The botanical exploration of Ethiopia was began by collecting and noting plants from the plains of Massawa, the Samhar plains in Eritrea, the plateau around Adowa and Axum in Tigray and the area around Gonder – two ancient capitals of Ethiopia. Many of the early plant exploration activities were concentrated in these regions.

The next penetration into the country by travelers interested in natural history was through Djibouti and Asseb, ultimately reaching Ankober,  another seat of the ancientethiopian government. Later routes of entry into the country were through Hargessa from Zeila and Berbera (Somallia) and into Sheik Hussein (Bale Region).

The more recent routes of entry were all in the south, through Dolo, Moyale, and the plains around Lake Turkana (formerly Lake Rudolf), with some of the travelers even going as far north as Lake Tana.

In the years back to about 1750Ad, only few travelers who had interest in natural history such as C.J. Poncet and James Bruce visited the country collecting information on the natural history of the northern plants of Ethiopia. In particular the first scientific expedition into Ethiopia was also conducted in 1830.

James Bruce came to Ethiopia in search of the source of Nile. In what he wrote “ Travels to discover the source of the Nile in the years 1768 – 1773”, in the last volume which deals with ‘Select Specimens of Natural History’, about 18 species of plants were described and illustrated. But later studies into his original work by Hepper (1980) reveled that Bruce had noted rather 161 species of plants.

W. G. Schimper, a German traveler, was also another botanical explorer who came to Ethiopia in 1837. Schimper collected a large number of plants from the northern Ethiopia which most were sent to Europe for various plant collectors and botanists. Schimper associated himself with the then governor of Tigray, Ras Wube, who made him governor of the district of Antischo. He also married Ras Wube’s daughter with whom he had two children.

Other botanical explorers were Richrd Dillon and A. Petit, two medically trained naturalists, came to Ethiopia in 1838 as part of scientific expedition organized by a naval lieutenant called C.Theophile to study the geography and natural history of the northern parts of the country. Between them they collected over 1500 plant specimens.

The number of plant collectors and explorers increased after 1945 and the period after this year is one in which the beginning of organized attempts at producing accounts of the plants of Ethiopia was observed.

Ethiopian plants have been and continued to be utilized in many ways; as source of food, spices, perfumes, incense, medicines, wine and liquor decorative and building materials. The search for them has always led man to make long distance travels throughout the world.

Eskinder Hailu - Manager, Highway Tours

Eskinder Hailu
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