Tuesday, May 10, 2016

First report of all the world’s plants finds 1 in 5 species facing extinction

[Washington Post] Plants pervade almost every part of human life — not only do we eat them and wear them, we use plants for fuel, medicine, building materials, poisons and intoxicants.
To limit the world’s plants to those that meet a human need, however, would be doing the leafy kingdom a disservice. In fact, according to a new report from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, in the United Kingdom, only a slice of plant life is “useful” to humans. In what Kew is calling the first comprehensive assessment of plant life —  the first annual “State of the World’s Plants” — researchers determined that some 30,000 plant species had a documented use.
That’s plenty of plants, to be sure, but the total number of plants in the new Kew report surpasses the useful ones by more than a factor of 10: We share the planet with over 391,000 plant species, the Kew scientists say.
The assessment comes with a big caveat — these species are only vascular plants, or plants that have a specific, specialized tissue for sucking up water through their body. (Plants lacking these ducts, like algae and mosses, weren’t counted.) Of the vascular plants scattered across the planet, 94 percent have flowers.
“It’s really important to know how many plant species there are, where they are and the relationship between the groups, because plants are absolutely fundamental to our well-being,” Kathy Willis, Kew’s science director, told the BBC. Read More