Plant Use Informatics

Collating, analysing and sharing data concerning the use of plants and fungi and their products.

Close up of fan shaped leaves of Gingko biloba, the maidenhair tree

Team lead: Dr Bob Allkin

Our work harnesses and deploys information about how plants and fungi are used and managed for human benefit, particularly for health, nutrition and well-being.

We collate, analyse and share datasets concerning the use of both plants and fungi, and of products derived from them.

Our data come from across Kew’s research, from legislation or published research, and from a growing network of partners in either applied or social sciences that work in health, nutrition, conservation or sustainable livelihoods.

Our data and analyses enable us and collaborators to address many and diverse research questions e.g.:

  • the safety and efficacy of regulations, quality controls and R&D
  • predictive searches for new compounds or uses
  • the global distribution and conservation status of useful plants
  • how knowledge of plant uses has been shared between countries, disciplines and over time.

We collaborate with colleagues across Kew on diverse projects and lead on the following initiatives.

Current initiatives

Medicinal Plant Names Services

MPNS is the most comprehensive global catalogue of medicinal plants.

It currently covers 34,000 species of plant and over 0.5 million unique terms employed inconsistently and ambiguously to refer to these plants. MPNS deploys Kew’s core taxonomic and nomenclatural resources making them relevant and useful to health professionals.

MPNS supplies the World Health Organisation and several health regulators with “controlled vocabularies”.

Collaboration with partners in many countries has led to projects exploring more historical aspects of medicinal plant use e.g:

Plants and minerals in Byzantine popular pharmacy

Reconciling Medicinal Knowledge Communities: Learning from the History of Indian Plant Drugs

Plants for Health

A new initiative building upon MPNS that will serve a far wider set of audiences. It is a core component of Kew’s new strategic priority Digital Revolution and will:

  • cover all plant-derived health products (including nutritional supplements, beverages, cosmetics), toxins, allergens and adulterants, and will record the alternative and often ambiguous terminologies employed by diverse disciplines and industries.
  • serve regulators, manufacturers, traders and researchers from a far wider range of sectors.

Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia

UPFC is a collaborative project that involves multiple partners across Kew and in Colombia. The Plant Use Informatics team contribute by: 

  • managing the growing dataset recording how Colombian plants and fungi are used
  • developing the software necessary for Kew and Colombian scientists to curate this data going forward
  • publishing data on the uses of plants (ColPlantA) and fungi (ColFungi) online

Team members

Programme Manager
Dr Bob Allkin

Senior Data Manager
Dr Tiziana Cossu

Research Assistant
Rebecca Lazarou

Content Editor Medicinal Plants
Kristina Patmore

Content Digitiser
Lizzie Bell

UPFC Lead Developer
Joaquim d'Souza

UPFC Developer
Joseph Ruff