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Kew’s State of the World’s Plants Report: A Review


The world-famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) recently released its first annual State of the World’s Plants report, which took one year and the efforts of more than 80 scientists to complete. The report raises concerns about the need for increased global plant conservation efforts. Alarmingly, it states that an estimated 21% of plant species are currently threatened with extinction.1,2

The 84-page report, which is available online, is the first assessment of its kind and covers information about global plant diversity, threats to that diversity, and policies intended to manage threats and protect diversity.

“Plants are absolutely fundamental to humankind,” Kathy Willis, PhD, director of science at RBG Kew, is quoted as saying in an article published by The Guardian about the new report. “Plants provide us with everything — food, fuel, medicines, timber, and they are incredibly important for our climate regulation. Without plants we would not be here. We are facing some devastating realities if we do not take stock and re-examine our priorities and efforts.”3

RBG Kew is a center for botanical and mycological knowledge, with gardens at Kew in London and at Wakehurst in Sussex, England. Since its founding in 1759, RBG Kew has made many contributions to increasing the understanding of plants and fungi, according to its website. Its Board of Trustees is sponsored by the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

State of the World’s Plants is divided into three main sections: “Describing the World’s Plants,” “Global Threats to Plants,” and “Policies and International Trade.”

Describing the World’s Plants

The report states that there are an estimated 390,900 species of vascular plants known to science. Vascular plants, unlike nonvascular plants, have a nutrient-transport system composed of xylem and phloem.4 Xylem is the plant tissue primarily responsible for distributing water and minerals absorbed by the roots, and the rigidity of xylem cells enables vascular plants to grow more upright than nonvascular plants. Phloem is primarily responsible for distributing sugars and nutrients made during photosynthesis. Vascular plants do not include algae, mosses, liverworts, hornworts, and lichens.



Of the known species of vascular plants, an estimated 369,400 (94%) are flowering plants (angiosperms), according to the report. Current knowledge of plant diversity is based on three plant databases. First, the International Plant Names Index (IPNI; is the most comprehensive and continuously updated list of scientific names for vascular plants. At the time of the report, the IPNI included more than one million species names, with an average of 2.7 scientific names (Latin binomials) per plant species (i.e., not including local or common names). Different scientific names given to the same plant are called synonyms. The IPNI records only nomenclatural synonyms (i.e., synonyms that result when the understanding of relationships among species improves, and when species are therefore moved from one genus to another). Second, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families ( is limited to seed plants, but, unlike the IPNI, it contains information on global plant distributions and taxonomic synonyms (i.e., synonyms that result when researchers inadvertently rename species that have already been described). Third, The Plant List ( is the most comprehensive list of all plant names (including mosses, liverworts, and hornworts), but it is not regularly updated or peer-reviewed.1

Currently, RBG Kew, with help from other organizations, is working on collating the information contained in these three resources into a single database called the Plants of the World Online Portal, which is scheduled for launch in late 2016.1

In 2015, there were 2,034 vascular plant species new to science. In fact, there have been slightly more than 2,000 new species described each year for the past decade, and, each year, the majority of these have been discovered in Australia, Brazil, and China. Some of the more noteworthy discoveries of 2015 include a tree in the legume (Fabaceae) family called Gilbertiodendron maximum, which can grow to 45 meters (approximately 147 feet) and is one of eight threatened trees in this genus found in the Cameroon-Congolian rainforest. Also in the legume family, a succulent Namibian shrublet called Oberholzeria etendekaensis was discovered, which is not only a new species but belongs to a new genus. In Southeast Asia, more than 90 species in the genus Begonia (Begoniaceae) were discovered.1

Also, a Brazilian carnivorous plant in the sundew family called Drosera magnifica (Droseraceae) was discovered on Facebook when a sundew expert was reviewing pictures taken years earlier by an orchid hunter. The species can grow to 1.5 meters (five feet), making it one of the three largest sundews known to science.1

In addition, 13 new species in the genus Allium (Amaryllidaceae) — a genus that includes onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives — were discovered. Five of the new species are onions. Eighteen new species in the genus Ipomoea (Convolvulaceae), a genus that includes morning glories and many species that have historically been used medicinally, were discovered. One of these new species is a close relative of the sweet potato (I. batatas).1

