New Kew Report Discusses State of the World’s Plants
A team of researchers at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, (RBG Kew) recently released the first global assessment of Earth’s varied plants, including their diversity, genomics, health, geography, trade policies, and extinction risks.
The State of the World's Plants report is yet another step the world’s plant-focused organizations and industries have taken to increase the awareness people have regarding plant care, science and benefits to mankind.
“By bringing the available information together into one document, we hope to raise the profile of plants among the global community and to highlight not only what we do know about threats, status and uses, but also what we don’t,” wrote RBG Kew Director of Science Kathy J. Willis and RBG Kew Strategic Output Leader Steve Bachman in the report’s introduction. “This will help us decide where more research effort and policy focus is required to preserve and enhance the essential role of plants in underpinning all aspects of human wellbeing.”
Researchers working on the report went into some the world’s most remote locations in search of new trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and herbs. They also re-examined herbarium sheets for previously discovered plant specimens that fell through the cracks due to the challenges with naming and describing new or unrecognized plant species. In all, their efforts and those of botanists around the world led to the discovery of 2,034 new plants in 2015.
Among the newly discovered plants are:
- Gilbertiodendron maximum, a leguminous canopy tree that grows up to 45 meters tall and weighs about 105 tons and is found in the Cameroon-Congolian African rainforest in Gabon;
- Amburana, a legume tree found in northeast Brazil that has sap that locals use as a soap;
- Oberholzeria etendekaensis, a succulent shrublet found only in northwest Namibia;
- Canavalia reflexiflora, a red flowering plant believed to be pollinated by hummingbirds and found only in Minas Gerais, Brazil;
- Sartidia isaloensis, a new species of grass growing only on the sandstone cliffs in Isalo National Park in Madagascar;
- Nepenthes barcelonae, a climbing pitcher plant found in the Sierra Madre cloud forest in the Phillippines; and
- Drosera magnifica, an insect-eating sundew growing at the top of a mountain in Minas Gerais that was discovered on Facebook by a sundew specialist looking at old photos shared online by an orchid hunter.
Some discoveries happened almost too late to be enjoyed, however, as several of the species are believed to already be extinct thanks to habitat destruction, agricultural deforestation and fires. For instance, Ledermaniella lunda, a tiny waterfall-specific herb, only existed at a site that is now home to a hydroelectric dam. “Diamond-mining has turned the river waters brown and turbid, a death-sentence for plants of this family,” the report states.
Researchers also estimated one in five of all plant species are nearing extinction due to land-use changes, climate change, pests, diseases, invasive species and other threats.
“A large global movement of alien invasive species is occurring. … These plants are causing large declines in native plants, damaging natural ecosystems, transforming land-cover and often causing huge economic losses,” states the report, adding that the most successful invasive species all share the ability to go dormant during unfavorable seasons while surviving as either a bulb, rhizome, tuber, root bud or seed. “There are many emerging threats also occurring with plant diseases caused by fungal, bacterial and viral pathogens. Research effort into these diseases is skewed towards countries with a wealthier research infrastructure.”
Kew is currently working with numerous partners to take all the information gathered from the world’s various plant lists — such as the International Plant Names Index, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and The Plant List — into the Plants of the World Online Portal, which will collate plant species information in the hopes of solving the issues generated by having multiple databases that provide different information on plant names. The online portal should launch late this year.
Dive in deeper to the report to read about factors effecting plant health, the importance of crop wild relatives, the implications of plant trade policies, plant genomics and more.