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The Daubeny Herbarium

The Daubeny Herbarium is the herbarium of the former Department of Forestry. Given its history, it is particularly rich in specimens from Tropical Africa and South Africa. There are also fine, worldwide collections from the families Ebenaceae, Meliaceae and Fabaceae.

History of the Forest Herbarium (FHO)

Joseph Burtt Davy was the first Curator of FHO, when the Imperial Forestry Institute started work in 1924 under the Directorship of Professor Robert S. Troup. Percy Greenway was Burtt Davy's assistant and responsible for developing the collections. Under Burtt Davy, systematic forest botany was concerned with the identification and naming of timber trees and teaching courses for forest officers; many tropical trees were only known by loosely applied vernacular or commercial names. Accessions to FHO, approximately 6,000-8,000 specimens per year, reached a phenomenal 13,425 in 1929-30. The increase in material was mainly due to the efforts of Oxford-trained forest officers. Some specimens were purchased, but the majority were gifts or duplicates sent from forest departments for identification. The bulk of the material was African, although smaller amounts came from other areas, including Trinidad, Sri Lanka, Belize and Malaysia. Burtt Davy was engaged in the preparation of several forest-tree lists and, by 1930, eighteen Colonial Forest Floras or annotated check lists were in preparation. Over the ensuing years this activity broadened into the production of Floras, monographs and other scientific publications.

Mr. A. C. Hoyle joined the staff of the Forest Herbarium as forest botanist in 1929 to assist Burtt Davy in the teaching systematics, identification of specimens and the writing of Floras and monographs. Early in the 1930s he began, at Burtt Davy’s suggestion, what turned out to be a life time’s study of the genus Brachystegia.

By the early 1930s there must have been considerable activity in FHO. Apart from Burtt Davy and Hoyle, work was being carried out by Dr. Helen Bancroft and Miss J. Dickson on floral morphology and the systematics of the Monotoideae (Dipterocarpaceae), Mr. Harvey Dunkley was employed as a Herbarium Assistant to identify specimens and, no doubt by then, there was at least one junior assistant, a specimen mounter and a secretary. In addition, there were several Forest Officers on leave working in the herbarium at any one time, visitors who stayed for varying lengths of time and the herbarium was still, of course, used for teaching systematics. Conditions must have been extremely crowded as the original accommodation had not kept pace with growth in staff and specimens. By the end of 1935 the herbarium collection had reached nearly 54,000 specimens and by 1937 the personal collections of Mr. H.V. Lely’s (860 sheets from northern Nigeria), and Mr. B.D. Burtt’s Tanzanian Brachystegia were incorporated into FHO.

In 1939 the Forest Systematics group and the Herbarium moved under the administration of the Botany Department, although the herbarium had to physically remain in the old forestry building. Hoyle took over as Curator of FHO and Mr. Patrick Brenan was appointed as Forest Botanist in his place to produce an annotated check list of Tanzania.

In the post-war period, Mr. A.P.D. Jones and Mr. R.W.J. Keay (Forestry Officers from Nigeria), worked in the herbarium on the taxonomy and ecology of the West Tropical African vegetation. Mr. H.E. Box presented his collection of Cola from West Africa to FHO. Preliminary work was started on the woody plants of Zambia and identifications were carried out on smaller collections from Uganda (H.C. Dawkins); Tanzania (Greenway and L.T. Wigg); Zanzibar (J.H. Vaughan); and Zimbabwe (G.M. McGregor). Brenan left the Forest Herbarium to take up an appointment at Kew, eventually becoming its Director, and was replaced by Mr. Frank White.

In 1950, Mr. A. Angus was appointed to assist White in the production of the forest Flora of Zambia, whilst White continued his studies on the genus Diospyros. In 1951, the herbarium was finally moved into new quarters in the newly-built Botany Department building. Now in a new, more spacious purpose-built room, the herbarium collection was more accessible, the carpological collection was transferred to new boxes and the spirit collection largely reorganised and relabelled. Miss Maureen Griffiths arrived as Herbarium Assistant and started work on ‘The Taxonomy and Ecology of the African species of Terminalia’. She was joined by Miss Janet Chandler and they both spent much time preparing illustrations. By the middle of the 1950s,  Angus and Miss Griffiths left to take up other appointments. Large accessions were incorporated into FHO from Brussels and the East African Herbarium, as well as smaller amounts from Sabah, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

1959-60 saw many changes in the Forest Herbarium. White took over as Curator of FHO from Hoyle. Mr. G.T. Prance commenced work for a doctoral thesis on the Chrysobalanoideae, going on afterwards to The New York Botanical Garden before returning to Britain as Director of Kew. Dr. Brian Styles was appointed as a Senior Research Officer. So began the long association of FHO with research into the Meliaceae. Mr. T.D. Pennington joined the group in 1961, first as a doctoral student on a study of the generic limits of the Meliaceae then as a Research Officer studying several South American genera. They were joined in 1973 by Dr. David Mabberley who studied Chisocheton, then as Lecturer in Forest Ecology working on the Asiatic genera and in particular a monograph of Dysoxylum. Miss Caroline Pannell arrived in 1978 working on Aglaia. Thirty years research has resulted in FHO accumulating a comprehensive collection of Meliaceae.

