29 Dec 2010

Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden announce the completion of The Plant List

This landmark international resource is a working list of all land plant species, fundamental to understanding and documenting plant diversity and effective conservation of plants. This accomplishment is crucial to plant conservation efforts worldwide.

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People examining plant specimens in Kew's Herbarium

Kew's Herbarium holds around 8 million plant and fungal specimens.

The completion of The Plant List accomplishes Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), which called for a widely accessible working list of known plant species as a step towards a complete world flora. The Plant List can be accessed by visiting www.theplantlist.org.

The on-time completion of The Plant List is a significant accomplishment for Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden, and our partners worldwide. It is crucial to planning, implementing and monitoring plant conservation programs around the world.

Professor Stephen Hopper, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

An important achievement

Without accurate names, understanding and communication about global plant life would descend into inefficient chaos, costing vast sums of money and threatening lives in the case of plants used for food or medicine. The Plant List provides a way of linking the different scientific names used for a particular species together, thus meeting the needs of the conservation community by providing reliable names for all communication about plants and their uses.


The Plant List includes 1.25 million scientific plant names, of which 1.04 million are names of species rank. Of the species names included in The Plant List, about 300,000 (29%) are accepted names for species and about 480,000 (46%) are recorded as synonyms of those plant species. The status of the remaining 260,000 names is “unresolved” since the contributing data sets do not contain sufficient evidence to decide whether they should be accepted names or synonyms.

The Plant List includes a further 204,000 scientific plant names of infraspecific taxonomic rank linked to those species names. These numbers will change in the future as data quality improves.

“All validly published names for plants to the level of species have been included in The Plant List, the majority of them synonyms; no names have been deleted,” said Dr. Peter H. Raven, President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden.

Working together to produce the list

Detail of acacia nilotica
Spiny branch and yellow inflorescences of Acacia nilotica. Burkill gives at least 129 different names for this plant as a whole or for the fruit and seeds (Image: Michelle Greve).

Since 2008, botanists and information technology specialists at Missouri Botanical Garden and Kew have been developing and testing an innovative new approach to generating The Plant List. The approach involved merging existing names and synonymy relationships from Kew’s World Checklist of Selected Plant Families with over one million plant names from Tropicos®, which has been the Missouri Botanical Garden’s main online taxonomic resource since 1982.

Researchers and specialists used names and synonymy relationships from regional floras and checklists and worked out a rules-based approach to merge them with Kew’s records into The Plant List. The project has relied on collaboration with other botanists and their institutions around the world working towards GSPC Target 1; major contributions have come from The International Compositae Alliance, International Legume Database & Information Service and The International Plant Names Index.

“This is a breakthrough,” said Chuck Miller, Vice President of Information Systems at the Missouri Botanical Garden. “By capturing taxonomic knowledge into a rulebase, computers could be employed to aid the task of sorting out the millions of plant name records assembled over the past two decades in Tropicos®, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and other sources to produce this product that achieves the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation Target 1.”

A significant step for global plant conservation

For anyone that depends upon reliable information about plants, including professionals working in health, food and agriculture or rural development, The Plant List represents a significant information product.

Bob Allkin, Information Project Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) was first proposed at the XVI International Botanical Congress in St. Louis in 1999. It was adopted in April 2002 by the Convention on Biological Diversity as a guide and framework for plant conservation policies and priorities worldwide at all levels. The GSPC consists of a plan containing 16 targets to address the loss of plant species around the world.

At the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010, an updated plan was adopted for the period of 2011 through 2020 with updated targets. The first three objectives of the new Global Strategy for Plant Conservation are that plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognised; plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved; and plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner.

The completion of The Plant List is a significant step towards the new GSPC Target 1 – to create an online flora of all known plants by 2020. “Having an accurate and comprehensive list of the world’s flora will be a fundamental requirement to underpin future plant conservation efforts,” said Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson, President, Missouri Botanical Garden.

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3 comments on 'Kew and Missouri Botanical Garden announce the completion of The Plant List'

A. Traviss Corry says

13/01/2011 5:51:58 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Kew for this achievement of global and importance. A historical benchmark in botanical knowledge. We at Aden Earth will be referencing this list for our own not-for-profit work with The Plant Encyclopedia. We hope to partner with you further in the future. Http://ThePlantEncyclopedia.org

Melanie says

08/01/2011 12:29:55 AM | Report abuse

This is SO great! I'm a paleobotanist, always looking for a good resource/identifier.

Gerry Donnelly says

30/12/2010 8:02:33 PM | Report abuse

Congratulations to all at Kew and MOBOT on this major achievement.

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