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60 year project documenting plants of East Africa celebrated at Kew Gardens

A significant milestone in East African conservation and botany will be celebrated at Kew today, to mark the completion of The Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA). This vast 60 year project involved documenting and furthering knowledge of the re

Photo: The dry thornbush of North East Kenya
The dry thornbush of North East Kenya. Kew's team took this photograph during a collecting trip on a virtually unknown mountain, Murua Ngithigerr, in 1988. (Photo: Dr Henk Beentje)

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 today, 13th 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.
 

Photo: Lolgurugi Aloe powysiorum

This photograph of a new species of Aloe in northern Kenya (Lolgurugi Aloe powysiorum) was taken in 1989.


The legacy of the Flora of Tropical East Africa

Henk Beentje, current editor of the Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) 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.”

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.

Dr Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank

A project of utmost importance

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.”

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