Internship at KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium
One of the primary objectives of SABONET is the production of a strong core of professional botanists and plant diversity specialists in the ten countries of southern Africa. This program has enabled staff based at various institutions to interact through programmes such as grass identification courses, herbarium management courses, database management courses, and through internships. This type of interaction has certainly encouraged many networking opportunities and has enabled staff to share their skills and expertise.
I have recently had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Durban. The main objective of my visit was to offer guidance and training to the new leader of the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium computerisation team, Hassina Aboobaker. This was made possible through a herbarium internship offered by SABONET.
The computerisation of the herbarium specimens for the ten southern African countries has been another of the major objectives of SABONET, and the PRECIS database has been the tool used to achieve this objective. One of the advantages of PRECIS is that it was designed to be user-friendly when inputting information. But outputting the data from the database requires some skill. We addressed issues such as constructing queries and how to draw up reports from the outputs in Microsoft Access.
Initial discussions were focussed on the set-up of the PRECIS database and dealt with issues such as sharing and mapping folders. After we had worked through most of the features of the database, we started doing some troubleshooting. We looked at the different types of database access problems that could occur, with regard to the server and the different workstations, ranging from networking problems between machines to problems that could appear in the database files itself (such as corruption of the front end or the database files); we addressed possible remediation. Our aim was to bring Hassina up to speed sooner, so that she could manage the database with increased accuracy and consistency. In collaboration with the SABONET team, we looked at managing a small database team.
Going to the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium also gave me a chance to appreciate the city I was in. Being primarily familiar with the low shrubby fynbos vegetation of the Western Cape, I was immediately struck by the contrast in vegetation types. A walk in the Durban Botanic Gardens just below the KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium revealed lush subtropical vegetation, with huge (by Cape standards at least) trees dominating. Another feature of special interest was the large and colourful displays of flowers and fruits produced by some of these trees. Adding to this already lovely display of form and colour were the heavy fragrances that pervaded the air.
In one of the photographs Hassina is standing in front of one of the famous attractions to the Durban Botanic Gardens, namely Wood’s Cycad (Encephalartos woodii). This “tree” is one of the original cycads discovered in 1895 at the edge of the Ngoye Forest in Zululand by John Medley Wood, then Curator of the Botanic Gardens. The reason for this cycad’s acclaim is that it was one of a group of cycads that are all male, and no female plants have ever been found.
—by Fatima Parker
SABONET News 7.3: 246