. indica and the perennial climber Coccinia grandis
(L.) Voigt in the dry season, and the perennial
climber Cissampelos pareira L. in the rainy season.
WFPs also presented low abundance (Ab) and frequency
of occurrence (FreqSS) in fenced plot margins,
with no species, except for A. viridis, observed
consecutively in both seasons. Yards showed considerably
more WFP species than other spatial configurations,
with T. indica as the most abundant
plant occurring in 50% of the sampling sites
(FreqSS). In home garden boundaries, which include
hedgerows and fences, the most abundant
plants were T. indica and L. leucocephala (FreqSS =
50%), which grow as shrubby trees in this spatial
configuration due to pruning. In pots, the most
abundant plants were C. asiatica in the dry season
and L. aromatica in the rainy season.
SPATIAL AND SEASONAL VARIATION OF SPECIES
DIVERSITY WITHIN HOME GARDENS
The diversity of WFPs in home gardens was
notably greater in the dry season, not only with
regard to the number of individuals observed in
the total sampled area (771 and 619 individuals in
dry and rainy seasons, respectively), but also the
mean number of individuals and species across all
sampled home gardens (Table 2). Moreover, the
means of home garden species density (Spd), Shannon
(H’) index, and Simpson (D) index indicated
that WFP diversity was higher in the dry season.
Number of individuals, number of species, and all
diversity indexes, however, presented great variability
across home gardens in both seasons, which was
reflected in their high standard deviations.
The results showed that 60% of spatial configurations
(yards, home garden boundaries, and pots)
presented higher species density and greater diversity
in the dry season, whereas 40% (fenced plots and
their margins) did so in the rainy season (Tables 3
and 4). Yards presented the highest diversity but
lowest Spd in both seasons because they have much
bigger areas within home gardens where WFPs are
heterogeneously spread, with no visibly dominant
species. Fenced plots showed the highest species
density in the dry season, but showed the lowest
diversity (H’, D), which can be partly explained by
the dominance of C. asiatica. In the rainy season,
Table 2. MEAN AND STANDARD DEVIATION OF NUMBER
OF INDIVIDUALS, NUMBER OF SPECIES, SPECIES DENSITY
(Spd), SHANNON DIVERSITY INDEX (H’), AND SIMPSON
DIVERSITY INDEX (D) of WFPs ACROSS ALL SAMPLED
HOME GARDENS IN BOTH DRY AND RAINY SEASON.
Dry season Rainy season
Mean SD Mean SD
39 113 31 83
4.1 2.8 3.6 3.0
1 12.0 21.7 7.3 6.6
H' 1.06 0.51 0.81 0.66
D 0.29 0.31 0.36 0.36
1 Number of species per 100 m2 .
106 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 69
fenced plots, where farmers cultivate different species
of domesticated, wild vegetables and other
herbs taking advantage of the rainfall, and fence
garden margins showed the highest diversity after
yards. Pots and home garden boundaries showed
the lowest diversity in this season due to the dominance
of L. aromatica in pots, and T. indica and
L. leucocephala as major constituents of living
MULTIPLE ADDITIONAL USES OF WFP SPECIES IN
RELATION TO THE SPATIAL CONFIGURATIONS
WHERE THEY GROW
All WFP species, except for Barringtonia
acutangula (L.) Gaertn., have additional uses besides
food, constituting altogether up to nine different
types of uses. For example, tamarind, besides food,
has six additional uses (medicine, timber, fuel, fodder,
dye, and cleaning) and provides a place of
shadow outside the house within the household
compound. The types of uses covered by the WFPs
listed in the present study were: medicinal (95% of
species), animal fodder (25%), fuel (20%),
domestic (15%), timber (10%), dye (10%),
cleaning (10%), auxiliary (5%), and ritual (5%).