The report also discusses how recent and significant advances in, and decreasing costs of, high-throughput genome sequencing technologies will continue to improve understanding of The Plant Tree of Life, a graphical depiction of how taxonomic groups are related to each other. Whole-genome sequencing can enable the discovery of additional species that are relevant to human well-being, impacting medicines, foods, biofuels, and fibers. In addition, this technology can help plant breeders develop new crops that are more productive, have greater nutritional content, and are more resilient to pathogens and environmental change. It can also help characterize endangered species and support conservation efforts.1

At least 31,128 plant species currently have at least one documented use, according to the report, and an estimated 17,810 (see “Analysis” section) of those have been used medicinally, accounting for the largest number of plants with a documented use. In addition, an estimated 5,538 species are used as food by humans. Not counted among these useful plant species are crop wild relatives (i.e., the cousins and ancestral species from which modern agricultural crops evolved). Extensive domestication of these species over thousands of years has resulted in the selection of traits that provide higher crop yields, but these are often not the traits that enable resilience to climate change and pathogens. Therefore, there is a need to collect and conserve these wild species so they can be used to breed crops with the traits necessary to ensure global food security. According to the report, there are 3,546 prioritized plant taxa identified as crop wild relatives, and many of these are not adequately represented in current germplasm collections. Recent analyses have identified geographical hotspots of crop diversity and gaps in conservation coverage, and are informing current conservation efforts in relation to these species.1

Globally, 1,771 Important Plant Areas (IPAs) had been identified at the time of the report. This designation is a formally recognized scheme that identifies plant sites that are in most urgent need of conservation. These priority sites are determined using three key measures: threatened species, exceptional botanical richness, and threatened habitats. After IPAs have been identified, the next step is to move toward protection and sustainable management of these sites. It is critical that local communities and authorities are invested in IPA programs from the beginning, since conservation efforts ultimately depend on them. Although IPA programs have produced encouraging results in places such as Turkey and the United Kingdom, many global IPAs currently have no conservation protection.1

Each year, RBG Kew’s State of the World’s Plants report will take an in-depth look at the status of plants in a particular area. Its first report looks at plants in Brazil. There are 32,109 Brazilian seed plants known to science, of which 18,423 are unique to the country. Basic distribution data are now available for all known species. In addition, conservation status according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria has been re-evaluated for all Brazilian plant species considered threatened.1 The IUCN is made up of more than 1,300 member organizations, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), scientific and academic institutions, and business associations. Its Red List of Threatened Species is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the conservation status of plant, animal, and fungi species. The Red List Categories and Criteria provide an explicit, objective framework for classifying species at high risk of global extinction, based on parameters such as population reduction and restricted geographic range.5

The report focuses on Brazilian plants in the Bromeliaceae, Cactaceae, and Asteraceae families. Many of these plants are found only in Brazil, many have not yet been evaluated using Red List criteria, and many that have been evaluated are threatened. In addition, the report discusses the status of Brazil’s six vegetation biomes and the biggest threats to each biome.1

Global Threats to Plants

The report states that more than 10% of the world’s vegetated surface demonstrates high sensitivity to climatic variability, which is alarming given the dramatic increases in global temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, as well as the alteration of hydrological systems. The expected impacts of these changes on world plant species include three possible outcomes: extinction, migration, or in situ adaptation.1

Although it is difficult to prove when an extinction has occurred as a sole result of climate change — and there is little evidence to demonstrate that such extinctions have happened over the past decade — species-envelope models (i.e., models that rely on statistical correlations among projected environmental variables and what is known about species’ environmental tolerances) indicate that widespread climate-related extinctions are expected. It is thought that many species are in an “extinction debt” (i.e., on borrowed time and will become extinct in the future due to events in the past). Furthermore, a changing climate will continue to impact interactions among species (e.g., by affecting distributions of plant pollinators and pathogens). In fact, these interactions have been shown to play an important role in plant population declines and potential extinctions.1

Significant shifts in plant distributions as a result of climate change have been observed over the past few decades in a number of places. In some cases, species have been shown to migrate northward and up mountainsides distances of a mile or more (e.g., Scots pine [Pinus sylvestris, Pinaceae]).1

In addition, significant in situ adaptations have been observed worldwide, including changes in the timing of leafing and flowering in some species, increases in the numbers of flowers in some species, and increases in carbon sequestration and growth rates in some tree species (larger trees are often more susceptible to drought).1

Interestingly, monthly satellite imagery from February 2000 through December 2013 indicates that precipitation and cloudiness are the main climate drivers of vegetation productivity in the tropics, while temperature is the main driver of vegetation productivity from mid-latitude regions to the poles.1

