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Botany Department PDF Print E-mail
Article Index
Botany Department
Botanical Garden Section
Page II Botanical Garden Section
Mycology Section
Herbarium Section
Education Section
Documentation and Information Management section

A brief of the Botany Department

The National Museums of Kenya underwent structural evolution in 2005 meant to improve governance, accountability and performance which led to adjustments of the administrative units even at the departmental level. The historical East African Herbarium established in 1902 was no exception having been retained as a sub-department, and together with Nairobi Botanic Gardens, now form the Botany Department.

Despite the changes, the primary role of the EA herbarium as a reference for collections of plants and fungi, tool for species identification and arbitration of authentic names, and as a comprehensive databank of the regional flora has been upheld. These functions are addressed through seven sections key among them being the Taxonomy and Curation, which includes Bryophytes, Non Seed Vascular species, Rosids, Asterids and Monocots sub-units.

This section, complimented by mycology, is responsible for basic taxonomic and evolutionary research using various taxonomic evidences such as morphology, anatomy, molecular and herbarium collections data to revise specific plant groups in contribution to monographs and floras in the region such as Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA). They also provide advice in related fields including species conservation, ecology, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Above all, the section oversees the routine curation duties such as incorporation of incoming collections, update of species names according to taxonomic changes and general management of the close to one million voucher collections.  

The rich botanical collection attracts many researchers around the world who visit to study the specimens in a serene and user-friendly setting. Some notable collections from Africa include those by C.G. Ehrenberg (1825) from Eritrea, W.P. Schimper and T. Kotschy (between 1837 and 1863) from Ethiopia, W.C.H. Peters (1842-1848) from Mozambique and O. Warnecke (1900-1901) from Togo. In East Africa, major contributions have been by F. Stuhlmann (1888-1901), W. Busse (1900-1904), A. Zimmermann (1902-1918), P.J. Greenway (1928-1958), P.R.O Bally (1938-1950), B. Verdcourt (1958-1964) and J. B. Gillett (1964-1971). Local botanists in collaboration with visiting scientists have intensified national plant explorations in various ecosystems since 1970s. Most of the recent collections have been obtained from the coastal forests and eastern Arc mountains, montane and afro alpine (including Mounts Kenya, Elgon and Aberdares) and lowland rainforest (Kakamega Forest) ecosystems. The collection numbers are expected to increase tremendously following focused studies on cryptogamic plants and fungi in the last 10 years. 

The other complimentary sections in the EA herbarium include the Ex Situ Conservation, In Situ Conservation, Economic Botany, Education and Training, and Documentation and Information dissemination. The Ex Situ Conservation section has sphere-headed plant seed collection, research and long term banking (usually over 500 years) since 1992. The priority has been conservation and propagation of threatened flora. The section in partnership with national stakeholders dealing with plant germplasm and Millennium Seed Bank, Kew have been able to collect and banked seeds of over 2000 species of national conservation priority. This gigantic efforts coupled with In Situ conservation (also manages soil ecology laboratory) functions of studying the natural plant population dynamics and restoration of degraded forests, mitigates loss of species in the face of climate changes.

The sections on Economic Botany and Information and documentation are central in gathering and dissemination of data on plants. Field label database of close to 80,000 plant specimens indicating species localities and uses has been captured in user-friendly software (Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System). Together with the enormous literature held in the herbarium library, the database will increasingly be instrumental in planning future botanical explorations and plant biodiversity conservation studies, as well as predicting changing climatic patterns following historical shift of plant phenology. The education and training section coordinates specialized courses in herbarium techniques and supervises students on attachment.

The Nairobi Botanic Garden maintains a living collection of medicinal, food, rare and threatened plant species displayed in various units such as Succulent Garden and Orchid house. Other functions include management of the plant nursery and landscaping of the gardens. It also undertakes a public education programme in specialized fields such as environmental conservation. The Botany Department has collaborated with national, regional and international partners in pursuit of the above objectives. National collaborators include Kenya Agricultural Institute, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Forest Research Institute, National Council of Science and Technology and various universities. The regional institutions include National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Makerere University Herbarium, Dar es Salaam University and Tropical Research Institute in Tanzania. Some of the international collaborators include: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, British Museums of Natural History, Missouri Botanic Gardens, St Louis, Chicago Field Museums, Brussels, Eger and various universities (e.g. Edinburgh, Miami, Cape Town, Oslo, Kwa Zulu Natal, Koblenz-Landau and Reading)