PROTA, Introduction to the list of species

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Updated list of species and commodity grouping
(published as a book: 2010. PROTA / CTA. 391 p.)



PROTA, short for ‘Plant Resources of Tropical Africa’, is an international programme focused on the ca. 8600 useful plant species of Tropical Africa. Its purpose is to make available the wealth of dispersed knowledge on these plant resources for education, extension, research, industry and government through Internet databases, books, CD-ROMs, and derived products such as brochures, leaflets, and manuals.

The target area of the PROTA Programme consists of 47 African countries, situated for the greater part between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

A large international team of experts contributes the texts on particular species. All species are described according to a standard format with details on uses, trade, properties, botany, ecology, agronomy or silviculture, genetic resources, breeding, prospects and literature. In printed publications the species are grouped into commodity groups.

The ‘Basic list of species and commodity grouping’ (2002) formed the skeleton of the PROTA Databank, being a checklist of the plant resources of Tropical Africa. It was a starting point and assisted PROTA staff in relating literature references to plant resources, helped authors to apply correct scientific names and assisted editorial teams in taking decisions on the species to be included in the commodity groups.

The current edition (2010) is an updated and much expanded version, incorporating data from 10 years of editing work for the PROTA information system. As a result, the number of species listed has grown from 6376 to 8681, and coverage of Tropical Africa has become more balanced.

Sources of information

This ‘Updated list of species and commodity grouping’ is mainly based on the 13 sources listed below, supplemented during the editing process with numerous sources of a more limited scope:

  • Beentje, H.J., 1994. Kenya trees, shrubs and lianas. National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya. 722 pp.
  • Bein, E., Habte, B., Jaber, A., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1996. Useful trees and shrubs in Eritrea – identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. Technical Handbook No. 12. 422 pp.
  • Bekele-Tesemma, A., Birnie, A. & Tengnäs, B., 1993. Useful trees and shrubs for Ethiopia – identification, propagation and management for agricultural and pastoral communities. Regional Soil Conservation Unit/SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. Technical Handbook No. 5. 474 pp.
  • Burkill, H.M., 1985–2000. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1(1985), Families A–D, 960 pp.; Vol. 2 (1994), Families E–I, 636 pp., Vol. 3 (1995), Families J–L, 857 pp.; Vol. 4 (1997), Families M–R, 969 pp.; Vol. 5 (2000), Families S–Z, 686 pp.
  • Coates Palgrave, K., 1981. Trees of southern Africa. 2nd Revised edition. C. Struik Pub¬lishers, Cape Town, South Africa. 959 pp.
  • Decary, R., 1946. Plantes et animaux utiles de Madagascar. Annales du Musée Colonial de Marseille, 54e année, 6e série, 4e volume, 1er et dernier fascicule. 234 pp.
  • Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. PhD thesis. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation (Pudoc), Wageningen, the Netherlands. 327 pp.
  • Jansen, P.C.M., Westphal. E. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (General editors), 1989–2002. Plant Resources of South-East Asia. 19 Volumes. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands (1989–1994)/Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, the Netherlands (1995–2002).
  • Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
  • van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
  • Walker, A. & Sillans, R., 1961. Les plantes utiles du Gabon. Paul Lechevalier, Paris, France. 614 pp.
  • Westphal, E., 1975. Agricultural systems in Ethiopia. Agricultural Research Reports 826. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation (Pudoc), Wageningen, the Netherlands. 278 pp.
  • Williamson, J., 1955. Useful plants of Nyasaland. The Government Printer, Zomba, Nyasaland. 168 pp. (Reprint: Williamson, J., 1975. Useful plants of Malawi. University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi).

In principle, all species with clearly defined uses cited in all these sources, and occurring in Tropical Africa, are included in this ‘Updated list’. The uses of the plants have been expressed in PROTA commodity codes, resulting in the assignment of a PROTA ‘Primary Use’ (PU) and where applicable PROTA ‘Secondary Uses’ (SU) to the species.

The following sources were used to bring the taxonomical nomenclature up to date and to standardize author name abbreviations in scientific plant names:

  • Lebrun, J.P. & Stork, A.L., 1991–1997. Enumération des plantes à fleurs d'Afrique tropicale. Conservatoire et Jardin botaniques de la ville de Genève, Suisse. Vol. 1 (1991), Généralités et Annonaceae à Pandanaceae, 249 pp.; Vol. 2 (1992), Chrysobalanaceae à Apiaceae, 257 pp.; Vol. 3 (1995), Monocotylédones: Limnocharitaceae à Poaceae, 341 pp.; Vol. 4 (1997), Gamopétales: Clethraceae à Lamiaceae, 712 pp.
  • Missouri Botanical Garden, undated. VAST (VAScular Tropicos) nomenclatural database. [Internet]
  • Brummitt, R.K. & Powell, C.E. (Editors), 1992. Authors of plant names. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. 732 pp.

