Our relationship with plants is – without argument! – one of the most important factors in securing the future of the human race on planet Earth. Botanists – and all those who work with plants, e.g. breeding, nurturing, harvesting, and processing the products – are therefore in a unique position amongst humankind*. Recognising that the recent XIXth International Botanical Congress in China has released The Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences, which has the noble goal of “uniting plant sciences and society to build a green, sustainable Earth”**
The Declaration has 7 priorities: “To become responsible scientists and research communities who pursue plant sciences in the context of a changing world; To enhance support for the plant sciences to achieve global sustainability; To cooperate and integrate across nations and regions and to work together across disciplines and cultures to address common goals; To build and use new technologies and big data platforms to increase exploration and understanding of nature; To accelerate the inventory of life on Earth for the wise use of nature and the benefit of humankind; To value, document, and protect indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge about plants and nature; and, To engage the power of the public with the power of plants through greater participation and outreach, innovative education, and citizen science”.
I doubt any plant-minded individual would disagree with any of those aspirations. However, as my boss [Ed. – yes, even Mr Cuttings answers to a ‘higher authority’…], Pat Heslop-Harrison (Chief Editor of Annals of Botany, and Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology at the University of Leicester (UK)) has pointed out, there is nothing in that declaration about high-level and technical education.
Whilst engaging the public with the power of plants is important, if global goals to feed the future predicted human population are to be met it is essential that there is the next generation of plant-knowledgeable people to do that. And that means training the youngsters of today and enthusing them with the wonder of plants and the joys of working with these green marvels so that we do have a tomorrow. Plants are our future – indeed, they are everybody’s future – but to have any hope of that being assured we need the new cohort of botanists (in the broadest sense of the word) to ensure that outcome. So important is this Declaration’s message that it was published in the plant scientific literature simultaneously in two journals.
However, the people who most need to be reached by this important pronouncement probably don’t – yet! – read those august publications. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us who claim to be interested in plants and the future of humankind to spread the word far and wide. Do reach out – teach, Tweet, whatever – and be evangelists for the good news that is “only plants and ‘plant people’ can save the planet”. In a small way I hope these Cuttings items help to spread the wonderful words about plants. So, do read them, and please do share them with colleagues and your students, and those who aren’t yet colleagues [it’s those latter two groups that we need to reach most urgently!]. Thank you!
* For an early 20th century statement of this all-important relationship there’s Carleton R. Ball’s article entitled “The Relation of Crop-Plant Botany to Human Welfare” (American Journal of Botany8(7): 323–338, 1921; available for free at the Internet Archive). As relevant today as when it was written, almost 100 years ago…Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland) has a new Code of Conduct, “for picking, collecting, photographing and enjoying wild plants”. Why is this important? Well, unless we carefully and conscientiously catalogue and conserve the existing plant resource base, the future for all of us is much impoverished. And if such a code were to be rolled-out more widely, we’d potentially have a global roadmap for preserving our communal botanical heritage…]