Save cactus plants from extinction

Cacti are renowned for their diverse forms and beautiful flowers. Credit: Jardín Botánico Regional de Cadereyta

From Kew Gardens in London, England:

Threatened cacti of Brazil

Kew scientists have contributed to a global assessment of cacti.

It is the first comprehensive global assessment to be published, and found that 31% of cacti species to be threatened with extinction, placing cacti among the most threatened groups assessed to-date (more threatened than mammals and birds).

See also here.

Over 140 new plant species discovered by Kew Gardens scientists in 2015

This 5 June 2015 video from England says about itself:

Carlos Magdalena, Kew Gardens – People of London

22 January 2015

There are thousands of species at Kew; here are a few important ones …. Kew Gardens‘ Carlos Magdalena.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Why this year’s bumper harvest of new plant species has exciting implications

More than 140 species new to science were uncovered by researchers at Kew Gardens in 2015

Lewis Smith

Sunday 27 December 2015

A three-metre orchid, a 45-metre tree and 25 types of acanthus were among the new species of plants and fungi discovered in the past year by Kew scientists. More than 140 species new to science were uncovered by researchers at the botanic gardens in 2015, twice as many as the previous year, raising hopes that new types of medicines, essential oils and crops will be developed.

The discoveries were made across the world as botanists sought to catalogue and study unknown plants and fungi, and to determine their chemical properties. Among the most exciting are 22 new species of trees and shrubs in the myrtle family. They were identified in Brazil’s coastal rainforest, and have potential for use in medicines, perhaps as antiseptics or diuretics, and by the aromatherapy industry.

Several of the finds have potential uses in agriculture, including a type of sweet potato found in Bolivia. It was one of 18 new species belonging to the Ipomoea family – familiar to British gardeners as morning glory. The new sweet potato is unlikely to be grown as a crop in its own right, but it could be cross-bred with the commercial species to create new varieties that might be more disease-resistant or able to grow in drier or wetter areas. Specific genes might also be transferred to create genetically modified strains.

Other discoveries likely to interest commercial growers include five that are relatives of the custard apple, or sugar apple, and ylang-ylang, another important source of essential oils; these were unearthed in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The largest and heaviest discovery of the year was a tree, Gilbertiodendron maximum, which grows 45m high and has a 1.4m-diameter trunk. It grows only in Gabon and was one of eight rainforest giants located in the Cameroon-Congolian region.

Six new orchids were described by Kew researchers, including a 3-metre slipper orchid, Selenipedium dodsonii, from Ecuador. It was identified from a specimen taken from the wild decades ago and stored unnoticed in a US herbarium.

Five new species of toadstool, discovered in Europe and North America, are believed to play a vital role in the survival of some conifer forests by supplying nutrients in return for carbohydrates.

Researchers identified 25 new acanthuses, more than any other family of plants this year, while in Mozambique a small patch of land described by botanists as “highly threatened” by a French petroleum company yielded an astonishing 36 previously unknown species.

Dr Martin Cheek, a senior scientist at Kew, said finding new plants is vital. “They could be important to our survival. If we wipe them out they aren’t going to be of any help.”

Kew Gardens, London, pirate game for children

This video from London, England says about itself:

The Kew Gardens Great Spice Heist – October Half Term 2015

24 October 2015

This half term, something is afoot in Kew Gardens!

Pirate Pepperbeard and his dastardly crew are plotting to steal Kew’s valuable spices.

Help us to save our plants by joining us on an exciting adventure around Kew Gardens, chasing pirates and foiling their dastardly plot to steal our spices.

This activity is included with day entry to Kew. Book online to save. Free entry for Friends of Kew.

Head to the Spice Exchange, located at the eastern end of the Princess of Wales Conservatory to pick up your map.

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered

This video says about itself:

Kew Gardens‘ Carlos Magdalena discovers new species of waterlily

5 June 2015

Carlos Magdalena – Kew Gardens’ resident tropical plant and waterlily expert – has discovered a brand new species of waterlily while on a plant hunting expedition in Western Australia.

From Kew botanic gardens in London, England:

Beautiful new waterlily species discovered by Kew plant hunter Carlos Magdalena

4 June 2015

The discovery of a new waterlily species in the wild surprises experts as an identical plant has already been grown at Kew.

A new waterlily species has been found on a plant-hunting expedition in a remote spot in Kimberley, Western Australia. As plant-hunter Carlos Magdalena investigated the waterlily, it became clear this was not the first time the species has been encountered by Kew experts.

