Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Round Trip

SABONET team members show off a wall of plant presses from a collecting expedition on the Nyika Plateau, Malawi.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Round Trip Photo Gallery

As our knowledge of the South African flora has expanded, so too has that of the African flora as a whole. In 1992, Kirstenbosch hosted a meeting of African botanists to plan a co-operative project aimed at building regional capacity in plant taxonomy and herbarium management. The project, which became known as SABONET (Southern African Botanical Diversity Network), succeeded in training over 30 botanists at postgraduate level, rehabilitated over a dozen herbaria, and computerised the information on some 200 000 herbarium specimens. Building on SABONET was the African Plants Initiative (API), driven by the enormous energies of Gideon Smith, Head of Systematics Research in SANBI, and by teams of taxonomists across Africa and in Europe and the USA. With generous support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the API published, in 2006, the first comprehensive checklist of the 50 000 plants known in sub-Saharan Africa – one of the many impressive outputs of the SABONET and API projects for which SANBI can be justifiably proud.

Type Specimen of the Marsh Rose Orothamnus zeyheri (see also photograph on page 226) was collected by Carl Zeyher in 1846 and named by Carl Pappe in 1848. It was first deposited in the South African Museum and transferred to the Compton Herbarium in 1956.

Holotype of Erica penduliflora was collected in 1999 by Ted Oliver of the Compton Herbarium and named by him in 2001.

Estimates of a total world flora of 250 000 species have increased to 370 000 and to a possible 400 000 flowering plants and ferns across the globe. Such estimates change the baseline of the popular statistic given in conservation publications that South Africa is home to 10 per cent of the world’s plant species. More accurate estimates reduce this to 5 per cent, but given that 65 per cent of these occur nowhere else on the planet, the importance of ensuring their survival for the benefit of humanity remains a high priority.

The Linnaean system predated Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and viewed species as being static entities – natural beings that had been created by God, and were unchanging. This fundamental flaw in his system has not prevented it from surviving as the most basic element of all research and knowledge management in the biological sciences for over two and a half centuries. Despite its shortcomings, it is here to stay!

Frans Bauer was botanical artist to King George III, illustrating the plant treasures arriving at Kew from the far reaches of the Empire, such as Erica massonii, namedfor the 18th century collector of Cape plants. (Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

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