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Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin - Department of Biology

Research in the "Systematic botany" group

We are interested in the diversity of vascular plants. Which species are there? Where do they occur and why? How and when did the patterns observable today emerge? Which conservation priorities can be derived from the distribution of genetic diversity? How can this diversity be preserved through nature conservation measures, also involving the public?

Basic data sources of our research are our own fieldwork as well as botanical collections, i.e. conserved plants in herbaria and living plants in botanical gardens.


» Flore d'Afrique centrale - ptéridophytes »

» Urbanity & Diversity »

» Tree ferns (Cyatheaceae) in Africa and the western Indian Ocean »

» Flora de la República de Cuba »

» Vanilla (Orchidaceae: Vanilloideae) in the Caribbean »



detail from the frond of a woman's hair fern
Photo: Bart Wursten

Flore d'Afrique centrale - ptéridophytes

The Congo Basin is home to the second largest contiguous rainforest on earth. Within the borders of the former Belgian colonies (today the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi) alone live about 10300 plant species (29% of which are endemic). The Botanical Garden Meise (Belgium) began working on a Flora in 1942 in order to taxonomically treat and describe this plant diversity through extensive studies of herbarium material and field studies, to compile distribution data, identification keys and biological characteristics and to make the botanical diversity (also as a genetic resource) of Central Africa accessible to researchers, political decision-makers and the public. In 2018, 65% of the species will be published in the Flore d'Afrique centrale. Numerous international experts are cooperating to complete this Flora within the next 15 years.

In the Editorial Committee we are responsible for the series of Flora volumes dealing with seed-free vascular plants (mainly ferns and clubmosses). We are currently working on the families Aspleniaceae (about 60 species), Cyatheaceae (about 10 species) and Pteridaceae (subfamilies Vittarioideae and Cheilanthoideae, about 50 species). We are involved in the treatment of Dryopteridaceae (about 50 species).

In cooperation with:

Botanic Garden Meise (Belgium)

Université Officielle de Bukavu (Dem. Rep. Kongo)



Photo: Anika Dreilich

Urbanity & Diversity

Many wild plants native to Germany are endangered. How can interested parties be won over from the public to support the efforts of institutional nature conservation? What help do they need in order to be effective and well-founded? The "Urbanity and Diversity" project aims to protect some 80 selected regional wild plant species with the help of the citizens of Berlin, Marburg and Dresden. The species are being propagated in large numbers and project participants are recruited, to each of whom three species are distributed for further cultivation under expert guidance. The project is supported by evaluations of the effect on environmental education and on the genetic diversity of the propagated plant populations.

For more information and to join in, visit www.uundv.de

Together with the Botanical Garden Potsdam, we are responsible for the Berlin project part, in which we support about 900 project participants who have taken a total of 34 target species that are part of the Berlin flora conservation concept into private culture. These are species of dry sandy grassland typical of the Berlin-Brandenburg area. We sensitize the participants for the concerns of propagation in accordance with the needs of nature conservation (documentation, minimization of in-crossings, avoidance of uncontrolled reintroduction) and accomplish population-supporting measures in co-operation with institutional nature conservation and the project participants using the plants propagated in  the project. Furthermore, in the Jelena-Santic Peace Park in Berlin Marzahn-Hellersdorf an ark area is being created, a piece of dry sandy grassland of documented offspring built up by the project participants, which is to serve in the future as a donor area for seed reintroduction and which forms a social centre of the project, that is to be finally continued under the auspices of the Botanical Association of Berlin and Brandenburg.

In cooperation with:

Botanical Garden Potsdam

Botanical Garden of Universität Marburg

Environmend Dresden

Botanical Association of Berlin and Brandenburg

Funded by:

Federal ageny for nature conservation (in the framework of the federal strategy for biological diversity)

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



Photo: Thomas Janßen

Tree ferns (Cyatheaceae) in Africa and the western Indian Ocean

Tree ferns look like small palms: they have a "trunk", which is actually an upright rhizome, (rhizome remain in the ground with most ferns) and a crown of sometimes several meters long and usually finely divided fronds. This form of growth occurs in several families (Blechnaceae, Cibotiaceae, Cyatheaceae, Dicksoniaceae, Osmundaceae and to a lesser extent in Plagiogyriaceae and Thyrsopteridaceae), whereby often only Cyatheaceae with their usually cup-shaped (Greek kyathos = cup, bowl) indusia are called tree ferns.

Madagascar with the surrounding islands forms a diversity center of this very extensive genus with about 650 species. We are revising the taxonomy of the genus for this region and for Africa and are investigating, within a molecular phylogenetic framework, the evolution mechanisms that have led to the currently observed diversity and high morphological variability.

In cooperation with:

Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle (Paris)



Photo: Thomas Janßen

Flora de la República de Cuba

The aim of the project "Flora de la República de Cuba" is the taxonomic treatment of the flora of Cuba. This cooperation was established in the 1960s by Humboldt University with the University of Jena and the Havana Botanical Garden. Since the 1990s, the project has been managed by the Botanical Garden Berlin-Dahlem.

We are currently involved in the project with the treatment of the genus Vanilla (Orchidaceae). Recently, as a result of Prof. Egon Köhler's (†) many years of intensive work with the Cuban flora, the treatment of the boxwoods (Buxaceae) was published in the Flora.

In cooperation with:

Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin-Dahlem (BGBM)

Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba – Ciudad de la Habana (JBN)



Photo: Anika Dreilich

Vanilla (Orchidaceae: Vanilloideae) in the Caribbean

A current treatment of the taxonomically difficult and at the same time economically important orchid subfamily Vanilloideae for the Caribbean region is currently missing. In this project we pursue an integrative approach and use macro-morphological, histological and molecular data to (1) create a phylogenetic hypothesis for the genus Vanilla in Cuba and (2) clarify taxonomic problems within the genus within this phylogenetic framework, to make statements on the evolution and distribution of the genus and to solve general questions on the development of endemism on islands. A taxonomic treatment of the genus Vanilla will appear in the Flora de la República de Cuba.

In cooperation with:

Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin Dahlem (BGBM)

Jardín Botánico Nacional de Cuba – Ciudad de la Habana (JBN)

Funded by: