Tropical Africa is tremendous source of new ornamentals

Amateurs might be familiar with Impatiens niamniamensis (Parrot plant or Congo Cockatoo), but it is certainly one of the 600 known and lesser-known ornamental plants from Tropical Africa and has greater potential than just the amateur market – Photo: Gaby Schmelzer

“Tropical Africa houses at least 600 known and lesser-known ornamental plants”, estimates Gaby Schmelzer from the Dutch non-profit organization PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa). May 15, at a breakfast meeting of the foundation Blooming Breeders at the University of Amsterdam, she explained that these expectations are based on desk study. Another 500 ornamentals might be identified based on local research.
PROTAs research is focused on several commodity groups such as cereals and pulses, vegetables, dyes and tannins, forages, fruits, timbers, carbohydrates, auxiliary plants, fuel plants, medicinal plants, spices and condiments, essential oils and exudates, vegetable oils, stimulants, and fibres. The PROTA project is about halfway now. The search of potential new ornamentals including hedge and wayside plants just started a few months ago.
The breeders at this meeting showed much interested in the PROTA activities, mainly from the ‘What’s in it for me?’ perspective. All PROTA research results are through PROTA4U worldwide accessible. Schmelzer advised the breeders to contact PROTA personally. In close cooperation it should be possible to develop strategies with mutual benefits, she suggested. Mutual means according to her, that the whole project at least has to be beneficial for Africa too. The discussion afterwards referred to the Dutch breeding companies which are already active in Africa. Bringing new African ornamentals into culture might broaden their scope, was suggested.
The focus of PROTA is restricted to all African countries between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. When the PROTA research has been done, the interactive web-based bilingual system will include approximately 7,000 to 8,000 useful plants of tropical Africa.