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New Plant List Will Leave No Leaf Unturned

Listing all the species of plants known to man, as well as their uses, may seem like a daunting, if not impossible, task to most people.

Enter super botanists and IT specialists from the UK's Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Gardens in the United States, who have combined forces and are working to have 'The Plant List' completed by the end of this year.

In 2002, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation called for a complete list of all of Earth's known species of plants. The hope was that by the year 2010, the task would be finished, but as the deadline grew closer, it seemed less and less likely that it would be completed.

"Without accurate names, authoritatively determined, understanding and communication about global plant life would descend into inefficient chaos, costing vast sums of money and literally threatening lives in the case of plants used for food or medicine," said Stephen Hopper, director of Kew Gardens.

But efforts from the two botanical gardens are making this goal more of a reality.

The Plant List was created by merging existing resources containing similar species through an automated program. The computer program can flag single species that have multiple names and merge them, as well as assemble a list of the millions of plant species on our planet. The new approach is showing success at reaching the ultimate goal, though more work is needed before the new product can be made widely available.

"The working list takes as its starting point, all the names and synonymy relationships from Kew's World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, which covers 176 families and 125,000 species as the result of collaboration over 16 years by 132 specialists from 25 countries," said Alan Paton, the assistant keeper of Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives at Kew Gardens.

The list will be the most comprehensive to date and will include the names of all plant species that have been published.

"We now have The Plant List and are tremendously excited about the difference it will make to botanical science and especially to plant conservation ," said Peter Raven, president of the Missouri Botanical Garden.