nl en

Plant Families of the Tropics


Admission requirements

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

Contact information

Coordinator: Prof.dr. P.C. van Welzen


The tropics comprise the hottest hotspots of global biodiversity. They contain more than two thirds of vascular plant species worldwide with a density 10 times higher than the European flora. Many well-known and economically important plant taxa such as bananas, cocoa, coffee, and yam are of tropical origin.
The identification of tropical plants is a crucial aspect in conservation biology, systematic, ecological, evolutionary and ethnobotanical research. Because of the high species diversity, the poor exploration of many tropical regions, and the unavailability of regional floras and identification tools, however, identification is often problematic.
The botanical diversity of the tropics is being explored and documented by the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in international projects such as Flora Malesiana, Flora of the Guianas and the Flore du Gabon, involving numerous experts with an in-depth knowledge of the plants and habitats of the tropics. One of the aims of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center is the knowledge transfer of plant diversity. This course has been set up to provide an overview of the most commonly encountered tropical plant families, and the knowledge and tools needed for their identification.

Learning goals

Course objectives:
Specialists working at Naturalis and botanical gardens in Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht will give the participants an overview of the most commonly encountered tropical plant families, including their key features, characteristic genera, and ecological and economic importance. General introductions to plant morphology, identification tools, plant collection techniques, tropical vegetation types and ethnobotanical research will be given.

Through lectures, extensive hands-on practicals and excursions to various botanical institutions in the Netherlands, the participants will learn to recognize more than 40 tropical plant families based on generative (flower and fruit) and vegetative (leaf and bark) characters. The participants will learn to use both identifications keys in traditional Floras and interactive on-line keys. During the practical the participants will be able to examine living, herbarium and alcohol preserved material, and during excursions to the tropical greenhouses of botanical gardens in Amsterdam, Leiden and Utrecht special attention will be paid to collection techniques and field characteristics.

Final qualifications:

  • Ability to identify tropical plant taxa based on vegetative and generative characters

  • Knowledge of botanical technical terms (plant morphology and anatomy) used in taxon diagnoses, descriptions and identification keys

  • Ability to use identification tools (dichotomous and multi-access keys)

  • Knowledge of collection techniques for plant material

  • Knowledge of the ecological and economic importance of tropical plant taxa


9 – 27 January 2017; details will be communicated on Blackboard in due time

Mode of instruction

Lectures, demonstrations, literature study, excursions

Assessment method

Recognition exam, and open question testing knowledge.


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

Reading list

Compulsory book: Utteridge&Bramley, the Kew Tropical plant families identification handbook (2014), which can be bought with a discount during the course.


Via USIS and enroll in Blackboard. However, register in time (October), because there is a maximum of 30 students and students from other Dutch universities, international students and staff of the botanical gardens will also compete for these positions.

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


Minimum 8, maximum 30 students. Students from other Dutch universities, international students and staff of the botanical gardens will also compete for these positions. Ca. 15 places are available for Leiden University Biology students.
The course will mainly be housed in the Leiden botanical garden.