Dr. Mark J. Plotkin, Ph.D.

Dr. Mark Plotkin is a renowned ethnobotanist who has studied traditional indigenous plant use with elder shamans (traditional healers) of Central and South America for much of the past 30 years.

As an ethnobotanist—a scientist who studies how, and why, societies have come to use plants for different purposes—Dr. Plotkin carried out the majority of his research with the Trio Indians of southern Suriname, a small rainforest country in northeastern South America, but has also worked with shamans from Mexico to Brazil.

Dr. Plotkin has a long history of work with other organizations to promote conservation and awareness of our natural world, having served as Research Associate in Ethnobotanical Conservation at the Botanical Museum of Harvard University; Director of Plant Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund; Vice President of Conservation International; and Research Associate at the Department of Botany of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Plotkin is now President of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), a nonprofit organization he co-founded with his fellow conservationist and wife Liliana Madrigal in 1996.

Publications and media

Dr. Plotkin has authored or co-authored many books and scientific publications, most notably his popular work Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice, which is currently in its fortieth printing and has also been published in Dutch, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish. Acclaimed filmmaker Miranda Smith produced a related documentary titled The Shaman’s Apprentice featuring Dr. Plotkin’s work, which has garnered awards at eighteen different film festivals. His children’s book The Shaman’s Apprentice – A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest (1998), co-authored with Lynne Cherry, was called “the outstanding environmental and natural history title of the year” by Smithsonian Magazine. That same year, he played a leading role in the Academy Award-nominated IMAX documentary Amazon

Dr. Plotkin’s critically acclaimed book, Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature’s Healing Secrets, was published in early 2000. The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria (coauthored with Michael Shnayerson) was published in 2002; it was hailed as one of the top ten science books of that year by Discover magazine. His most recent book, The Amazon – What Everyone Needs to Know, was published by Oxford University Press in 2020.

Dr. Plotkin’s 2014 TED Talk on the protection of the Amazon’s uncontacted tribes has attracted well over a million views. His talk may be viewed here.

His ongoing podcast Plants of the Gods is available on Apple Podcasts and other platforms.


Time Magazine hailed Dr. Plotkin as an environmental “Hero for the Planet” in 1999.

His work has been featured in a PBS Nova documentary, in an Emmy-winning Fox TV documentary, on the NBC Nightly News and Today Show, CBS’ 48 Hours and in Life, Newsweek, Smithsonian, Elle, People, The New York Times, along with appearances on National Public Radio. Smithsonian magazine’s 35th anniversary issue profiled Dr. Plotkin as one of “35 who made a difference” in November 2005. In March 2007, he was honored with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens Conservation Award. And in March 2008, Dr. Plotkin and Liliana Madrigal were awarded the Skoll Foundation’s prestigious Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

In 2010, Dr. Plotkin received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. The degree citation read in part: “For teaching us that the loss of knowledge and species anywhere impoverishes us all; for combining humanitarian vision with academic rigor and moral sensibility; and for reminding us always, with clarity and passion and humor, that when we study people and plants, we are simultaneously exploring paths to philosophy, music, art, dance reverence, and healing.” In October of the same year, Jane Goodall presented Dr. Plotkin with an award for International Conservation Leadership.

In 2019, Dr. Plotkin was presented with the Harvard Extension School’s Shinagel Award for Public Service “in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the protection of the Amazon rainforest and tribal communities within them.”

Dr. Plotkin was educated at Harvard University Extension, Yale School of Forestry, and Tufts University.