Sunburst diagram showing breakdown of threatening processes for vascular plant species assessed on the IUCN red list. Graphic: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

[Follow #SOTWP on Twitter for live updates during the State of the World's Plants Symposium (11-12 May 2016).]

By Damian Carrington
9 May 2016

(The Guardian) – One in five of the world’s plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the first global assessment of flora, putting supplies of food and medicines at risk.

But the report also found that 2,000 new species of plant are discovered every year, raising hopes of new sources of food that are resilient to disease and climate change. New finds in 2015 included a giant insect-eating plant first spotted on Facebook and a 100-tonne tree hidden in an African forest.

The State of the World’s Plants report [pdf], by experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, reveals that there are currently 390,000 species of known plants, with more than 30,000 used by people. However, more than 5,000 species have invaded foreign countries and are causing billions of dollars of damage every year.

“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” said Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at Kew, 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.”

The report is the first of what will be an annual benchmark analysis to set out what is known - and not known - about plants and highlight critical issues and how they can be tackled. “I am reasonably optimistic,” said Willis. “Once you know [about a problem], you can do something about it. The biggest problem is not knowing.”

The biggest factors threatening plant species with extinction are the destruction of habitats for farming (31%) - such as palm oil production and cattle ranching, deforestation for timber (21%) and construction of buildings and infrastructure (13%).

Climate change is currently a smaller factor - 4% - but is likely to grow. “I suspect we won’t actually see the full impact until 30 years down the line as it takes so long for plants, especially trees, to produce their offspring,” said Willis. One important crop that is already suffering is coffee, as rising temperatures make the beans impossible to grow and increase diseases in key countries such as Ethiopia. [more]

One in five of world's plant species at risk of extinction

Global tropical forest area, 1990-2015. Graphic: FAO 2015 / The Forest and Land Use Data Explorer (FLUDE)

9 May 2016 (RGB) – The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has released the first annual report on the State of the World’s Plants accompanied by the first international science and policy symposium on the topic.

The report provides a baseline assessment of current knowledge on the diversity of plants on earth, the global threats plants face, the policies in place and their effectiveness in dealing with threats. The report has taken a year to produce and involved more than 80 scientists.

This is the first ever global assessment on the state of the world’s plants. We already have a ‘State of the World’s …birds, sea-turtles, forests, cities, mothers, fathers, children even antibiotics’ but not plants. I find this remarkable given the importance of plants to all of our lives– from food, medicines, clothing, building materials and biofuels, to climate regulation. This report therefore provides the first step in filling this critical knowledge gap. –Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

You can download the report here:

State of the World's Plants report 2016

To find out more:

Visit the State of the World's Plants website

More about the State of the World's Plants Symposium

Follow #SOTWP on Twitter for live updates during the State of the World's Plants Symposium (11-12 May 2016).

State of the World's Plants report released by Kew



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