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Global Plants Initiative

The Global Plants Initiative (GPI) is an international project focused on digitization of previously unpublished botanical material. This material is made widely accessible for scholarly research purposes through the JSTOR Plant Science online resource.

The Global Plants Initiative (GPI) encompasses two pre-existing Plants Initiatives focused, respectively, on the African (API) and Latin American (LAPI) regions. GPI shares the aims of these projects, whilst expanding the geographical coverage of content and the network of partners to all regions of the world.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was a founding partner of the API, which was initiated at the Association for the Taxonomic Study of the Flora of Tropical Africa (AETFAT) conference in Ethiopia in September 2003. Dedicated digitization staff have been employed at Kew on API and subsequent projects since March 2004.

A primary focus of the GPI projects has been the digital capture of label data and high resolution (600ppi) images of type specimens deposited in participating herbaria. Kew completed the capture our own vascular plant type specimens collected in the African region in 2006 (c. 70,000 records), and of those collected in the Latin American region in early 2010 (c. 70,000 records). Digitization of type specimens from other regions of the world continues apace and to date accounts for an additional c. 60,000 sheets. These records are quality checked and provided to JSTOR Plant Science for inclusion in the online resource which incorporates material digitized by other GPI partners. A pilot project is digitizing type material from our mycological collections.

Complementing the type specimens, JSTOR Plant Science also includes plant information in other forms, making it possible to combine searches and access material from currently disparate collections. Kew has received support for digitization of archive materials for this purpose, notably the Director’s Correspondence collection. Archive material already submitted to JSTOR Plant Science includes over 7,600 letters of Africa-related correspondence and over 7,400 letters of Latin-America-related material, and dedicated project staff at Kew are continuing to digitize the Asian component of this important collection.

In addition Kew has contributed digitized illustrations, archive materials, botanists’ slides and texts. The Flora of West Tropical Africa (FWTA), the Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa (UPWTA), Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA), Flora Capensis, Flora of Tropical Africa (FTA) and Flora Somalia were all digitized within the API project and Flora Zambesiaca (FZ) has also been made accessible through JSTOR Plant Science. Kew’s contribution includes over 1,200 original illustrations from Curtis’ Botanical Magazine. Additional material digitized at Kew includes photographs of artefacts from the Economic Botany collection, and papers from Livingstone’s Zambezi expedition.

Key publications 2006-2011

  • Nic Lughadha, E. & Miller, C. (2009). Accelerating global access to plant diversity information. Trends in Plant Science 14 (11): 622-628.

Project partners and collaborators


The Global Plants Initiative is a growing partnership, which currently includes over 220 participating herbaria from 65 countries around the world. 

 Further details of the GPI network

Project funders


Andrew W. Mellon Foundation