NBI Annual Review
2001- 2002

Chairman 's Report
Biodiversity Policy&Planning
HR & Finance
Financial Statements





Scientific staff in Leslie Hill laboratory

[National Herbarium] [Natal Herbarium] [Compton Herbarium]

Scientific staff of the NBI were involved in a number of taxonomic, molecular, biogeographical and floristic studies over the past year. At all three NBI herbaria, a representative cross-section of vascular plant families was under investigation, with NBI systematists producing over 100 scientific papers during this period.

Over 11 500 plant identifications were undertaken by the various herbaria over the year, and thousands of enquiries about plant-related issues from both the scientific community and members of the general public were responded to.


The National Herbarium's services were much in demand during the year, with 7 400 plant identifications undertaken and more than 3 300 telephonic and written enquiries fielded.

Research activities on 18 projects currently under way at the National Herbarium produced 61 publications, one M.Sc. and one Ph.D. A project proposal, enveloping several research projects, entitled Conserving the biodiversity of flagship plant groups of southern Africa - a programmatic approach to taxonomic capacity building was submitted and endorsed by the DEA&T and also submitted to the Global Taxonomy Initiative.

After the publication of Seed plants of southern Africa: families and genera, herbarium resources were focused on an updated and expanded version of Plants of southern Africa: names and distribution. Species names were updated and additional information on plant height, habit, flowering time and distribution were added for each species. Distribution maps for all species were plotted from the database and incorporated into the main collection.
Fossil research received much attention during the year, with work on the next volume of the Molteno Flora progressing well. The Gondwana Alive Society was founded to promote fossil research and several presentations were made to audiences ranging from members of MENSA to the SASOL Scifest held in Grahamstown. The Gondwana Alive project also published one volume Towards Gondwana alive: promoting biodiversity and stemming the Sixth Extinction.

Activities around the SABONET project again featured strongly at the National Herbarium, with data encoders for the project adding a further 14 200 entries to the PRECIS database. A Herbarium Managers Course was presented in Pretoria to participants from various SABONET countries and staff also visited Zimbabwe and Swaziland as part of SABONET capacity building and outreach. The National Herbarium was furthermore able to appoint additional staff and purchase herbarium equipment with Plant collecting for the Bioprospecting and Anti-malaria Projects was boosted with the appointment of an assistant to the project and bulk samples of 620 plants, mostly medicinal plants, were collected. Seed collecting for the Kew Millennium Seed Bank project also made good progress, with a total of 255 collections and a higher proportion of targeted and new taxa collected than previous years.

Data management staff visited seven of the participating SABONET countries to set up computer networks, install software and provide training. Data and research management staff also met with representatives from the Geneva Herbarium, Switzerland, to explore a joint project to produce a checklist of African plants.

An increase of 14.6% in the number of enquiries processed by the PRECIS information service was recorded this year, with a significant increase in the number of requests received from non-NBI users. (PRECIS, the major database on southern African plant species and distribution records is based at the National Herbarium and managed by the Data Management section.) The Dendrological Society's database was marginally extended with the addition of a further 3 451 tree site records.

The Technical Publications Division, based at the National Herbarium, produced two issues of Volume 31 of Bothalia, house journal of the NBI, Volume 57 of Flowering Plants of Africa, Volume 33,4,1 of Flora of southern Africa and three issues of Strelitzia. Strelitzia 11 is entitled The Cape genus Lachnaea (Thymelaeaceae): a monograph, written by J.B.P. Beyers. Strelitzia 12, The Global Taxonomy Initiative: documenting the biodiversity of Africa, carries the English and French versions of the proceedings of a workshop held at Kirstenbosch early in 2001. Strelitzia 13, Medicinal and magical plants of southern Africa: an annotated checklist by T.H. Arnold et al., provides information on plants used in traditional medicine in the region.

The Graphics Division, also based at the National Herbarium, designed a number of posters for staff to display at various national and international conferences and events. The Tree-of-the-Year poster designed by the Graphics Division attracted much attention, with requests for copies also received from outside the NBI.

Gathering information for Zulu Botanical Knowledge Project


The plant information and identification services provided by the Natal Herbarium were used extensively during the year, with over 1 300 plants identified and much information provided telephonically or via e-mail. The addition of a new parking area for 10 vehicles has been of great benefit to users of the Herbarium.

Due to a concerted effort by staff working over weekends and by the herbarium volunteers, for the first time in many years there was no backlog in unmounted herbarium specimens. This is of great importance to users of the Herbarium, as unmounted specimens do not form part of the accessible herbarium collection.

