LONDON: Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens warned Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) about the threats facing the world’s plant kingdom in the first global report of its kind aimed at drawing attention to often-overlooked species.
The “State of the World’s Plants” report was drawn up by botanists at the Kew Gardens research center in west London, which has one of the world’s largest collections in its greenhouses and sprawling gardens.
“There has never been a State of the World’s Plants,” said Kathy Willis, science director at Kew Gardens.
The 80-page report, which is linked to a website, is intended to become a database and global reference point as it will be published annually and allow for comparisons on preserving the world’s plants.
“This has been a huge undertaking… We engaged with more than 80 scientists to pull this together,” said Steve Bachman, one of the report’s authors.
He said it was a “huge step forward, pulling together existing knowledge in a condensed and readable version so we can really spread the message about the importance of plants to a much wider audience”.
The task is a challenging one.
More than 391,000 species of vascular plants, a large group of plants which conduct water and minerals, have been registered around the world.
Every year around 2,000 additional species are discovered — mainly in Australia, Brazil or China.
Some 17,810 plant species have a medical use, 5,538 are food and 3,649 are animal feed, Kew Gardens said.
All the more reason to preserve them, Willis said.
But raising public awareness can be more complicated than warning about threats to African elephants, Bengal tigers or even tropical rainforests.
The threats to the plant kingdom come, above all, from farming. House building, diseases and pesticides are also top killers, the report said, with climate change only playing a marginal role for the moment.
But Willis said it may take until 2030 before the impact of climate change can really be monitored.
“For most of the major groups of plants we’re talking about, it takes at least 10, 20, 30 years before the next generation starts to produce flowers and pollen,” she said.
Past studies have estimated that 10 percent of the world’s plant species are threatened with extinction — others give the alarming figure of 62 percent.
Kew Gardens gave an estimate of 21 percent.