Also of concern, satellite imaging technology has shown that all but one of the world’s 14 biomes saw greater than 10% change in land-cover from 2001 to 2012, with the greatest changes observed in mangrove forests (i.e., forests made up of shrubs or small trees that grow in coastal saline or brackish water that often support a wealth of life) and tropical coniferous forests. Loss of mangroves is largely attributed to human activity, especially the conversion of land for shrimp farming.1

Tropical forest loss is also largely due to changes in land use. The conversion of land to pasture and farmland is a major cause of this deforestation. In Southeast Asia, clearing forest for oil palm plantations, fiber (pulp and paper) plantations, and logging is a serious concern. While deforestation has accelerated over the past 12 years in some countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia, and Angola, the deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon forest, encouragingly, seems to have declined, with an increasing amount of forest being given some protection status. In addition, 10 of the world’s 14 biomes saw a decrease in vegetation productivity between 2000 and 2013, but the other four, including the tundra and the taiga (i.e., the coniferous forest biome that lies to the south of the Arctic Circle, between the tundra to the north and the temperate forests to the south), actually saw an increase.1

The report also discusses the significance of invasive plant species. As a result of centuries of people moving plants around the world, at least 13,168 vascular plant species are known to have become naturalized outside their native range. If and when naturalized species start to compete with native species and spread to a degree that hurts the environment, the economy, and/or human health, they are considered invasive. Though most naturalized species do not become invasive, invasive alien plant species (IAPSs) are one of the most important causes of biodiversity loss. In addition, these species have socioeconomic impacts on people’s livelihoods, as well as ecosystem impacts on agriculture, forestry, water, pollinators, and climate regulation. In fact, the costs of IAPSs have been estimated at nearly 5% of the world economy. There are 4,979 vascular plant species now considered invasive.1

The case of one species, Bermuda cedar (Juniperus bermudiana, Cupressaceae), raises the question of whether to protect, control, or eradicate IAPSs that have become threatened in their native habitat.1

The report emphasizes the need to establish a single global list of IAPSs that includes taxonomy, information about the threat posed by the IAPSs, distribution data, information about control efforts, etc. In addition, the risk of further introductions of IAPSs can be minimized with stricter enforcement of legislation and increased implementation of quarantine procedures. In relation to IAPSs, there is a need for research findings to be more effectively shared between scientists and practitioners who are managing natural areas and implementing interventions.1

There is also a section dedicated to plant diseases. Researchers estimate that plant pathogens may be responsible for annual global crop yield losses of up to 16%. Losses due to pathogens have increased over the last 50 years, probably due largely to increased trade and travel, and changes in cultivation techniques (e.g., using varieties that provide greater crop yields but that are often more vulnerable to diseases).1

The top 10 scientifically, historically, or economically important viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens are ranked in the report according to research effort, as recorded in research publications between 2010 and 2016. An assessment of 21,207 publications about these pathogens from 95 countries revealed some interesting and concerning trends. The majority of this research occurs in richer countries, and while many poorer countries grow plants that host these pathogens and are negatively affected by them, they are not always contributing to or benefiting from this research. Getting local scientists, especially in Africa and Central and South America, more involved in these research efforts would contribute to a better understanding of the global risk associated with plant pathogens, as well as their biology in different habitats.1

Most alarmingly, the report states that about a fifth of plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction (i.e., they are vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered), according to IUCN criteria. The dominant threat to the plant species on the Red List is the conversion of land for agriculture, followed by biological resource use (which includes logging and the gathering of plants). Figure 1 shows the breakdown of all threats to all plant species assessed on the IUCN Red List. More than 20,000 assessments of extinction risk for vascular plant species have been conducted, representing about a quarter of species on the Red List but only about 5% of the estimated 390,900 known species of vascular plants. This lack of coverage means that the Red List does not yet adequately represent overall extinction risks for plants. The orchid (Orchidaceae), mint (Lamiaceae), and heather (Ericaceae) families are all underrepresented on the Red List. The estimate that about a fifth of plant species are threatened with extinction was determined by taking a suitably large, random sample of plant species and assessing their risk.1



There is an obvious need to conduct more threat assessments at a quicker pace, while still ensuring scientific rigor. Certain advances, such as the opening up of global datasets (e.g., maps of forest loss), the digitizing of specimen data from herbaria around the world, and increasing access to species-occurrence data through various services, will enable threat assessments to be made more easily and with more complete information.1