Yards and home garden boundaries comprised
WFP species belonging to the nine different types
of use additional to food, whereas those species
growing in pots belong altogether only to two use
types. The percentage of species belonging to each
use type, except for medicine (which was present in
all spatial configurations), varied per spatial configuration
SPATIAL VARIATION OF WFP SPECIES WITHIN
The results of this study revealed that WFP
species vary spatially within home gardens, which
is reflected in the following findings: (a) home
gardens comprise a wide array of structurally different
spatial configurations with multiple species assemblages;
(b) diversity, as observed in the analysis
of Spd, H’ and D, was different in each spatial
configuration; and (c) the seasonal abundance and
frequency of occurrence of WFP species varies when
comparing different spatial configurations within
home gardens. The large variability of the spatial
structure and diversity in home gardens has also
been reported in other countries, for example, in
southern Ethiopia (Abebe et al. 2010), southeast
Mexico (Alvarez-Buylla Roces et al. 1989), central
Sulawesi in Indonesia (Kehlenbeck and Maass
2004), and central Vietnam (Vlkova et al. 2011).
These studies, however, did not present a detailed
comparison of WFP species across different spatial
The research findings revealed that the spatial
structure in terms of number and types of spatial
configurations within home gardens is diverse and
varies from household to household. Certainly,
home gardens integrate annual and perennial species
of trees, shrubs, and herbs, often in combination
with livestock, recreating diverse habitats important
for plants and animals (Fernandes and Nair
1986; Kehlenbeck et al. 2007; Torquebiau 1992).
The species composition, size, and location of each
structural assemble of home gardens are defined by
local management strategies (Kumar and Nair
2004). Indeed, the results of this study showed that
types of human management differ across spatial
configurations within home gardens, a phenomenon
also explained by Lok (2001).
Table 3. SPECIES DENSITY (Spd), SHANNON DIVERSITY
INDEX (H’), AND SIMPSON DIVERSITY INDEX (D) OF
WFPs PER SPATIAL CONFIGURATION IN THE DRY
Spatial configuration Spd
1 H' D
Fenced plot 5.49 0.28 0.91
Fenced plot margin 2.38 0.74 0.54
Yard 0.79 2.58 0.09
Home garden boundary 4.65 0.74 0.59
Pot N.A.2 0.54 0.72
1 Number of species per 100 m2 . 2 Not applicable because of the small sampled area.
Table 4. SPECIES DENSITY (Spd), SHANNON DIVERSITY
INDEX (H’), AND SIMPSON DIVERSITY INDEX (D) of
WFPs PER SPATIAL CONFIGURATION IN THE RAINY
Spatial configuration Spd
1 H' D
Fenced plot 2.75 1.43 0.19
Fenced plot margin 3.97 1.50 0.16
Yard 0.66 2.36 0.11
Home garden boundary 2.91 0.45 0.76
Pot N.A.2 0.46 0.74
1 Number of species per 100 m2 . 2 Not applicable because of the small sampled area.
2015] CRUZ-GARCIA AND STRUIK: WILD FOOD PLANTS IN HOME GARDENS 107
Many plant species have specific niche requirements,
which is reflected in the fact that 85% of the
species in the rainy season and 53% in the dry
season were found in only one or two spatial configurations
in the study site. Although yards were
the most common and diverse, all spatial configurations
should be regarded as equally important for
the maintenance of WFP diversity, given that they
provide different habitats for plant species,
complementing each other spatially and seasonally.
In this way, each structural ensemble of home gardens
conforms to a specific niche, which is intrinsically
related to the others (Kumar and Nair 2004).
Certainly, the diversity of plant species present in
home gardens has been acknowledged as an important
factor for their sustainability and productivity
(Kehlenbeck et al. 2007).
