A detailed knowledge of plants is fundamental to human life on Earth. Plants underpin all aspects of our everyday life – from the food that we eat, to the clothes that we wear, the materials we use, the air we breathe, the medicines we take and much more. These essential services provided by plants are far too often taken for granted. This is the second annual report in which we have scrutinised databases, published literature, policy documents, reports and satellite imagery to provide a synthesis of current knowledge on the world’s plants.
Last year, our focus was predominantly on synthesising knowledge of the numbers of different categories of plants: How many vascular plants are currently known to science? How many are threatened with extinction? What is the number of plants with uses? etc. We also looked at the main threats to these plants, including climate change, land-use change, invasive plants, disease and over-exploitation. However, simply knowing how many plants there are and how many are under threat is not enough – what is also needed is an understanding of why some plants are more vulnerable than others. This year, therefore, we have also examined the emerging evidence for the characteristics of plants that appear to make some types less/more resilient to current and future threats.
It is not all doom and gloom, however. In this year’s State of the World’s Plants, we also highlight the rapidly accumulating discoveries and knowledge that provide important sign-posts to the next food crops, medicines, timbers etc. Information is now also emerging on the effectiveness of conservation actions and policies in protecting some of the most important plant species and communities across the globe. While there is still much more to do, these positive outcomes demonstrate that with scientific knowledge and evidence-based global actions, it is possible to conserve the extraordinary diversity of plants on Earth and to build on the unique combination of beauty and science which can together provide some of the solutions for the global challenges facing humanity today.
Professor Kathy J. Willis
Director of Science, RBG Kew