Through the SABONET internship programme, three plant specialists visited the Natal Herbarium to curate key plant families. A herbarium staff member also went on two SABONET internships to the National Herbarium of Botswana and the University of Botswana Herbarium, where she gave training in encoding and geo-referencing.

Student training and capacity building remained a priority, with the annual two-week student training programme run in December. Several presentations and one-day courses were given to tertiary institutions in the region. Three students did their experiential training at Natal Herbarium - two students from Mangosuthu Technikon and one from the University of Natal, Durban.

The Zulu Botanical Knowledge Project led by the Natal Herbarium took off during the year with funding by WWF-SA and the National Research Foundation (NRF). This one-year pilot project will focus on three areas in KwaZulu-Natal of botanical and linguistic richness and will lay the basis for a major project covering the entire province. Good progress has been made, with five field trips undertaken to two of the three pilot areas, training given to seven university students in interviewing and plant collecting techniques and about 400 specimens encoded to date.
Funding was also secured from the NRF for international collaboration on the Hypoxis project. The collaboration included exchange visits for researchers from the Natal Herbarium and the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland, which provided opportunity for much field work in South Africa and for discussion on variation within Hypoxis in Africa. Another systematics project currently under way at the Herbarium, a taxonomic revision of the genus Chironia (Gentianaceae) in southern Africa, is nearing completion.

Herbarium staff have been actively involved with the Durban and Coastal Branches of the Botanical Society, as well as with organizations such as the Wildlife and Environment Society, Biowatch and the Durban Botanic Gardens Education Committee. One member of staff served on the secretariat of the African Renais-Science Conference, which was based at the Natal Herbarium.

The annual Herbarium Open Day, supported by the Botanical Society, was held in July and was attended by the Provincial Minister of Agriculture and Environment, Mr Narend Singh. This annual event is an opportunity for members of the public to find out about the NBI in Durban, see displays, attend talks on indigenous plants and explore the National Monument buildings.


The Compton Herbarium, housed in the Kirstenbosch Research Centre, made its facilities available to numerous visitors from overseas and local universities, botanical gardens and institutions during the year.

The Leslie Hill Molecular Systematics Laboratory, which opened in December 2000, is now equipped - a fully functional DNA sequencing facility. The primary aim of the laboratory is to investigate the phylogenies of southern African plant groups.

This world-class facility has attracted a number of both international and local researchers as well as students from local universities for specialist training. Two postgraduate students from the Universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape received three months of training in DNA sequencing so that these procedures could be applied to their research for higher degrees. Following the completion of their respective projects, both students have subsequently received M.Sc. studentships from the NBI to continue their training in molecular systematics. Their M.Sc. research projects will investigate the molecular systematics of the genus Serruria (Proteaceae) and the application of a genetic fingerprinting technique to the mesemb genus Carpobrotus respectively.

Laboratory staff also presented a training course in techniques of DNA extraction to a group of students from the Rand Afrikaans University and the University of the Western Cape.
Herbarium staff are making extensive use of this facility to conduct a number of research projects into the molecular systematics of the Amaryllidaceae tribe Haemantheae, the
Hyacinthaceae and Proteaceae. Another research project furthered during the year investigated the ecological factors that have played a role in the diversification of Protea.

The discovery of a new species of Clivia in the Northern Cape generated much excitement, as the discovery of a new species in this commercially important genus is expected to attract considerable horticultural interest. Collecting trips to the eastern Little Karoo mountains and the southern coastal regions were also undertaken to collect type material for three new species of Erica.

During the year, 42 scientific and popular publications were produced by Herbarium staff, including major works such as Conspectus of southern African pteridophyta, The Cape genus Lachnaea (Thymelaeaceae); the Eastern Cape South African Wild Flower Guide and contributions to the book South African botanical art, peeling back the petals.

Herbarium staff gave various lectures to the Institute of Landscape Architects, the Clivia Club, staff of the Windhoek Herbarium, the Cape Orchid Society, and the Indigenous Bulb Society. They also assisted the organizers of the Caledon Wildflower Show with naming of plants and helped to organize the Cape Biotech 2001 Conference to overview the academic and industrial biotechnology activities taking place in the Western Cape.
The plant identification service provided by the Compton Herbarium was well used, with over 3 500 plant identifications undertaken over this period. Data encoding under the SABONET programme continued to make good progress and thus far just over 11% of the Herbarium's holdings of 500 000 specimens have been encoded.