Commodity groups

The following 16 commodity groups are distinguished by number and name. The number of species in each commodity group is indicated under ‘Primary Use’ (PU). The number of species having that same usage, but belonging to other commodity groups, is indicated under ‘Secondary Use’ (SU). A few species, for which the primary use is debatable, have been assigned 2 Primary Uses, e.g. Arachis hypogaea has been assigned PU = 1 (Cereals and pulses) and PU = 14 (Vegetable oils).

Code PU - SU Commodity groups Number of species
1 Cereals and pulses (a) 82 171
2 Vegetables (b) 356 626
3 Dyes and tannins (c) 116 571
4 Ornamentals (d) 604 712
5 Forages (e) 636 1046
6 Fruits (f) 611 662
7 Timbers (g) 1123 911
8 Carbohydrates (h) 230 322
9 Auxiliary plants (i) 229 756
10 Fuel plants (j) 117 312
11 Medicinal plants (k) 3644 2668
12 Spices and condiments (l) 144 277
13 Essential oils and exudates (m) 243 401
14 Vegetable oils 65 188
15 Stimulants (n) 59 171
16 Fibres (o) 463 830
Total 8722 10624

Note: 8681 species; 8722 PUs; 41 species with 2 PUs.

(a) including some non-graminaceous cere¬als (‘pseudo-cereals’).

(b) including legume seeds eaten as sprouted seeds.

(c) including mordants and inks.

(d) including hedge and wayside plants.

(e) including feed for fish and insects such as silkworms.

(f) including nuts.

(g) including bamboos used for construction.

(h) including bee plants; excluding cereals and pulses yielding starch.

(i) including shade and nurse trees, live supports, cover crops, mulches, green manures, fallow crops, live fences, windbreaks, erosion-controlling plants, land reclamation species, and water-cleaning agents.

(j) including plants used for the production of charcoal and as tinder.

(k) including poisonous plants used as pesticide, fish poison or dart poison, and narcotic plants.

(l) including vegetable salt, and flavour compounds added for conservation, such as hop in beer

(m) including aromatic woods, and plants producing camphor, latex, resin, balsam, gum, wax and aromatic resin.

(n) including plants used for beverages, chewing and smoking; excluding narcotic plants, but including legal drugs.

o) including rattans, and plants used for packing and thatching, as tying material, and for making paper, baskets, mats, wickerwork, wattle work and tooth¬brushes.

For example, 463 out of the 8681 species have ‘Primary Use’ = 16 and belong to the Commodity group ‘Fibres’. 830 species in the other 15 commodity groups are also used as ‘Fibre’ but this is not their main usage.

The 8681 species have on average 2.2 different uses, 1 primary use and 1.2 secondary uses (41 species have 2 primary uses).

Structure of the ‘Updated list’

This ‘Updated list of species and commodity grouping’ is an extract from the PROTA database SPECIESLIST. In SPECIESLIST all scientific names, synonyms, and all uses are documented and linked to the original sources of information.

The species are presented hereafter in two ways. The first part (Chapter 2) lists the species alphabetically by scientific name or synonym, followed by the family name and the Primary Use (PU) assigned. Synonyms are listed as well and referred back to the correct scientific name.

The second part (Chapter 3) follows an arrangement per commodity group, and presents the species by scientific name, followed by the family name and the Secondary Uses (SU). Synonyms are not given here.


This ‘Updated list of species and commodity grouping’ comprises 8681 species (11750 scientific names), assigned to 16 commodity groups. Although this list has been expanded since the publication of the ‘Basic list of species and commodity grouping’ (2002), it does not pretend to be a complete overview of the useful plants of Tropical Africa. Certain categories of plants and certain geographical areas are not yet adequately covered, but this will be remedied gradually through the editing process. The assignment of species to commodity groups was sometimes hard to make on the basis of the sources consulted.

This ‘Updated list of species and commodity grouping’ is published at the occasion of PROTA’s 10th anniversary on the 1st of January 2010.

NB. The list itself has not been reproduced here.