90-year-old herbarium to be made public

Hypoestes aristata, a 105-year-old fern will be put on display next year. / Courtesy

Hypoestes aristata, a 105-year-old fern that was plucked in Usamba, Tanzania in 1915 will be put on display next year according to University of Rwanda’s Center of Excellence for Biodiversity.

It is one of the thousands of specimens of ferns and flowering plants that have been collected since 1930 to date. This collection is housed in the national herbarium located in Huye District.

Herbarium is a collection of preserved plant specimens and associated data used for scientific studies. The National Herbarium of Rwanda accommodates 17,000 types of plants that have been being collected for ninety years.

A playground for researchers

The herbarium helps in botany-related research by researchers and students from Rwanda, Nigeria, the United States, to mention but a few.

Apart from being ferns and flowering plants library, the herbarium also keeps some plants that no longer exist are on the IUCN red list of endangered plants. 

The specimens are housed in the national herbarium located in Huye District. / Courtesy

For instance, prunus africana is described as vulnerable and pteris kivuensis as endangered. This attracts botanists from all over the world.

Gorethe Ingabire, a researcher at National Industrial Research and Development Agency (NIRDA) told Sunday Times that they moved the herbarium’s management under University of Rwanda because it is a setting for researchers, botanists and students.

“The herbarium contributes a lot in research, and we wanted to make it more accessible to them,” she said.

Before being given to the University of Rwanda, it was managed by NIRDA when it was still the Institute of Scientific and Technological Research.

Plants and people are connected

Professor Beth Kaplin, Acting Director of CoEB told Sunday Times that there are plans to expand it and make it public. She explains that there is a connection between people and plants. Some of the specimens kept at the herbarium were/are used as medicines.

“We want people, not just researchers, to understand the connection between plants and people because it is there,” she said.

She also emphasized that the National Herbarium of Rwanda is unique because regardless of the harsh history of Rwanda, some plants were kept for over a hundred years. Besides that, the herbarium also has some rare plants that can only be found in Rwanda.

The plants are preserved in botanically approved ways to last for hundreds of years. The National Herbarium of Rwanda works in partnership with other herbariums in Burundi, Uganda, DRC and Belgium.


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