The Compton Herbarium holds a unique collection of 19th century botanical art and a part-time curator was contracted to see to the preservation of this collection and to arrange an exhibition of artwork from the Herbarium's archives. The exhibition, titled Three Victorian Lady Flower Painters in South Africa circa 1880-1900, was exhibited at Kirstenbosch for six months.


The NBI's Ethnobotany Unit, based in Durban, was very active during the year, with 17 scientific and popular articles published in local and international journals. One of the most important publications was an annotated checklist of the ethnomedicinal flora of southern Africa, published as Volume 13 in the Strelitzia series. This book represents a major outcome of the MEDBASE project and was generated in close collaboration with the Data Section at the National Herbarium in Pretoria. It is expected that Strelitzia 13 will form an important reference for workers in fields as diverse as traditional medicine research and natural resource management.

Participation in the Third International Congress of Ethnobotany in Naples, Italy, took the form of a paper on ethnobotanical and phytochemical investigations of southern African Amaryllidaceae. The conference was also attended by a close collaborator of the Unit, Traditional Dr Elliot Ndlovu, with funding from the National Research Foundation. This presentation detailed ongoing investigations into the chemistry of the Amaryllidaceae conducted in collaboration with the Natural Products Research Group at the University of Natal in Durban. Research on this family and another ethnomedicinally important one, the Hyacinthaceae, remains coupled to the training of postgraduate students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. Other training provided included a one-day course on ethnobotany for guides on the Conservation Corporation Professional Guides course.

Collaboration with the Durban Corporation was extended to the Durban Botanic Gardens with whom the NBI has set up an ex situ genebanking project, to promote the conservation of the heavily utilized cycad Stangeria eriopus.

The Ethnobotany Unit also provided input to NBI projects as diverse as medicinal plant displays in the Gardens and bioprospecting. On the bioprospecting front, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science & Technology has awarded a grant to a South African consortium, which includes the NBI, to develop anti-malarial drugs from the medicinal plants of the country. Besides the NBI, the CSIR, MRC, and Universities of Cape Town and Pretoria are all actively engaged in this ambitious but promising project.


The Southern African Botanical Diversity Network (SABONET) is an international GEF/UNDP-funded project implemented by the NBI and is aimed at upgrading facilities and strengthening the level of botanical expertise throughout the subcontinent. The participating countries are Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SABONET was one of only 14 projects highlighted in the second overall Performance Study of the GEF's programme of over 1 000 projects in 160 countries, with a total allocation of $4.2 billion during its first decade of operation

During the past year numerous training courses were presented under the auspices of SABONET. A Herbarium Managers Course, the first course for senior management presented by SABONET, was held at the National Herbarium and was attended by 14 herbarium curators and senior management from all ten participating SABONET countries. The first Botanical Gardens Management Course presented by SABONET, a two-week course aimed at botanical garden managers wanting to develop their managerial skills further, was attended by 24 people from 10 African countries.

Other training courses held during the year included an Environmental Impact Assessment Course for botanists held at the Pretoria NBG, and a plant identification course held in Maputo, Mozambique, as part of SABONET's Southern Mozambique Regional Expedition. Three individuals were funded by SABONET to attend a botanical art drawing course held at the National Herbarium in Pretoria.

SABONET furthermore hosted a national workshop for end-users of taxonomic information at the National Herbarium in Pretoria which was attended by 34 participants such as representatives of agricultural institutions, botanical societies, conservation agencies and universities, by environmental consultants, ethnobotanists and traditional healers, amongst others.

Computerization of southern Africa herbaria is a core activity within the SABONET project. All the data-capturing computers were upgraded at the participating herbaria and subsequently the computerization rate increased substantially. Currently it stands at 155 000 specimens per annum (70 000 more than in the year 2000), which means that on average 596 specimens are computerized in the participating southern African herbaria per working day. Approximately 40% of the region's herbarium specimens have been computerized through the SABONET project to date.

In November 2001 the second SABONET Regional Expedition took place in southern Mozambique. The exhibition was attended by 35 participants from all 10 participating SABONET countries and approximately 1 500 specimens were collected.

The Southern African Plant Red Data List Project reached its conclusion on 31 December 2001 and the first-ever Plant Red Data List for the region was prepared and will be published in 2002.

Eleven SABONET-sponsored students doing Masters and Honours degrees in plant systematics completed their postgraduate studies during 2001. Eight full-time postgraduate students and two part-time students are being sponsored by SABONET to pursue their Masters degrees during 2002.

Two new titles in the SABONET Report Series, Action Plan for southern African botanical gardens and Conspectus of southern African pteridophyta, as well as a number of editions of SABONET News were published during the year.

© National Botanical Institute SA NBI Home