SEASONAL VARIATION OF WFP SPECIES WITHIN
The research results illustrate that WFP species
vary seasonally within home gardens, which is echoed
in the following findings: (a) the number of
individuals, number of species, and species diversity
(Spd, H’, and D) varied in dry and rainy seasons
across all sampled home gardens; (b) diversity, as
observed in the analysis of Spd, H’, and D, differed
per season across different spatial configurations
within home gardens; and (c) WFP species
abundance and frequency of occurrence varied
seasonally when comparing spatial configurations
within home gardens. This quantitatively shows
that spatial configurations can vary temporarily or
cyclically, as previously stated by Lok (2001). In
addition, WFP diversity in home gardens greatly
differs across households in both seasons, as
reflected in the high standard deviations for all
diversity indexes, number of individuals, and number
of species. Certainly, Kehlenbeck et al.
(2007:304) emphasized that Bno individual factor
alone determines the plant diversity found in home
gardens, but rather a complex combination of agroecological,
socio-economic, cultural, and political
factors causes spatial and temporal variation of plant
The differences observed between both dry and
rainy seasons were substantial. In the dry season,
home gardens showed (a) higher mean number of
individuals and number of species across households,
(b) higher WFP diversity according to Spd,
H’, and D indexes, and (c) higher diversity of WFPs
in more than half of the spatial configurations.
These findings are contrary to the initial expectation
that the rainy season would present a higher diversity
given that the presence of rainfall facilitates the
growth of most species. Therefore these results cannot
be explained by physical environmental factors
alone, because human management is certainly a
major factor for assuring the maintenance of WFP
diversity under the presence of higher environmental
stress. For instance, other studies conducted in
the same village emphasized that WFPs are not only
tolerated when they grew spontaneously, but also
actively transplanted and protected (Cruz-Garcia
and Price 2014b; Moreno-Black et al. 1996b). For
instance, the senior author found that 98% of
households transplanted WFP species into home
gardens (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014b). In addition,
WFPs growing in home gardens are particularly
important for local families when their availability
decreases in other ecosystems of the farming
landscape (e.g., rice fields), which certainly occurs
during the lean months corresponding to the dry
season (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2014a). Indeed, it
has also been emphasised for other countries that
Fig. 3. Percentage of wild plant species presenting multiple uses besides food per spatial configuration within home
108 ECONOMIC BOTANY [VOL 69
farmers ensure the availability of food plants in their
home gardens throughout the year, especially in
times of stress (Lok 2001; Nazarea and George
1997; Soemarwoto and Conway 1992). Management
of WFPs in home gardens has also been
reported in other places in the world, for example
in Eastern Tyrol (Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010) and
Bangladesh (Millat-e-Mustafa et al. 2000).
THE SPECIFIC ROLES OF WFPS
This study underlines the importance of WFPs as
components of home gardens, reflected in the fact
that 90% of home gardens presented WFPs in both
seasons, with the quantification of 20 species. Indeed,
previous research conducted by the senior
author in the same study site highlighted that all
sampled households (n = 40) gathered WFPs from
home gardens for home consumption (Cruz-Garcia
and Price 2014a). This is clearly aligned with
Chweya and Eyzaguirre (1999), who emphasized
that WFPs are an important constituent of home
gardens and household food security.
Research results reinforce the statement that domestication
is a locally differentiated concept and
process, given that a species can be simultaneously
managed differently at various places (Cruz-Garcia
and Price 2014b; González-Insuasti and Caballero
2007). Therefore some of the species that are locally
regarded as Bwild^ in the study site could be classified
as Bdomesticated^ in other regions. In addition,
the ethnobotanical approach to domestication,
which is based on the characterization of WFPs as
a cultural domain according to local cognitive systems,
also allows that a species that is regarded as
Bwild^ in one location might be classified as domesticated
in another place or by scientists. For instance,
this is the case for Cajanus cajan,
Tamarindus indica, and Psidium guajava, which
are considered Bwild^ by farmers in Ban Sa-at Tai
village in Kalasin but classified as domesticated species
by scientific literature. Certainly, it has been
argued that local categories of Bwild^ do not necessarily
match scientific or non-local categories of
Bwild^ (Michon and De Foresta 1997).
