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Plant Families of the Tropics


Admission requirements

BSc-courses Biodiversity 1, 2 & 3 and Training flora are advantageous

Contact information

Coordinators: Dr. M. Roos, Dr. D. Thomas


The tropics comprise a number of hotspots of global biodiversity: together they contain more than two third of vascular plant species worldwide with a density 10 times higher than the European flora. The tropics are home to many well known and economically important plant taxa, like yam, nutmeg, rattan, bananas, rambutan, meranti and cocoa. The botanical diversity of tropics is being documented by the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in international projects, like Flora Malesiana, Flora of the Guianas and the Flore du Gabon. One of the aims of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center is the knowledge transfer of plant diversity. That is why this course has been set up.
The recognition of many plant taxa in the field is often problematic, i.e. during collection expeditions, when doing ecological inventories, for studies on animal behavior, ethnobotanical research and for pollination and dispersal studies. Species diversity is high, only few plants are flowering and good floras are often not yet available.

Learning goals

Course objectives:
An overview of the most important tropical plant families will be presented, including their diagnostic features and some characteristic genera. General aspects of tropical botany, including growth habits, pollination and dispersal, vegetations, morphological and anatomical back ground, are also introduced.
The participants will learn to recognize a selection of economically and ecologically important plant families with the help of generative (flower and fruit) and vegetative (leaf and bark) characters. Generally, two to three plant families will be treated per day. Specialists working at Naturalis will give lectures with ample illustrations about plant families of that day and some important genera. In addition to the traditional Floras, participants will also learn to use interactive on-line keys. During the practical the participants will be able to examine living, herbarium and alcohol preserved material. During excursions to the tropical greenhouses of the Leiden and Utrecht botanical gardens attention will be paid to collection techniques and field characteristics.

Final qualifications:

  • Knowledge of tropical plant taxa and tropical botany

  • Ability to identify tropical plant taxa and the argumentation for the diagnosis, using a wide array of source information.


7 January 2013 – 25 january 2013; details will be communicated in due time

Mode of instruction

Lectures, demonstrations, literature study, excursions

Assessment method

Recognition exam

Reading list

Judd et al, Plant Systematics (2007); Simpson, Plant Systematics (2010); Corlett & Primack, Tropical Rain Forests: An Ecological and Biogeographical Comparison (2011)


All information of lectures and papers will be available on Blackboard.


via USIS and enroll in Blackboard

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for more information on how to apply.


Minimal 10 students