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POWO puts botanical knowledge online

Kew has launched Plants of the World Online (POWO), a website that’s open to all, with information on Kew’s vast botanical collections and floras.

Date: 
11 April 2017
Blog team: 
Author: 
Abigail Barker, James Crowe, Isabelle Sims, Rob Turner, John Iacona & Daniel Borg

 

Plants of the World Online (POWO) includes descriptions, images and distribution maps. It uses Kew data as well as linking to Kew resources. In this blog the POWO team explain what they've been working on and outline their ambitious future plans for POWO.

250 years of botanical and mycological knowledge

With over 8.5 million items, Kew houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world. They represent over 95% of known flowering plant genera and more than 60% of known fungal genera and yet, only 20% of this knowledge is available online.

POWO is Kew’s way of turning 250 years of knowledge into an open and accessible online global resource. POWO is one of the nine strategic outputs of Kew’s Science Strategy, to be achieved by 2020. These outputs will make a vital contribution to plant and fungal science, education, policy and conservation management worldwide.

By putting Kew’s scientific knowledge online, we will empower and inform citizens, policy makers, conservationists and farmers about the importance of plants to everyday life. POWO builds on work previously done on the eMonocot project, a NERC funded collaboration between RBG Kew, Oxford University, and the Natural History Museum.

The core of POWO is a scientific plant names backbone. This comes from the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) and the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). There is an ongoing matching process between the two data sources, and some plant families are currently under review. The backbone will be complete by 2020.

From floras to photos

Information from the floras of West Tropical Africa, Tropical East Africa and Flora Zambesiaca are being added to the site to provide detailed botanical descriptions at the family, genus and species level.

Descriptive information is also available for selected monocotyledons (including grasses, orchids, and palms). Selected records also show threat status (for example using IUCN conservation assessments) and data on plant uses. Photos and illustrations from Kew's Library, Art and Archives can be found, along with distribution maps created using WCSP information and TDWG geography.

There are also links to other Kew data sources, such as specimens in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue. As the project progresses, more data and links will continue to be added.

Accessible data for all

We've tried to make the site as simple and easy to use as possible, to let users focus on the complex botanical data it displays. We've particularly focused on the search page, which needs to both be usable by non scientists, and able to run complex queries.

The site is optimised for use on mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers. POWO's code is all open source, simple to deploy, and freely distributed. We hope this will allow other institutions to set up their own portals, using the work we've done as a starting point. 

Looking ahead

We are in active development and are continually making improvements and introducing new features. Future developments will include display of genetic information and phylogenetic trees, identification keys, data downloads, and data visualisation.

By 2020, POWO will provide authoritative information on all of the world’s known seed-bearing plants. So next time you need information on plants, try POWO and let us know what you think.

- Abigail, James, Isabelle, Rob, John & Daniel - 


Acknowledgements

The first two years of the project were supported through the kind generosity of Michel and Hélène David-Weill.