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An open book showing text on one side and black and white photos of plants on the other.

The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam

Lieutenant William Edwin Safford was the aide to Captain Richard Leary, Guam’s naval governor. During his year in Guam, Safford, an ethnologist, surveyed the island and its customs. For guidance on local issues, he turned to his good friend Padre José Torres Palomo. 

Safford published the first English text on the CHamoru language, which was dedicated to Padre Palomo. The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam covers CHamoru history and culture as well as botany. Later, Safford served as curator at the National Herbarium in Washington, D.C.

William Edwin Safford (1859–1926)
Government Printing Office, Washington Smithsonian Libraries and Archives
Audio file
Audio commentary by Jillette León-Guerrero, Research Associate, Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam

Audio Transcription: When I first read "The Useful Plants of Guam" by William Edwin Safford, I thought that it was initially going to be about plants. And once I started reading it, I was amazed about what was included in it-- Guam history, about the people, about the economy, the society... everything. He included everything. But also, his humanity came through his writing. One of the entries that Safford writes about is the ifit tree. And it was once one of the most important timbers of Guam, and it was used in the pillars of the church in Hagåtña. And it was used in the better homes of the island. And as a youngster, I remember polishing those floors with coconut husks. And without this book, people today would not know about that, because World War II changed everything about Guam, from the economy of the island to the geography. Families moved from their seaside villages (and) had to change the way that they worked. That church with the ifit pillars was destroyed. I've only known of ifit trees in the northern end of Guam, and now they're almost extinct. So Safford is really one of the few links that we have to information about that time before the war.

– I'm Jillette Tory Leon-Guerrero, a research associate of the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam, and president of Guamology Publishing.