Along these lines, it is also important to highlight
that many WFPs have been scientifically classified
as weeds in the scientific literature (HEAR 2007).
Small-scale farmers, however, tolerate, encourage,
and/or protect in their home gardens a variety of
weeds (that usually are not classified as Bweeds^
from an emic perspective) given the multiple uses
they have (e.g., Datta and Banerjee 1978; Kim et al.
2007; Mukhopadhyay 1995; Van Chin 1999;
Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010; Vongsaroj and
Nuntasomsaran 1999). Several weed species are
edible, and the consumption of weeds has been
reported around the world (e.g., Cruz-Garcia and
Price 2012; Díaz-Betancourt et al. 1999; Duke
1992; Grivetti et al. 1987; Rapoport et al. 1995;
Sinha and Lakra 2007; Vogl-Lukasser et al. 2010).
Certainly, it has been documented for the study site
that, despite the fact that 66% of the locally consumed
wild vegetables are regarded as weeds by the
scientific literature, the highest CSI (Sutrop’s Cognitive
Salience Index) scores of all wild vegetables
free-listed by local informants (village census)
corresponded to weeds, which indicates the cultural
cognitive importance that these plants have for local
households (Cruz-Garcia and Price 2012). Indeed,
70% of the WFPs observed in home gardens were
reported as weedy vegetables in the previous study,
and five WFP species found in home gardens
(I. aquatica, L. aromatica, C. asiatica, C. grandis,
and L. leucocephala) were among those wild vegetables
with the highest cultural cognitive importance.
The findings of this study showed that multiple
use types of WFPs occur in the different spatial
configurations within home gardens, where WFPs
presented up to nine additional uses besides food.
Indeed, it has been reported that home gardens
around the world are characterized by the presence
of multiple purpose species (Fernandes and Nair
1986; Galluzzi et al. 2010; Méndez et al. 2001),
given that an important factor for selecting the
species to grow in home gardens is their variety of
uses and derived products (Gajaseni and Gajaseni
1999). The results of this study also illustrated the
presence of species with multiple uses across spatial
configurations, indicating that each spatial configuration
in a home garden has multiple use types of
WFPs that vary per season with the change in
Remarkably, almost all WFPs (95% of species) are
also locally utilized as medicine in the study site. This
food/medicine overlap has also been documented in
other places as a major characteristic of WFPs (Etkin
and Ross 1982; Ogle et al. 2003; Pieroni and Quave
2005; Vandebroek and Sanca 2007).
The research findings provide strong evidence to
conclude that WFP species vary spatially and seasonally
within home gardens, and multiple use types
2015] CRUZ-GARCIA AND STRUIK: WILD FOOD PLANTS IN HOME GARDENS 109
of WFPs occur in the different spatial configurations
that are comprised within home gardens. In this way,
home gardens offer a wide array of structurally different
habitats presenting different species assemblages
that allow the presence of a great diversity of useful
and multipurpose species during the whole year.
Finally, as this study demonstrates, the results on both
the spatial and seasonal diversity of WFPs over different
spatial configurations feature a new perspective in
home garden research by providing new understandings
about their composition and management.
This study was carried out with a UNESCOL’ORÉAL
Fellowship for Young Women in Sciences
and the economic support of Neys van Hoogstraaten
Foundation for the multidisciplinary project BWild^
Vegetables, Fruits and Mushrooms in Rural Household
Well-being: An In-depth Multidisciplinary Village
Study in Northeast Thailand. We are very grateful
to Dr. Chayan Picheansoonthon and his field assistant
Pornpimon Wongsuwan, who conducted data collection.
We are especially indebted to the Kalasin farmers
for sharing with us valuable information during this
research and for their hospitality and care. We would
like to express our thanks to three anonymous reviewers
of the manuscript for their useful comments.
Open Access This article is distributed under the
terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (http://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided
you give appropriate credit to the original
author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative
Commons license, and indicate if changes were
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