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60 year project documenting plants of East Africa celebrated at Kew Gardens

14 September 2012

The complete flora of tropical East Africa (FTEA) has been recorded by scientists, 60 years after the project first began.

When researchers started the task in 1948 they thought it would only take 15 years to finish. But it took 135 botanists from 21 countries six decades to catalogue all the 12,104 wild plant species of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.

1,500 plant species new to science have been described during the project from acacia trees to flowering plants. 114 newly discovered plant species were listed in the last four years alone.

Dr Paul Smith, Head of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, said “FTEA underpins the identification of all of East Africa’s native plant species and, as such, is the basis for managing that diversity in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and wildlife landscapes. Its fundamental importance to the conservation and management of East Africa’s native plant species cannot be over-emphasised.”

Habitats in the region vary radically from the grasslands of the Serengeti, through to the dense rainforest called Bwindi in Uganda and the afro-alpine moorlands of Kilimanjaro. Due to this variety, the region is very biodiverse, and home to around 4% of the world's flora - including the baobab tree, the cape chestnut and the camphor bush.

Approximately 2,500 of the species on the record are endemic - they are not found anywhere else - and scientists expressed concern that without protection they face threats from human pressures.

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