Distinguished Economic Botanist

The award of “Distinguished Economic Botanist (DEB)” is bestowed annually by the Society upon an individual on the basis of outstanding accomplishments pertinent to the goals of the Society.

Prof. Roy Ellen is our 2017 Distinguished Economic Botanist recipient!

Over the past 35 years, Professor Ellen has made major contributions to economic and ethnobotany and embodies the spirit of the Distinguished Economic Botanist.


Roy Ellen is Emeritus Professor in the School of Anthropology and Conservation at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK. He was trained in anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political science, where he completed his PhD in 1973 on swidden cultivation and patterns of settlement amongst the Nuaulu people of Seram, eastern Indonesia.

 He has held permanent teaching positions at the LSE, and thereafter at the University of Kent until 2012, where he founded the programme in Ethnobotany with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and was first Director of the Centre for Biocultural Diversity. He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2003, and was President of the Royal Anthropological Institute between 2007 and 2011.

He has published widely on environmental and cognitive anthropology, on ethnobiology (especially in the area of folk classification and the local management of domesticate diversity), on the theory of ethnoecological knowledge, on inter-island trading systems, and on the ethnography of eastern Indonesia. Of his 17 books and editions, his main publications relating to ethnobotany include: Nuaulu settlement and ecology (1976), Environment, subsistence and system (1982), The cultural relations of classification (1983), and The categorical impulse (2005). He has edited or co-edited, amongst others: Social and ecological systems (1979), Classifications in their social context (1979), Redefining nature (1996), Indigenous environmental knowledge and its transformations (2000), Ethnobiology and the science of humankind (2006), Modern crises and traditional strategies (2007), and Understanding cultural transmission in anthropology (2013).

Read about his work here