Mangrove in southern Thailand (Image: Aoife Simpson)
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Plant hunting in Thailand

As we prepare to open our Thai-themed Orchids Festival, scientist Tim Utteridge updates us on an ambitious project that has spanned five decades.
Date: 
29 January 2018
Blog team: 
Author: 
Tim Utteridge

Impressive biodiversity

Tropical rain forest, mangrove swamps, flat-topped sandstone mountains, fertile plains and peat swamp forest can all be found in Thailand.

This magnificent country is highly biodiverse, with around 10,000 to 12,000 plant species. These plants are an essential part of the ecosystems that provide territory for tigers, leopards and elephants. 

Many of Thailand's plants are yet to be described, and until this has been done we have no way of knowing which may be under threat.


Dendrobium formosum (Image: Andre Schuiteman)
Fieldwork in Thailand (Image: Paul Wilkin)
Orobanchaceae (Image: David Simpson)

Discovering Thailand's plants

Kew has developed strong links with Thailand through the Flora of Thailand project. This international collaboration has the ambitious aim of documenting all the flowering plants, cone-bearing plants and ferns of Thailand.

The project started in 1963, and over the following five decades grew to include representatives from nine countries. Over 5,000 species have been described, including orchids, carnivorous sundews, morning glories and bamboos. Partners aim to finish the project with a celebratory conference in Bangkok in 2024.


Kew botanist Ruth Clark in Thailand (Image: Paul Wilkin)
Fieldwork in Thailand (Image: Ruth Clark)
Fieldwork in Thailand (Image: Paul Wilkin)

Saving species

Thailand's biodiversity is under threat, in particular as a result of illegal logging, fire and climate change.

Great steps have already been taken to protect species, for example through the creation of national parks, forest parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The Flora of Thailand project will lead to the publication of plant information that will be essential in targeting the species most at risk.

As part of the project a new generation of talented Thai botanists have been trained, who are now actively helping the project to achieve its goals. This long-term, multinational collaboration is a great example of how countries can successfully work together to protect biodiversity.


Discover more about Thailand

You can find out more about Thailand's impressive plant life at Kew's Orchids Festival from 10 February to 11 March 2018. The festival includes talks by Kew's scientists and horticulturists.

At Kew After Hours: Orchids Festival you can meet Kew's experts to find out more orchids and the ecosystems they are found in.

Browse Kew's Science blog to find out more about our global science and conservation programmes.