Botanic Gardens Help Protect Threatened Plant Species

botanic garden

Botanic gardens are home to a large percentage of threatened plant species. (Photo credit: ©Wikimedia Commons)

While botanic gardens might seem like just a pretty or relaxing place to visit, it turns out they hold a very important role in the global conservation and preservation of threatened and endangered plant species. However, some researchers think botanic gardens should be taking an even bigger part in ensuring that threatened and endangered plant species are protected from extinction.

According to an article published in the September edition of the journal Nature Plants, botanic gardens around the world house 41 percent of all endangered plant species, and also contain at least 30 percent of all known (350,699) plant species. These worldwide plant collections represent two-thirds of all the plant plant genera and 90 percent of plant families.

However, botanic gardens appear to more heavily favor temperate plant species, even though the majority of plants globally are found in the tropics. Overall, researchers found that botanic garden collections only contain about 25 percent of the world’s tropical plants. Given conservation concerns about the future of rainforest species and the number of tropical areas that are considered to be conservation hot spots, it is imperative that botanic gardens begin to include these plants among their collections as well.

“The global network of botanic gardens is our best hope for saving some of the world’s most endangered plants,” senior author Dr. Samuel Brockington, a researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences as well as a curator at Cambridge’s Botanic Garden, said in a statement about the research. “Currently, an estimated one-fifth of plant diversity is under threat, yet there is no technical reason why any plant species should become extinct. Botanic gardens protect an astonishing amount of plant diversity in cultivation, but we need to respond directly to the extinction crisis. If we do not conserve our plant diversity, humanity will struggle to solve the global challenges of food and fuel security, environmental degradation, and climate change.”

Many botanic gardens within the United States focus a large portion of their mission on plant conservation and research. For example, at the Chicago Botanic Garden, “[c]onserving plants is one of the most significant challenges of our time—and a major focus at the Chicago Botanic Garden. From studying soil to banking seeds, from restoring habitats and protecting endangered plant species to developing new ones, Garden scientists are fighting plant extinction, pollution, and climate change through diverse and exciting research.”

“As a professional community, botanic gardens conserve and manage a far greater array of plant diversity than any other sector. However, we still have much to do.” Dr. Paul Smith, study co-author and Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), said in the statement. “This study is extremely important because it will enable us to target our efforts much more effectively, and work together to ensure that plant species don’t needlessly become extinct,” Smith said.

More to Explore
World’s botanic gardens contain a third of all known plant species, and help protect the most threatened
Global Distribution of Botanic Gardens
Plant Science and Conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden


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