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A Tribute to Richard Evans Schultes
by Alexander T. Shulgin
Apr 13, 2001
I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear yesterday of the death of a great man and a true friend, Richard Evans Schultes.

My first meeting with Dr. Schultes, as best I remember, was in the mid-1960's where we were both presenting papers at a most unusual conference in San Francisco dedicated to ethnopharmacology. He spoke about the variety and identification of South American snuffs; I spoke about Nutmeg, but my most precious memory was when I introduced him to Claudio Naranjo, who spoke about Ayahuasca. I recorded this interaction in an early book, but it is worth repeating here. Dr. Naranjo is a psychiatrist-anthropologist who gave a passionate talk describing the visual effects of Ayahuasca, especially the seeing of jaguars associated with the jungles where the sacrament was made and used. And, I had understood that Dr. Schultes had never had any such visuals at all.

Claudio opened the conversation.

"What do you think of the jaguars?"

"What jaguars?"

A small silence.

"Are you personally familiar with authentic Banisteriopsis caapi?" asked Claudio, his voice slightly strained.

Richard looked at him closely. "I was the person who assigned it its name."

Claudio went on. "Have you ever taken the plant decoction itself?"

"Perhaps fifteen times."

"And never jaguars?"

"Sorry, only wiggly lines."

This is the Dr. Schultes I knew, and came to respect more and more over the intervening years. This is the Harvard Professor, with suit, tie and vest, reflecting his identification with the academic halls of Harvard. I remember a couple of trips to London with him, to small, intimate conferences at the Macy Foundation House, and it was he who introduced me to the richness of the Kew Gardens.

But there was an entirely different Richard Schultes whom I had never had the opportunity to meet. This was a jungle-savvy gatherer of plants and of stories from the South American tropics. He was a no-tie, no-vest, torn clothes persona, an explorer of the Amazon and the Orinoco river basins. And this second Schultes was well known for his strange re-entries back into the United States with gunny sacks filled with new and unidentified plants as well as a gut filled with equally strange parasites. I had never met him. I wish I had.

My wife, Ann, had the pleasure of meeting him one time, at an Ethnobotanical conference on Maui, in 1993. The three of us had the privilege of having a private mansion made available to us on the other side of Hana from the Conference, which allowed us to share evenings and breakfasts and Ann enjoyed getting to know him quite well. She has described him as being truly funny, weird, off-beat, crazy, complex, and an ultimately hilarious character. She is so grateful for having gotten to meet him for those few days. The subtle first signs of his Alzheimer problem were evident even then in our private conversations, but his lectures at the conference were impeccable. Ann would refer to him as the Boston Brahmin, a term he privately enjoyed, as he felt it neatly summed up his attitude towards the intellectual inferiors who chose politics as a profession, to compensate for their lack of mental acumen. People such as the Kennedys, for example.

This Dr. Schultes, these Drs. Schultes, have left us with a heritage of botanical and pharmacological information that will make him immortal in the annals of ethnobotany. It is a privilege and a pleasure to have known him.