Plants are one of Earth’s greatest resources. They are sources of food, medicines and materials with vast economic and cultural importance. They stabilize ecosystems and form the habitats that sustain the planet’s animal life. They are also threatened by climate change, environmental factors and human interaction. There are an estimated 400,000 species of vascular plants on Earth, with some 10 percent more yet to be discovered. These plants, both known and unknown may hold answers to some of the world’s health, social and economic problems. A full inventory of plant life is vital if their full potential is to be realized before many of these species, and the possibilities they offer, become extinct.
In 2002, the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). This was subsequently updated in 2010 with the aim of halting the loss of plant species worldwide by 2020. The U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity is the most widely supported international environmental agreement and involves most of the world’s governments. The updated GSPC includes 16 targets to be achieved by the year 2020; Target One of the GSPC states the need for “An online flora of all known plants.”
Responding to this 2020 target, in early 2012 four of the world’s leading plant science institutions agreed to collaborate to support the development of the World Flora Online. The Missouri Botanical Garden, The New York Botanical Garden, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew signed a Memorandum of Understanding detailing their intent to work together to spearhead the development of a World Flora Online. They will be joined in this work by a large number of other botanical institutions worldwide collaborating to deliver this vital new initiative to support conservation and sustainable management of the world’s plant resources.
The Missouri Botanical Garden is at the forefront of the urgent struggle to discover, understand and conserve the world’s botanical diversity as species and habitats rapidly diminish. With scientists working in 35 countries on six continents around the globe, the Missouri Botanical Garden has one of the three largest plant science programs in the world and a mission “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.”