Tropical East Africa's epic flora survey completed

One of the ‘whistling thorns’, Acacia drepanolobium A 'whistling thorn' species of Acacia, the inflated ‘galls’ are inhabited by ants that defend the plant against browsing animals

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The complete flora of tropical East Africa 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.

Henk Beentje launches the final volume

According to Dr Henk Beentje, the current editor of the record titled Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA), the catalogue is essential for conservation in the region.

"The FTEA, like all floras, is about communication - without proper identification and names there is no communication about plants, and without communication all work on and with wild plants rests on quicksand," he said.

"Now all further work on the wild plants of this region will be built on a solid foundation - not just botanical work but work on local uses by local people, ecology, vegetation work, zoology, and, of course, conservation."

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.

Botanists are attending a symposium at the home of the catalogue - the Roal Botanic Gardens, Kew - to discuss their next steps.

Tinnea aethiopica, a widespread shrub in the region covered by Flora of Tropical East Africa Tinnea aethiopica is a widespread shrub in the region
A hornbill in an Acacia Acacia trees provide essential habitat for wildlife
Laggera shrub at Lake Bogoria's hot springs The region is very varied and includes areas such as Lake Bogoria's hot springs where Laggera shrubs grow
Flora of Tropical East Africa The volumes that make up the record take up two metres of shelf space

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