"You might say I got stuck in the resin," Langenheim quipped.
She identified tropical trees in the genus Hymenaea, a legume belonging to the same plant family as peas and beans, as the source of several large deposits of amber in the New World. The greatest diversity of Hymenaea species occurs in the Amazonian rain forest, where Langenheim did extensive fieldwork.
"I actually started out as an ecologist studying high-mountain vegetation, yet amber took me to the tropics," she said. "As I made some breakthroughs in chemical studies of ambers and their botanical sources, my training as an ecologist made me want to understand the plants that produce these resins and why they may have started doing it 300 million years ago."
The broad range of Langenheim's research on plant resins is one reason Timber Press approached her in 1998 to write a general reference book on the subject, the first since 1949. Langenheim's multidisciplinary approach has produced an accessible and well-integrated book that should appeal to a wide audience, including botanists, ecologists, ethnobotanists, chemists, anthropologists, archaeologists, museum conservators, and amber enthusiasts.
In the book, Langenheim suggests an improved definition of resins based on their chemical properties, the secretory mechanisms that produce them, and their ecological function. She also emphasizes the exciting future of research on resins due to the continued development of new technologies for chemical and biological studies.
The book has three main sections: the production of resins by plants; the geologic history and ecology of resins; and the ethnobotany of resins. Langenheim has done important work in all three
Contact: Tim Stephens
University of California - Santa Cruz