Within the herbarium’s first 10 years it had incorporated over 40 000 specimens in its collection. Much credit for this is due to Winsome ‘Buddy’ Barker, who, as first Curator of the herbarium from 1939 to 1972, set about establishing the fine standards of its collections. In 1956, a major windfall occurred with the transfer, on permanent loan, of the very valuable collections of the South African Museum to Kirstenbosch. Brian Rycroft, recently appointed Director to the NBG, played a key role in securing the collections for Kirstenbosch, rather than seeing them despatched to Pretoria. The 118 cabinets from the Museum were housed in two new wings that were added to the building in 1958. At the opening of the extensions, the Trustees named the building and its valuable collections the Compton Herbarium – due honour being accorded the champion for systematics at Kirstenbosch over nearly 40 years.
During the 1960s and 1970s, growth of the Compton Herbarium’s collections and research activities focused mostly on the family Proteaceae, led by John Rourke, who had been appointed Curator in 1972. But limited funding kept the science programme at Kirstenbosch at a modest level until the 1980s, when Kobus Eloff was appointed Director. Taxonomy was still poorly supported until the 1990s, when a variety of initiatives were energetically pursued. First of these was the building of the new Kirstenbosch Research Centre (KRC), to which the Compton Herbarium was transferred in 1996. The Compton collections were further supplemented in 1996 by the transfer of over 120 000 specimens from the Stellenbosch Herbarium to the new facilities at the Kirstenbosch Research Centre.
There has always been some reservation about expanding beyond the ‘comfort zone’ of classical alpha taxonomy of Cape plants at the Compton Herbarium Given that the Cape flora is greater than that of the majority of countries anywhere on Earth, this focus is sensible and has achieved impressive results. Two of the major families – Proteaceae and Ericaceae, have enjoyed special attention, as have the exceptionally rich bulb families – Iridaceae and Amaryllidaceae. Major monographs have appeared on these groups from the Compton team
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Map Of The World Photo Gallery
Researchers examine plant specimens in the Compton Herbarium. Collaboration with other African herbaria had been limited until the 1990s, when the SABONET project provided an opportunity for South African botanists to actively engage with, and mentor, colleagues from a dozen other African countries. The Compton has also made a meaningful contribution to some of the regional and global programmes led by the National Herbarium in Pretoria. The current Curator of the Compton Herbarium, Koos Roux, has been active in cataloguing the fern flora of Africa and its islands. The Herbarium staff have participated in the African Plants Initiative (API) – a massive and successful project, funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation, which has prepared electronically accessible digital images of the majority of the ‘type specimens’ of Africa’s 50 000 plant species. A type specimen is the reference specimen, usually the first specimen collected, of a new species when it is described and the description published by a taxonomist. Such early reference specimens are of great importance to classical taxonomic research, hence the value of the South African Museum Herbarium, which includes many of the type specimens collected by the early botanists at the Cape. An assortment of South African Wild Flower Guides
In 1980, Kay Bergh, one of Kirstenbosch’s staunchest supporters for several decades, suggested that the Botanical Society produce and publish inexpensive field guides to the wild flowers of the different floral regions of the Cape. Few of the Botanical Society’s many important projects have been more successful. Twelve South African Wild Flower Guides had been published by 2011, with over 100 000 copies being sold. Each of these richly illustrated guides has enjoyed active support, and often authorship, by Kirstenbosch botanists and horticulturists. These guides, together with the vast array of other natural history publications, make the Botanical Society’s blogshop at Kirstenbosch one of the most important resources of knowledge available to the general public on the country’s biodiversity.
The most famous visitor to Kirstenbosch during Huntley’s tenure was President Mandela, enjoying the Garden that he hadfirst visited as a student.
On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was freed after 27 years of imprisonment, and a new era began for South Africa. Thirty years after Harold Macmillan’s historic ‘Winds of Change’ speech in the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town, democracy was being born in a country long shunned by the world. The 1990s saw rapid, exciting and massive changes in all aspects of the country, changes that had been in progress over several years as old paradigms began to give way to new.