Background: There is a plentiful amount of local knowledge on plants hidden in the literature of foreign exploration to China in modern history. Mongolia and Amdo and the Dead City of Khara-Khoto (MAKK) is an expedition record on the sixth scientific expedition to northwestern China (1907-1909) initiated by P. K. Kozlov (1863-1935), a famous Russian Central Asian explorer. Used as a non-professional biology book, MAKK contains some botanical knowledge in it. The information noted down over more than 100 years ago is about the traditional knowledge of the Mongolian folks lived on the Mongolian plateau and the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for the understanding and utilization of plants, which is of a highlighted function for the study of the botany and the history of science and technology. We therefore have carried on relevant collation, analysis, investigation and criticism to Mongolian local knowledge on plants in MAKK, and obtained the status quo of these local knowledge.
Methods: The main research methods of this paper are literature research, textual research, interview and field investigation. First of all, combed and compared with the two versions of MAKK (1923 and 1948), it was sorted out for the information on botanical local knowledge of Mongolian folk. Secondly, the naming and utilization of selected plants were reviewed and catalogued by consulting reference books and relevant literature. Thirdly, by the way of interviews and field investigations, the local knowledge was verified twice, and then analyzed with ethnobotanical research methods.
Results: By means of regulation and research, it is found that Mongolian plant folk names of 1 genus and 8 species were recorded in MAKK. Their morphological characteristics and traditional grazing knowledge are crucial naming basis. There are three types on the structures of Mongolian plant name: simple primary name, complex primary name and secondary name. Corresponding relations between Mongolian folk name and scientific name are existed in "one-to-one", "multitude-to-one" and "one-to-multitude" forms. The classification of certain plants by Mongolian people has reached the level of species or varieties.
In addition, the Mongols’ usage for 9 species of plants was noted in MAKK. These are mainly used for edible, graziery, fuelwood, building material, toponym and belief. With the development and change of the society, it is found that some utilization methods have been replaced or basically disappeared, while remainder still continue to be applied by interviews and field investigations.
Conclusions: Firstly, the Mongols have their own rules and systems for nominating and classifying plants. Secondly, the Mongolian local knowledge on plants possesses multiform character. Thirdly, the Mongolian local knowledge on plants and Mongolian culture have mutual influence and interdependence relationship. Fourthly, the Mongolian local knowledge on plants urgently needs to be protected in many forms. Finally, it is veritable and reliable for the records of Mongolian botanical local knowledge in MAKK by textual research, and it is valuable for scientific research. The historical notes more than 100 years ago are not only supply dependable information and momentous historical data for Mongolian ethnobotany and Chinese minority science and technology history research, but also offer references for ecology, flora and botanical history study.