John Rae Trust

A herbarium is a museum of preserved plants which serves a critical function in plant science, providing botany with baseline data. The Buffelskloof Herbarium is the largest in Mpumalanga Province. It provides research material to South African laboratories studying, for example, drought resistant crops and the medical uses of wild African plants.

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The Herbarium is in constant communication with major herbaria in Europe and Africa exchanging specimens and expertise. It is frequently called upon to help identify plants, often rare and endangered, and to help EIAs (Environment Impact Assessments). It is particularly noted for its expertise on the flora of Mozambique.

Major contributions to Plant Science and Conservation

The Buffelskloof Herbarium has built up a worldwide reputation as a centre of excellence for botanical, and increasingly zoological and ecosystems’, research. It provides essential services to South African laboratory studying, for example, drought resistant crops and the medical potential of plant materials.

Classification & Naming of Plants

It is basic to plant science to be able to identify plant specimens. Modern DNA analysis is frequently inaccurate and practitioners are not botanically trained. Reference to collections of dried specimens held in herbaria is vital particularly in the case of rare and endangered flora. The description and naming of species new to science must also be carried out in a herbarium. BNRH holds 30+ type specimens, the originals to which all subsequent work on a species must refer.

Supplying Plant Material for Research

The Reserve supplies plant material to many research projects. prominent among these are:
Jill Farrant’s research on drought resistant crops for which she was given the L'Oreal Unesco for Women in Science Laureate Awards in 2010;
Alvaro Viljoen whose work on medical applications of African plants is supported by Bill Gates;
the African DNA Barcoding Project.

Links with Herbaria and Universities

Cooperation with other herbaria and universities is an essential aspect of the work.
There is regular interaction with some 40 herbaria and universities from as far away as Kenya, China, Russia and the USA, frequently resulting in the discovery of life forms previously unknown to science.
Memoranda of Cooperation have been signed with the Dutch and British national herbaria and the University of Pretoria.


The curator, John and his wife, Sandie Burrows, have published major works on southern African ferns and figs as well as their recent work on Mozambique. They have also published numerous scientific articles. Many other authors have referred to the Herbarium and the surrounding reserve in their work.