Recording the world's plant life
Kew scientists are developing a World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. The main goal of the checklist is to provide high quality baseline data on all accepted taxa within a plant family.
Plant collecting in Madagascar
Kew's World Checklist series was born in 1994, when Kew employed Rafaël Govaerts to compile a checklist of the oak genus Quercus. This quickly grew to a checklist of all the plant species within the order Fagales.
A useful tool
For each plant species, the checklist provides the scientifically accepted name, along with any synonyms, together with basic information on its geographical distribution and life-form, such as tree or shrub.
As botanists realised how useful the tool was, Kew set up a programme to compile global checklists of other plant families. They focused on families that were already targets for research, had pre-existing accounts of their genera, or were best known by staff who were about to retire.
In 2001, the focus became concentrated on compiling checklists of all the monocotyledon families, encompassing the orchids, grasses and palms. This list was ‘completed’ in 2006, although the checklist is continually being revised and updated.
The emphasis has now shifted towards meeting ‘Target 1’ of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which is part of the Convention for Biological Diversity. This aims to achieve “A widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world flora”.
Sharing our data - Kew's World Checklist online
Kew's World Checklist contains around 150 plant families, ranging from Acoraceae to Zosteraceae. It is available online and simple to use. You simply key in a family, genus or species and, if the record exists, you are provided with a list of relevant names, with the accepted one highlighted in bold.
A search for Quercus ilex would yield 132 scientific names by which this oak has been known, and of which ‘Quercus ilex L, is the correct name. From the information you receive, it is also easy to see that the distribution of this plant species ranges from the Mediterranean to South Central Europe, and that its life-form is either tree or shrub.
As well as making the World Checklist searchable online, Kew has published a number of hard-copy checklists for specific families. These include: palms, yams, sedges, conifers and aroids.
Helping to save the world's plant life
Kew's World Checklists represent an important resource for conservation action at a global and national level. They compliment specialist checklists focused on particular countries or areas. You can browse Kew's published checklists at Kew Books.
Get involved - Adopt a Seed, Save a Species
We have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020.
Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.
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