Hoyle retired in 1971, the unwieldy Brachystegia still unfinished as a monograph. White was also appointed as Curator of the Botany Herbarium (OXF), so achieving some union between the two herbaria at last. Several changes in Herbarium Assistants over this and the next decade working more on the Curator’s studies than the herbarium itself, with a consequent decline in the amount of curation being done in FHO. Miss Serena Marner was appointed to FHO, initially spending much time listing and identifying the large collections from the forests of Gongola State, Nigeria sent to FHO by Jim Chapman, but was subsequently moved to OXF. The arrival of Mr. J.H. Seyani from Malawi in 1978 to commence a doctoral thesis on the genus Dombeya (Sterculiaceae) continued and consolidated the move after the war from the training of Colonial forestry officers to the training of biology graduates from both the U.K. and the Tropics in taxonomic studies. Mrs. Alison Strugnell was appointed as herbarium assistant to FHO in 1986 to work with Frank White on listing and identifying the large amount of material being sent to FHO by Jim Chapman from Malawi, mainly Mt. Mulanje, and to tackle the mounting curation problems in the herbarium.

The 1960s saw the development of a Forest Genetics Group within the Oxford Forestry Institute to carry out research into the evaluation, conservation and improved use of forest genetic resources. Initially this was centred on Pinus caribaea in Central America but experience gained whilst investigating the natural populations quickly led to other tropical pines being included in the study. Over the years attention was also paid to fast-growing hardwoods and in more recent years to multi-purpose Central American and African dry-zone genera such as Leucaena, Gliricidia, Parkinsonia and Acacia.

Brian Styles, as Forest Botanist, was an original member of this group firmly linking plant taxonomy with tropical forestry. He believed that sound taxonomy made a permanent contribution to the wise use and conservation of trees. Brian started working on the then little known pine flora of Central America in the 1970s, work which culminated in a monograph for Flora Neotropica completed and enhanced by Aljos Farjon after his untimely death in 1993. As Colin Hughes has commented since – “Brian’s ‘one-man taxonomic advice bureau’ will be sorely missed by the tropical forestry community”. Brian always considered field work an important part of this work and his many collections, of the various groups he worked on, now reside in FHO.

Three of the Groups’ projects in particular, on Mimosoid Legumes, have resulted in considerable collections of woody legumes being deposited in FHO. Firstly, Colin Hughes’ study into the systematics of Leucaena resulted in a doctoral thesis, several publications and a monograph. Secondly, Duncan MacQueen’s study of Calliandra calothyrsus and related species to resolve taxonomic problems and obtain a clearer understanding of genetic variation across its range in order to select suitable provenances for agro-forestry potential. Thirdly, a series of investigations to investigate the genetics and taxonomy of African Acacia species by Mr. Chris Fagg and Dr. Richard Barnes. After an unsatisfactory research history of more than 60 years, new work to look at the taxonomic problems of Brachystegia began, at last, with the arrival, in 1995, of Mr. A. Chikuni from the National Herbarium of Malawi.

In the academic year of 1985-86, the University merged the departments of Agriculture, Botany and Forestry into one Plant Sciences department at the South Parks Road site. This finally put an end to the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ of the forest systematics section between the administration of Botany and Forestry but it caused FHO to become vulnerable as it was in much need of curation and a sense of direction in a changing systematic world. During a few transitional years which saw the retirement of Frank White, David Mabberley and Dr. Quentin Cronk as successive Acting Curators and much discussion on the role of the collections in the Department of Plant Sciences, the Forest Herbarium (FHO) – by now renamed the Daubeny Herbarium – was officially merged with the Botany Department Herbarium (OXF) under the umbrella title of the ‘Oxford University Herbaria’, and as such became a registered museum collection. Although merged into one, the two acronyms (FHO and OXF) are still used for day-to-day transactions, and occasionally cause some confusion. Since the reorganisation, all new specimens, except for British material, are now accessed to FHO only. FHO is no longer the repository solely for forest plants but now acts as the present day research collection, whilst still maintaining its original role as a teaching resource.

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