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How many plants there are in the world and how they’re doing

A group of scientists carried out the first study of its kind on the number and the state of the world’s plants.

There are about 391,000 plant species known to science. They’re vascular plants, which have a vascular system to conduct water and minerals throughout the plant and include all plants except for algae, moss and hepatics. A recent study has assessed for the first time ever the conservation status of the world’s plants.

Fiore di Sedum cockerelli
2,000 plants are described as new to science every year

The report on the state of the world’s plant

The report, named State of the World’s Plant and published by UK researchers of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, revealed that an estimated 391,000 vascular plant species are known to science, 94 per cent of which (369,000) are flower plants. The paper provides basic information on all vascular plants, including those discovered in recent times, and the threats they’re facing.

The lack of information on plants

Kathy Willis, researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, underlined the lack of detailed information on plants. “Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind. They 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.”

Baobab in Madagascar
There are eight species of baobab (seven in Africa, one in Australia)

Researchers analysed different plant databases, including the Plant List, the International Plant Names Index, and the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. They found out that there are about 391,000 vascular plant species known to science. Databases are kept up to date since about 2,000 new plant species are discovered every year.

However, only 31,000 have a documented use. Plants are empoloyed to produce food, medicines, energy, animal feed, and building materials.

The future of plants

Many plant species seem to be doomed, the study shows. Scientists found that – optimistically – 21 per cent of plant species are threatened with extinction. The main threats are the destruction of habitat for farming, construction and agriculture (including oil palm plantations), while climate change is just a smaller factor.

Deforestazione nell'Amazzonia peruviana

Researchers warn that many areas rich in plant species aren’t protected legally. Effective conservation projects are needed to protect these ecosystems and their biodiversity.

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