From ‘Archive 1996 – what were we up to 20 years ago?’, the Spring 1986 meeting item ‘Visit to Computer Section and demonstration of database systems (Sepasal)’.
For the past three years the SEPASAL unit has been collating information about plants from the dry tropics that have been reported to be useful (in any way) but that have not been commercially exploited on a large scale. Information regarding life forms habit, life span, toxicity, economic importance, uses, environmental requirements (soil pH, salinity, moisture, altitude, frost tolerance and rainfall range) and distribution have been obtained where possible, and the information has been computerised so that SEPASAL can operate as an enquiry unit.
So what kind of questions can you ask the SEPASAL database? The computer can display:-
1) a list of all the useful plants in a particular geographical region
2) a list of all the plants in the dry tropics that have been found to be reportedly useful for sand dune stabilisation (or famine foods or thatching or any of the 600 or so other uses recognised)
3) a list of plants that are found in a particular geographical region that also have a specified use or uses
4) a list of plants that we have recorded that are in a particular plant family or genus
5) questions regarding habitat requirements can also be formulated eg lists of plants which occur in dry, wet or aquatic habitats or plants which are frost or salt tolerant or plants with preference for alkaline soils may be obtained
6) similarly it displays lists of plants with particular life form characteristics eg epiphyte, climbing shrubs, etc.
7) more complex questions can also be posed which combine life form, habitat requirements, uses and distribution eg lists of unarmed, evergreen, non-toxic shrubs that are useful for browse and which occur in Somalia can be provided.