Visit to the Herbaria of Portugal (Lisbon and Coimbra) - March 2017

Between March 5 and March 8 (2007) we have been visiting the herbaria of Lisbon (LISC, LISU) and the herbarium of Coimbra, all of them hosting important Hyphaene collections from former Portuguese colonies in Africa, in particular material sampled in Angola, Guinea Bissau, and Mozambique (also some collections from Sao Tomé and Principe). During the last years of the '70, the Indian botanist (although with clear Portuguese roots!) Caetano Xavier Furtado, based his monographic study on Hyphaene in the Lisbon herbaria. All the Hyphaene material stored in this herbarium has been identified by Furtado himself. Cristina Duarte, Luis Catarino and in particular Paula Branco are greatly thanked for their kind support to my visit to LISC, whereas Ana Isabel de Vasconcelos Correia and Alexandra Lucas hosted my visit to LISU. In Coimbra, Fátima Sales, Joaquim Santos and kindly made available the interesting specimens stored at COI.

This is the Tropical Botanic Garden, located in Belém, about 10 minutes drive from downtown Lisbon. The garden was created in 1906 with the main goal of training agronomists and technicians for the former Portuguese colonies in Africa. It is jointly managed by the Museum of Natural History and Science and the Botanical Garden. We could identify many palm species (i.e. Bismarkia nobilis, Chamaedorea sp., Howea sp.,  Phoenix canariensis, Phoenix reclinata, Washingtonia filifera).

This is the very famous Caetano Xavier Furtado (1897-1980). During his retirement he spent some months in Lisbon in order to study palms; Hyphaene became his favorite group as the Portuguese herbaria were storing very important holdings of samples gathered in particular from Angola and Mozambique. He critically interpreted most of the Hyphaene species described (i.e. taxonomical notes for some species were proposed by Furtado 1967, 1970a, 1970b, 1970c) and tried to put some order into the taxonomy of this palm group. Most of his original notes are intermixed with the herbarium specimens.

This is a very representative specimen of Hyphaene studied in the herbarium LISC. It corresponds to Hyphaene wichtii Furtado, a species from South Africa that Furtado recognized as a separate taxonomic entity but never published it as such. The notes attached to the specimen are by far much more informative than the physical specimen itself. The fact that most specimens at LISC were identified by Furtado himself make of this collections one of the most important ones concerning Hyphaene taxonomic knowledge.

Many specimens in the LISC herbarium provide full details on the locality where the palm was collected. This is critical for our current planing of the field trip to South Africa (planned for August-September, 2017). The specimen depicted correponds to Hyphaene natalensis, a possible synonym of Hyphaene coriacea.

A handfull of black and white photos join many specimens in this herbarium. The palm depicted in this photo is Hyphaene compressa in Mozambique

These fascinating documents are letters that Dr. Hossain (one of the first keepers of the University of Accra Herbarium) sent to Furtado, providing full details on the morphology and distribution of Hyphaene guineensis in South-East Ghana. We visited those localities during our field trip to that country in 2015.

The herbarium LISU is located in the Botanical Garden of Lisbon, the latter currently being renovated. One of the entries of the garden displays these amazing, almost 25 m tall individuals of Washingtonia filifera.

This is the holotype specimen of Hyphaene benguelensis Welw. ex H. Wendl., a palm that is currently being regarded as a synonym of Hyphaene compressa. This specimen was collected by the renowned Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch (1806-1872) in Angola. The main set of Welwitsch specimens is deposited at LISU.

On march 8th I visited the Herbarium of the University of Coimbra, a very old institution with a long history on botanical studies. The entire collection of the Swiss botanist John Gossweiler, an important collector of plants from Angola (including many Hyphaene), is stored in this herbarium.

Many types of Hyphaene studied by Caetano Xavier Furtado are present in the herbarium COI, most of them now available on-line through the catalogue of the COI herbarium. Dr. Fátima Sales brought me to see some of the treasures of the herbarium.