The report discusses the interesting case of Terminalia acuminata (Combretaceae), a Brazilian hardwood timber tree native to a small part of the Atlantic Forest in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Over-exploitation of the species for its high-quality timber led to its presumed extinction in the wild, but it was rediscovered in 2015, 80 years after it was last seen in the wild. This rediscovery marks a success in the conservation of the Atlantic Forest biome. This tree is an example of a “Lazarus species,” a reference to the biblical story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.1

Policies and International Trade

The report discusses how international trade in plants, which is dominated by the agriculture, horticulture, and timber industries, plays such an important role in the global economy. Agriculture is estimated to be worth about $5 trillion globally per year, and agricultural production uses about 40% of the world’s land area. In addition, though most timber traded globally is from plantations, timber from the tropics comes mostly from natural forests. In 2014, about $80 billion of tropical timber products were imported globally.1

The agriculture and timber industries threaten many species. In fact, degradation of habitat was identified as the main threat to 85% of threatened species on the IUCN Red List. In addition, the horticulture industry is increasing demand for some rare species (e.g., Asian slipper orchids), causing unsustainable harvesting of these species and pushing some close to extinction. (Slipper orchids belong to five genera in the Cypripedioideae subfamily of the Orchidaceae family, of which Cypripedium and Paphiopedilum are native to Asia.)1

Created to address the burden that international trade imposes on many species, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) came into effect in 1975. There are currently 181 countries, or Parties, that have signed up to CITES and committed to protect more than 30,000 plant species from unsustainable or illegal international trade. Each Party must designate a Management Authority to regulate the import, export, and re-export of both wild and cultivated plants, as well as parts and derivatives of those plants. In addition, each Party must designate a Scientific Authority to advise the Management Authority on the effects of trade on the conservation status of species.1

According to the report, plants in the orchid family (including species of the genera Disa, Satyrium, Habenaria, and Dendrobium) are subject to widespread illegal trading. Orchids dominate the CITES appendices (species are listed in one of three appendices that afford varying degrees of protection). In addition, widespread trade in illegally-harversted rosewood (Dalbergia spp., Fabaceae) is also a concern.1

It is difficult to determine how effective CITES is in preventing illegal trade, since most of this trade is not documented. However, looking at 2015 data on illegal plant confiscations from London’s Heathrow airport provides some insights. The data confirm the desirability of orchids and the need to retain species in this family in the CITES appendices, as well as the desirability of agarwood from species of the genera Aquilaria and Gyrinops (Thymelaeaceae). The data also indicate that orchid products can be difficult, if not impossible, to trace once they have been harvested and used in supplements and cosmetics. The report emphasizes that CITES enforcement needs to be robust and standardized to effectively control illegal trade in wildlife.1

The report also discusses the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing, which came into effect in October 2014 and provides a legal framework for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits — ranging from monetary benefits to conservation knowledge — that arise from the use of genetic resources from a particular country. There are currently 74 Parties to the Nagoya Protocol, and it is necessary for them to have measures in place to monitor how resources are being used, and to take punitive action in cases of non-compliance.1

The Protocol comes at a time when many countries are increasingly recognizing the value of their natural resources and is a result of concerns about the unauthorized use of these resources. Because the Protocol is relatively new, few Parties have had adequate time to implement new and effective legislation, but a handful of these Parties (many of which contain unique and abundant biodiversity) are at various stages of approving new legislation that will hopefully offer incentives to conserve and sustainably use natural resources.1


Danna Leaman, PhD, a research associate at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, Ontario,  co-chair of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group (MPSG) of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the IUCN, and member of the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) Advisory Board, thinks RBG Kew’s report is valuable. “The report has brought together, in a digestible summary, an enormous amount of information and resources as a baseline for where we are now on some important knowledge for plant conservation,” she wrote (email, July 5, 2016).

Founded in 1994, the MPSG is one of more than 120 specialist groups that make up the SSC of the IUCN, and is a global network composed of specialists who contribute within their respective institutions and regions, and worldwide, to the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants.6

Of particular interest to HerbalGram readers, RBG Kew’s estimate that 17,810 plant species have been used medicinally starkly contradicts previous estimates made by the MPSG. In 2002, it was estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 species have at one time been used in some culture for medicinal purposes.7 According to Leaman, that estimate was, at the time, “more sophisticated than ‘back of the envelope,’ but still a fairly rough calculation.” The MPSG’s estimate was determined under the assumption that the proportion of available flora used medicinally in a few key countries with published pharmacopeias was an adequate representation of the global situation.

