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Gateway to African Plants

Gateway to Africa Plants - un outil décisif vers l'identification des plantes africaines.


Photo of African myrrh (Commiphora afriana, Burseraceae)
African myrrh (Commiphora afriana, Burseraceae)


The recognition of plant families or genera is usually the first step to species identification but is often one of the most difficult. Knowledge of the major plant families is often assumed in floristic works, which means that they can be difficult for non-experts to use. Interactive keys offer the possibility of a user-friendly identification system to overcome this impediment. Following discussion between partners at the IBC in Vienna 2005, a collaborative effort was agreed to develop such a key for African plants.

The Gateway to African Plants ( is a community portal (based on an EDIT Scratchpad) supporting a collaborative project to enable the identification of plant species found in sub-saharan Africa and Madagascar, and to find further information about them. The resources contained in this community website are also intended to help contributors to the project to develop the identification tools.

The 4 main components of the Gateway are:

An Interactive Key
This is a web-based multi-access identification tool in LUCID and DELTA INTKEY formats, which, when complete, will enable identification to any of the 4500 native genera of flowering plant of sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, and provide the basis for development of identification tools to species. As a starting point, a web key for African plant families was based on Dallwitz and Watson's Angiosperm Families database, (as was done for the key to Malesian Seed Plants (2005) produced by the Malesian Key Group, a consortium between the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the National Herbaria of the Netherlands, Leiden). The family key served as a precursor to a generic key and incorporates information extracted from literature sources made available via a Scratchpad. Contributors record data at generic level for each family. The key links to other digital resources, such as FZ online (see e-Floras project) and will eventually allow identification to species level by combination of 'matrix' based keys and digitised versions of the traditional dichotomous keys. Other resources that will be linked into the system include digital images of specimens, particularly useful for confirming the results of an identification with the keys or eliminating species by matching.

An illustrated Glossary
Here the terminology in the key is explained in non-technical English, with definitions from a variety of literature sources. It is intended as an aid to users of the finished key as well as a reference for contributors filling in taxon scoresheets in order to help build the key.

A standard Checklist of plant names
This is extracted from the Geneva/SANBI database of flowering plants of Sub-Saharan Africa (see , which is a complete index of accepted names and synonyms for sub-Saharan African plants for reference purposes. It consists of a full list of current family names, each of which can be selected to reveal the current genus names within that family.

A set of detailed, literature-sourced Botanical Descriptions
Approximately 3000 genus descriptions are currently available on the site, but many more including species are to be added. These are indexed to names in the checklist, and via the interactive keys.

Project partners and collaborators


National Botanic Garden of Belgium, Meise


Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), Paris


East African Herbarium, National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi

South Africa

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)


Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la Ville de Genèv


Missouri Botanical Garden, St Loui