Cameroon, the country:
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Cameroon is located in the centre of Africa. Despite its tropical character, the climate varies substantially from the tropical rainforest in the south to lake Chad in the north, where the Sahel begins. The extensive coastline of about 350 km, altitudes up to 4095 m (Mount Cameroon), and its inselbergs – mountains towering above the plains which behave biogeographically as islands – give rise to an important diversity of habitats in Cameroon with thousands of plant and animal species.
This country furthermore shelters 25 million inhabitants of different ethnic backgrounds. More than 200 languages are spoken in the country, of which only French and English are official. The country’s present name originates however from Portuguese, when seamen came up to the Wouri river in 1472 and named it “Rio dos Camarões” (shrimp river) because of the abundance of crabs.
Cameroon was amongst the first African countries to outlaw and prosecute slave trade: banned already in 1820! Notwithstanding, the country has not yet managed to attain its full potential and knows one of the lowest human development values (HDI) in the world.
The African Herbarium:
Meise Botanic Garden houses one of the 14 largest herbaria in the world. The herbarium is divided into Belgian, African, and General herbarium. The African herbarium contains about 1 million specimens of plants collected south of the Sahara. 85% of all material ever collected in central Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi) is stored in our institution. This makes our African herbarium to remain to this day one of the most important herbaria in the world; and every year, we welcome numerous researchers in our institution who come to study these collections. Besides the central-African collections, the African herbarium also contains numerous specimens from other African countries with which Belgium never had any kind of colonial history. These specimens arrived to our collection throughout the years by means of scientific expeditions, exchange programs with other herbaria, and donations from private collectors.
The DOE! project:
With the financial support of the Flemish Government, Meise Botanic Garden started the project DOE! in 2015 (Digitale Ontsluiting Erfgoedcollecties - Digital Access to Cultural Heritage Collections). It was in this way that the whole African herbarium, just like the Belgian herbarium, could be fully digitised! The images of all these specimens are available on www.botanicalcollections.be. The label data of the African herbarium specimens were also transcribed in the context of DOE!, partially by our own personnel, partially by an external company. For a more limited part of the collection, only some key fields were filled in, so that some precious data is still not digitally available. In this project, we ask for your contribution on order to finish the job!
Cameronia, Herbarium Africanum, Hortus Botanicus Meise, Botanica.