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Plant Resources II: All the world’s plants (at Kew!)

Well, not quite all. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is home to many living specimens of the world’s flora, and its collections of ‘dead stuff’ – principally from the Plant and Fungus Kingdoms – represent 95% of known angiosperm (i.e. flowering plants) genera and 60% of the known fungal genera. Which, by any metric, is pretty impressive. But, of its estimated 8.5 million specimens (!!), only a fifth is available on-line. So, that tremendous repository of plant information is largely out of sight. That’s a cause for concern to all of us who believe that shared knowledge is empowering. It’s also a cause for concern of the good people at Kew, which is why they’re doing their best to plug that knowledge vacuum.

Flowers planted in front of the Palm House at Kew Gardens
Flowers planted in front of the Palm House at Kew Gardens. Image: Daniel Case / Wikipedia

One of their responses is the launch of the Plants of the World Online portal (POWO). Its aim is simple: To put information on all the world’s known seed-bearing plants (presumably angiosperms and gymnosperms) online by 2020*. POWO’s goal is to disseminate Kew’s wealth of scientific knowledge of plants and fungi ‘to maximize its impact in science, education, conservation policy and management’.

This ambitious plan started with POWO’s launch in March 2017 with its main focus on the key tropical African Floras – Flora Zambesiaca, Flora of West Tropical Africa, and Flora of Tropical East Africa. But, POWO currently also includes data from Kew’s Grassbase and PalmWeb databases along with species level data for some orchids. As you might expect from Kew the information is primarily taxonomic, but the portal allows users to browse – for free! – 336,000 global plant names, 34,900 detailed descriptions, and 19,700 images (which can be copied and used to illustrate one’s own work…).


* So, it looks like the mycophilous amongst us will have to wait a while longer for an equivalent resource. Unless the fun guys and gals of Kew create a parallel portal – SOWOT [‘Shrooms of the World Online Together]..?

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