“While it could be a substantial overestimate if there are more countries/cultures that use a much smaller proportion of flora medicinally,” Leaman wrote, “it could also be an underestimate, because it doesn’t account for the many plant species used in local traditional medicine that may not have been included in the national pharmacopoeias on which the estimate was based.”

Leaman said she is not aware of a more comprehensive list of medicinal plants than the Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Resources of the World (MAPROW) database, which was created by Uwe Schippmann, PhD, head of the Plant Conservation Section of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and former chair and current member of the MPSG. MAPROW includes more than 30,000 species names (Latin binomials) with referenced medicinal use. “Even admitting a number of undiscovered synonyms, this figure is already much higher [than RBG Kew’s estimate],” Schippmann wrote (email, July 7, 2016).

MAPROW is supported and used by the MPSG and the FairWild Foundation, which promotes the sustainable use of wild-collected ingredients. The database requires at least one published source that documents medicinal use, and it incorporates earlier lists created by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the NAPRALERT database that is managed by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Pharmacy, a WHO collaborating center. MAPROW is one of the sources used by RBG Kew to create its Medicinal Plant Names Services (MPNS) list, and thus contributes to the 17,810 estimate.

“My understanding is that RBG Kew’s MPNS is gradually cleaning up the synonyms in MAPROW, but this is still a work in progress, and there are likely more accepted species in MAPROW than yet appear in MPNS,” Leaman wrote. Although the sources used by RBG Kew are solid, they are certainly biased in favor of sources published in English and sources published at all, and this figure is a low-ball.”

The sources and methods RBG Kew used to estimate the number of species in each useful plant category (e.g., medicine, food, fuels, materials, etc.) are provided in the supplementary materials on the State of the World's Plants website.8,9

It is not known exactly how many medicinal plant species are threatened with extinction, but, in 2010, the MPSG ran a comparison of MAPROW (which at the time included about 15,000 species names) and the IUCN Red List, and found the following: “Just 3% of the world’s well-documented medicinal flora has been evaluated for global conservation status. The proportion of medicinal plants flora considered to be threatened appears to have remained relatively stable (ca. 40% to 45%) between 1997 and 2008. This stability however may be the artifact of a number of variables. The conservation status of medicinal plants is alarming if this pattern is maintained by assessment of a larger and more representative sample of medicinal plant species.”10

The MPSG plans to run the comparison again soon with the more comprehensive MAPROW list, but is waiting until some very large conservation status assessments in South Africa and Brazil are added to the IUCN Red List.

RBG Kew’s report does not provide a list of medicinal plant species, or any species for that matter, considered threatened, but a 2014 IUCN review of 400 European medicinal plant species found that nine species (2.3%) were threatened according to IUCN criteria (see Table 1) and that 125 species (31%) were considered to be declining in population size in Europe.11



Future Outlook

Leaman is both discouraged and encouraged by current global plant conservation efforts. “What discourages me is that plants are mostly invisible to major conservation initiatives and their donors, although most of the rest of the world’s biodiversity relies on plant diversity,” she wrote. “What encourages me is that the plant conservation community — RBG Kew being a leader here — is pushing hard for more attention and support.”

She also thinks more attention needs to be given to useful and economically important plants “because I’m hopeful that this will draw more support for plant conservation in general,” she wrote, “but I’m surprised by how little consideration there is for economically important plants (apart from timber trees, perhaps) as resources that need management and conservation.”

In relation to the global trade in plants, Anastasiya Timoshyna, co-chair of the MPSG and the medicinal plants program leader at TRAFFIC, an NGO whose mission is to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature,12 said she is encouraged by the progress being made by TRAFFIC and other organizations. “Over the past decade, TRAFFIC, together with other partners, including the MPSG, WWF [the World Wide Fund for Nature], the FairWild Foundation, and others, have been working on developing and implementing the best practice guidelines on conservation and sustainable use of wild plants — the FairWild Standard,” she wrote (email, July 10, 2016).

This standard is increasingly being adopted into the wild plant supply chain through the implementation of the FairWild certification scheme. According to Timoshyna, about 300 tons (661,387 pounds) of certified ingredients, derived from 24 species of wild plants whose collection practices had met the FairWild Standard, were used by food, health products, and cosmetic manufacturers in 2014. In addition, more than 20 companies are involved in FairWild-certified value chains.

“Beyond certification, other companies are using the FairWild Standard as a basis for responsible sourcing of wild plants through their internal policies and sourcing practices, including some key traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) manufacturers,” Timoshyna wrote.

