By Norma Tsopo
MUTARE – If there is any one person who made the most contributions to Mutare Museum it was Darrel Herbert Charles Plowes.
And it was only fitting that they celebrate his life with a special memorial exhibition in his honour.
Organised to mark a year since his passing on, the exhibition show cases his immerse contribution to both the museum and the fields of botany, zoology and antiquities.
With his work with the museum dating back to 1957 – seven years before its official opening until his passing on October 19, 2016 Plowes’ contribution is unmatched by any other individual.
He contributed over 360 specimens of butterflies to its Natural History section including a new butterfly species named after him – Aloedies plowesi.
With the museum’s Chase Herbarium containing 1,840 specimens he contributed 1,052 of those. These included three new species that he discovered – Dierama plowesii, Aloe plowesii and Huernia plowesii.
He also contributed nine bird specimens, 200 egg specimens with a new large bird subspecies named after him again – Fringillaria capensis plowesi.
On the antiquities section Plowes contributed 28 objects that include old cameras, personal x-rays and other paraphernalia including the Baines painting of Men/Kaffirs culling an elephant.
In all, National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe Eastern Regional Director Paul Mupira said Plowes contributed 1,500 objects to the museum.
Mupira said Plowes was an avid natural history researcher who helped mold the museum to what it is right from its inception to when he passed on in 2016.
“He was a member of the Museum Society that contributed to the founding of this museum.
“He made substantial contributions to the establishment and development of the Museum especially in the Botany/Zoology and Antiquities Department,” Mupira said.
Plowes also made 24 journal publications and wrote two books from his researches.
Des Becker said beyond his contributions in natural history, Plowes had also shaped Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector since his engagement as a Pasture Research Officer at Matopos between 1949 and 1952 before he was later appointed Provincial Agriculture Officer for Manicaland.
“Darrel, along with his colleagues, laid an amazing foundation for the country as a whole in the conservation ad extension services section, in the then ministry of agriculture. In particular the upgrade of rural agriculture, via the setting up of training centres which offered courses to the local farmers to encourage them to adopt modern farming practices,” Becker said.
A tree was planted by his companion Nina Bauer in the museum’s grounds in his memory at an emotional exhibition ceremony.
John Meikle described him as “the most complete naturalist” and an “amazing man”.
Meikle said Plowes believed that there were still many plants still to be discovered which, as a colleague, he was still pushing for.
He said Plowes changed his perception to “appreciate that political boundaries and ecological boundaries are not the same” with Zimbabwe and Mozambique sharing the same ecology all along its boundary hence the need for greater cooperation.
Plowes, Meikle said, however warned that Zimbabwe’s grasslands were endangered as they still had a treasure trove of undiscovered species in spite of their rampant destruction by poor agricultural practices and human activities.