The Tree of Life Initiative

Expanding and populating the tree of life for plants and fungi

Palm tree leaves in sunlight

The tree of life is the fundamental biological roadmap for navigating the evolution and properties of life on Earth, and yet many of its branches remain largely unresolved.

Most of the fungal tree is unmapped and even the flowering plant tree is fraught with data gaps, despite the critical role these groups play in sustaining ecosystems. 

This Initiative builds on the successes of the Plant and Fungal Trees of Life (PAFTOL) project to deliver a further step change in our knowledge.

It will equip us with the tools to accelerate efforts to document, identify and classify life on Earth, to explore its useful properties, to understand its origins and evolution, and to predict how species will respond to future environmental change.

The Tree of Life Initiative aims to:

  • Complete the tree of life for plants and fungi. This will include all 13,600 angiosperm genera and 50 per cent of the 8,000 fungal genera, using RBG Kew’s unrivalled collections. It will be achieved in collaboration with our partners around the world. 
  • Apply the tree of life to research on taxonomy, evolutionary biology, trait discovery and ecosystem stewardship. We will use the tree of life to resolve taxonomic uncertainties, understand evolutionary histories and predict traits of interest in our priority groups (e.g., palms, orchids, grasses, legumes, tropical myrtles, succulent plants, and selected groups of macrofungi and lichens). 
  • Deliver a dynamic, open tree of life digital platform, providing the most up-to-date view of the tree of life for plants and fungi. Anyone with an internet connection will be able to view, search and download the tree of life and the sequence data we generate via the Kew Tree of Life Explorer.

The Tree of Life initiative is actively working with other projects and programmes that share our goals:


Accelerated Taxonomy
Trait Diversity and Function


Dr William J Baker

Fungal Tree of Life lead

Dr Ester Gaya

Our Tree of Life publications are listed in our Research Repository.

Explore the tree of life and access the genomic data that underpin them in Kew Tree of Life Explorer.

Data are currently available for flowering plants only. Research on fungi is underway and will be released in due course.