60 year project documenting plants of East Africa celebrated at Kew Gardens
For immedate release 13 September 2012
A significant milestone in East African conservation and botany will be celebrated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (London) on 13 September 2012 – the completion of a vast 60 year project documenting and furthering knowledge of the region’s 12,104 wild plant species, including many plants new to science. The Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) is the largest botanical project of its kind completed over the last 100 years.
135 scientists from 21 countries have contributed their expertise to the project over the past 60 years, some of whom will gather at Kew Gardens on 13 September 2012 to discuss how to build on the success of the project, its application to practical conservation in the region through initiatives such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and future collaborations.
Henk Beentje, current editor of the Flora of Tropical East Africa says, “More than just a flora has emerged from this project – many people have been trained, friendships forged and solid networks built, which is an excellent result for the conservation of plants in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
“Joint field trips are continuing, as is the planning of post-FTEA joint activities. Having spent five years working in the East African Herbarium in Nairobi myself, I learnt at firsthand what a wonderful resource the FTEA is.
“The FTEA, like all floras, is all about communication – without proper identification and names there is no communication about plants, and without communication all work on and with wild plants rests on quicksand. Now all further work on the wild plants of this region will be built on a solid foundation – not just botanical work but work on local uses by local people, ecology, vegetation work, zoology, and, of course, conservation.”
One of the project collaborators, Professor Sebsebe Demissew, Keeper, The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, adds, “The FTEA helped the initiation of other projects such as the Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1980, which was completed in 2009, and the Flora of Somalia, which was published by Kew between 1993 and 2006, though the project itself was started much earlier. Information already generated by the FTEA and support by staff served as a ‘tail wind’ to further their progress and completion.”
Adds Dr Paul Smith, head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, “FTEA underpins the identification of all of East Africa’s native plant species and, as such, is the basis for managing that diversity in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and wildlife landscapes. Its fundamental importance to the conservation and management of East Africa’s native plant species cannot be over-emphasised.”
Quick facts about the Flora of Tropical East Africa
• Started in 1948 by scientists from Kew, completed by Kew and its partners in 2012
• Published in 267 parts (the first parts in 1952, the final part in early 2012)
• The volumes take up two metres of shelf space
• Covers all 12,104 wild plant species of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania
• Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are the size of the UK, France, Germany and Spain combined East Africa has a rich biodiversity and these three countries have as many species as the whole of Europe
• Over sixty-odd years 135 authors have contributed – many from Kew, many from other European institutes, and an ever-increasing number from Africa, including six authors from East Africa
• When the project first started there were thought to be around 7,500 species in the region – at the project’s end 12,104 plants have been documented; which represents some three to four percent of the world’s plants
• In the last four years alone, 114 plant species new to science have been described in the FTEA; while across the whole project more than 1,500 new species have been found – including 11 new acacias and 40 new aloes
• Around 2,500 of the plants featured are endemic (they do not occur anywhere else), so unless they are protected in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania they face the threat of extinction
• It is the largest regional tropical flora completed over the last 100 years – and a major resource for East African conservation
• Vegetation types covered include deserts, such as the Chalbi, to the dense rainforest called Bwindi in Uganda, from lowland coastal forests to the afro-alpine moorlands of Kilimanjaro, via the dry bushlands of Tsavo, to the extensive grasslands of the Serengeti
Press queries: Please contact Bronwyn Friedlander in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Press Office on +44 (0)208 332 5607 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Project leader Henk Beentje and scientists from the African institutions involved are available for interview
Images are available to download from http://www.kew.org/press/images/ftea.html
Please contact the Kew press office for a user name and password
Notes to editors
For further information about the Flora of Tropical East Africa see http://www.kew.org/science-research-data/directory/projects/FloraTropEAfrica.htm and
The Flora is a part work published in fascicles by Kew Publishing, and available viawww.kewbooks.com
What is a ‘flora’?
A flora is a detailed description of the plants of a region or country. It may be published as a book (or series of books), CD or online, and includes identification keys and line drawings to show the botanical characters that distinguish one plant from another. Floras are essential tools for botanists.
Right now, Kew specialists are involved in helping to write other floras in Iraq, tropical Asia, China and South America.
Why does the Flora of Tropical East Africa matter?
A good flora goes beyond just identifying plants and helps support conservation planning. The FTEA has never been ‘just about botany’. From the outset it has been set up to serve as an enabling tool: to allow people to identify East Africa’s wild plant species, to allow communication about these species – so many of which are used by local people in various ways. And because the FTEA provides plenty of information on the distribution of these species, and about the habitats in which these plants occur, it is now a solid fact file for the conservation of these wild plants too.
For more information about the kinds of plants that are common and visible in the FTEA area, see these species pages:
Adansonia digitata (baobab) – iconic ‘upside-down’ tree, food, medicinal, basketry
Hagenia abyssinica (hagenia) – beautiful tree used in local medicine
Calodendrum capense (Cape chestnut) – tree with spectacular display of pink flowers
Tarchonanthus camphorates (camphor bush) – aromatic shrub used in traditional medicine
Sclerocarya birrea (marula) – juicy fruits highly prized by humans, elephants and mongooses
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25 per cent by 2020, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders.
Kew receives funding from the UK Government through Defra for approximately half of its income and is also reliant on support from other sources. Without the voluntary monies raised through membership, donations and grants, Kew would have to significantly scale back activities at a time when, as environmental challenges become ever more acute, its resources and expertise are needed in the world more than ever. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas.
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