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 elder 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 and Board member of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), a nonprofit organization he co-founded with his fellow conservationist and wife, Liliana Madrigal in 1996, now enjoying over 20 years of successes dedicated to protecting the biological and cultural diversity of the Amazon. ACT has been a member of the United Nations Environment Programme Global 500 Roll of Honour since 2002, and was recognized as using “Best Practices Using Indigenous Knowledge” by UNESCO, the United Nation’s cultural organization.

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 since 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. His most recent book (coauthored with Michael Shnayerson), The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria, was published by Little, Brown in September of 2002; it was hailed as one of the top ten science books of 2002 by Discover magazine. He is currently completing The Amazon – What Everyone Needs to Know for Oxford University Press.

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: azon_know_that_you_don_t?language=en


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 35 th 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. Dr. Plotkin was educated at Harvard, Yale, and Tufts University.

The effectiveness of Mark’s work has been recognized by both Harvard and Yale, two of his alma maters. In 2011, he received the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award from the Yale School of Forestry. Eight years later – in 2019 – Harvard presented him with the Shinagel Award for Public Service.