Furthermore, reference to the FairWild Standard has been made within national conservation strategies in a number of countries and territories, including Japan, Hong Kong, and Mexico, and it has been recognized as a best-practice tool to support the delivery of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (a program of the United Nations’ [UN’s] Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD]) and other conventions, such as CITES.

Though progress is being made, Timoshyna said she thinks more attention needs to be focused on the sustainable use and trade in wild plant resources, which are often the primary source of health care for indigenous peoples, and whose collection, processing, and sale supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Furthermore, these plants are also essential sources of ingredients for billion-dollar industries that produce pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and foods, with an estimated 4,000-6,000 species, the majority of which are wild-harvested, being traded internationally in significant quantities.

“We need more companies to become engaged with FairWild, and there needs to be greater consumer awareness and demand for responsibly sourced ingredients, which in turn will encourage companies to demonstrate traceability, sustainability, and equity in their sourcing practices,” Timoshyna wrote. She also thinks more attention needs to be given to assessing the use, trade, and threat status of key wild plant resources; enhancing intergovernmental engagement (e.g., through CITES, CBD processes, etc.); enabling effective national regulatory systems that facilitate responsible trade; and empowering producers of wild-harvested plant ingredients.

Though global plant diversity faces a variety of threats, which are highlighted in RBG Kew’s State of the World’s Plants report, the FairWild Standard provides a viable means of ensuring the sustainable harvest of wild plant species.


RBG Kew’s first State of the World’s Plants report provides a helpful baseline assessment of global plant species and marks an important first step toward filling critical gaps in current knowledge about biodiversity and conservation status.

“But to have effect, the findings must serve to galvanize the international scientific, conservation, business, and governmental communities to work together to fill the knowledge gaps we’ve highlighted and expand international collaboration, partnerships, and frameworks for plant conservation and use,” Willis is quoted as saying in a RBG Kew press release about the report.2

Josef Brinckmann, vice president of sustainability at Traditional Medicinals, the largest medicinal tea maker in the United States and the first company in the world to market FairWild-certified products, said he thinks it is important and relevant that the report emphasizes that habitat destruction (e.g., due to land use change for farming and cattle ranching, deforestation for timber, and residential and commercial development) threatens many species with extinction (email, June 26, 2016).

According to Brinckmann, who is also an ABC Advisory Board member, media outlets often overemphasize over-harvesting as the main driver toward extinction. “My observations agree with the RBG Kew data in that it is changes in land use (to farming and ranching) and urbanization that are destroying biodiversity (where medicinal plants are traditionally wild-collected),” he wrote.

In The Guardian article, Willis is quoted as saying she is “reasonably optimistic” for the future. “Once you know [about a problem], you can do something about it,” she said. “The biggest problem is not knowing.”3


  1. State of the World's Plants Report — 2016. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2016.
  2. State of the World’s Plants report launched: From sweet potatoes to orchids [press release]. London, UK: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. May 9, 2016. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2016.
  3. Carrington D. One in five of world’s plant species at risk of extinction. The Guardian. May 9, 2016. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2016.
  4. Vascular Tissue: Xylem and Phloem. Boundless website. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2016.
  5. IUCN Species Survival Commission. IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria: Version 3.1. 2nd ed. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN; 2012. Available at: Accessed June 30, 2016.
  6. Medicinal Plant Specialist Group. IUCN website. Available at: Accessed July 7, 2016.
  7. Schippmann U, Leaman DJ, Cunningham AB. Impact of Cultivation and Gathering of Medicinal Plants on Biodiversity: Global Trends and Issues. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; 2002. Available at: Accessed July 7, 2016.
  8. State of the World’s Plants website. Available at: Accessed July 7, 2016.
  9. Useful Plants. State of the World’s Plants website. Available at: Accessed July 7, 2016.
  10. Tyrrell T, Chenery A, Bubb P, Stanwell-Smith D, Walpole M. Biodiversity Indicators and the 2010 Biodiversity Target: Outputs, Experiences and Lessons Learnt from the 2010 Biodiversity Indicators Partnership. Montréal, Canada: Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity; 2010. Available at: Accessed July 7, 2016.
  11. Allen D, Bilz M, Leaman DJ, Miller RM, Timoshyna A, Window J. European Red List of Medicinal Plants. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union; 2014. Available at: Accessed July 11, 2016.
  12. Overview. TRAFFIC website. Available at: Accessed July 11, 2016.