According to a newly released report from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in the United Kingdom, only a small amount of plant life is “useful” to humans. The 84 page report titled ‘State of the World’s Plants’ is the first all-inclusive assessment of plant life. Researchers have now determined that some 31,128 plant species have a documented use. The term ‘useful plants’ is used to describe plant species which have been documented as fulfilling a particular need for humans, animals or the wider environment. Not that other plants are useless, as they still provide us with oxygen!
Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Professor Stephen Hopper, said: “This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss. Plants are the foundation of biodiversity and their significance in uncertain climatic, economic and political times has been overlooked for far too long. We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear – plants are the basis of all life on Earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we.”
The report includes plant species known to science, not including algae or moss. To make their estimate of the planet’s plants, the Kew scientists searched through three prestigious databases: the Plant List, the International Plant Names Index and the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Botanists cut out the duplicates from more than a million different names. The Kew report was able to pare down the known species to a confident 391,000. The report concludes some 21 percent of those plants are threatened with extinction.
“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” Kathy Willis, science director at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, who led the new report. “Plants provide us with everything – food, fuel, medicines, timber and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. Without plants we would not be here. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”
“This report therefore provides the first step in filling this critical knowledge gap,” she continued. “But to have effect, the findings must serve to galvanize the international scientific, conservation, business and governmental communities to work together to fill the knowledge gaps we’ve highlighted and expand international collaboration, partnerships and frameworks for plant conservation and use.”
Many people don’t understand it can take years, even decades for a plant to produce seed and multiply. Because of this, many of Earth’s species are becoming extinct. The upside is botanists are already taking extreme actions to save the plants, those species deemed useful, anyway. Buried in the side of a mountain in the Arctic sits The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a so-called doomsday bank of seeds for when things really go bad.
© Ilex – Midwestern Plant Girl