In an effort to help prevent further loss of plant biodiversity around the world, four leading botanical institutions have announced plans to team up and catalog every plant on Earth. The New York Botanical Garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will join together to develop the first comprehensive online catalog of the world’s plants. The massive project will include information about as many as 400,000 different plant species, and it will be available online for free in 2020.
Up until a few years ago, even leading botanists didn’t know exactly how many plant species existed in the world. But two years ago, the Missouri Botanical Garden, with help from the Kew Gardens, completed an ambitious online database called the Plant List, which includes some 400,000 plants. Now, these four botanical institutions will build on that effort, adding images and scientific information to the list, expanding it from a list to a detailed encyclopedia of plants.
In addition to cataloging the world’s plants, the World Flora project will record each plant species’ geographic distribution and whether it is endangered by deforestation and global warming. According to officials who are involved in the project, at least 100,000 plant species are currently threatened by extinction, and hopefully developing an online catalog will help spark action to protect them.
The massive project will likely require extensive field work, and so far no sources of funding have been identified. Missouri Botanical Garden President Peter Wyse Jackson isn’t concerned, though. “I never want a lack of money to prevent us from doing what is right,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.