An identical plant had previously been collected in the Northern territory and then grown at Kew. It was thought the lily grown at Kew must be a hybrid — a cross between two different plant varieties. However, the discovery in Kimberley was thousands of kilometres from the location where the original lily was found, and there were no examples of the suspected parent plants in the surrounding area. It was then that Carlos realised it was indeed a well-defined and separate species. He explains:

‘After years of wondering about this plant, it was huge a surprise to make this discovery. Finding the first population was a shock, but then we found creeks filled with just this species — it was breathtaking.’

The discovery is a personal victory for Carlos, as this is the first time he’s discovered a species previously unknown to science. Carlos is already famous for his plant conservation work after saving the world’s smallest waterlily (Nymphaea thermarum) from extinction in 2009.

He joined the expedition in the hope of furthering waterlily conservation but was faced with very challenging conditions. As well as covering hundreds of miles of remote wilderness by jeep and helicopter the scientists, despite careful checks, were still faced with the omnious threat of the saltwater crocodile. The crocodiles inhabitat the lakes, creeks and ponds where the waterlilies grow and posed a serious threat to the scientists, as Carlos says:

‘It was extremely scary at times. Ultimately, if you are attacked by a crocodile, there is nothing you can do but accept your fate as waterlily fertiliser! Despite spending great lengths of time assessing the risk, there were occasions where we had to enter potentially dangerous waters to reach a critically-endangered species that desperately needed further research.’

The team was willing to face the risk as these explorations are such an important part of plant conservation, Carlos explains:

‘It is vitally important that we have a thorough knowledge of how many species there are out there. Without it, it is impossible to protect them. Where they are, how many, which threats they may face — all these factors must be established. Plant conservation of this nature is at the very heart of what Kew exists to do.’

Carlos was part of a team from Kew, Kings Park Botanic Gardens, and the University of Western Australia, who wanted to collect as many native species as possible for cultivation. The researchers also wanted to study and develop the germination, and storage, of waterlily seeds from the many species of Nymphaea found in the vast territories of Queensland and Kimberley.

Once this discovery has been backed up with DNA analysis, the next step will be to officially name the waterlily. Carlos has collected a dozen species from 30 different locations, which have been duplicated in Australia and Kew. If successfully grown at Kew, their DNA will be available for international researchers to study, and will produce seeds that will be stored at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst. And of course, they will be put on display for visitors to admire.

Orchids saved by whisky

This video from London, England says about itself:

17 March 2013

Orchids Festival At Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens is such a special place for me to visit every year. On 9th Feb. this year there was a four week celebration of Orchids held at the Princess of Wales Conservatory called Orchids Extravaganza which was extended till Mothers Day.

This exhibition gave us the opportunity to walk through archways of ornate flowers and to look at the towering pillars of stunning floral displays. I was so fortunate to see this brilliant display of orchids and spending the whole day with them.

As the people were relaxing and roaming freely in the exhibition area I had to capture these beautiful orchids with a fair amount of difficulty. In one section of the event there was an area of scented orchids and it was unbelievable inside it. I still feel the aroma around them. I just thought of sharing this wonderful world of orchids with you all and you will also see what a rich selection of orchids it was.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How to encourage wayside orchids with a bottle of whisky

Friday 1st May 2015

There is a method – successfully tested on both sides of the Atlantic ocean – for stopping the destruction of road-verge flowers. PETER FROST has the unusual details

Lady Bird Johnson, widow of US President Lyndon B Johnson and her good friend British naturalist Doctor Miriam Rothschild both always kept a bottle or two of whisky in the boot of their cars.

The American would have good bourbon, the English woman? What else but a good Scotch?

The purpose was the same in both cases, to encourage wayside wildflowers growing beside the roads.

For Lady Bird it was the blue bonnets, so characteristic of her native Southern states, for Rothschild it was a whole posy of wildflowers in the lanes around her Northamptonshire home.

Snowdrops, primroses, cowslips, cornflowers and poppies and a whole cornucopia of other blooms fell beneath the crude onslaught to make the roadside clean and tidy.

Rothschild and Johnson both realised that modern agriculture had destroyed millions of acres of wild flower meadows both sides of the ocean and for a sustainable countryside we needed to do all we could to preserve wild flowers wherever they grew.

Rothschild died aged 96 in 2005, Lady Bird Johnson in 2007 aged 94. They had both dedicated their later years to conservation and environmental campaigning.

In the US Johnson promoted the protection of roadside flowers being enshrined in the Highway Beautification Act always known as Lady Bird’s Bill.

So how does the whisky work? Well, each of the ladies would, while out driving, watch out for either a farmer spraying herbicide or using mechanised flails and chain mowers or other infernal machines to cut back the roadside growth.

The whisky would be offered, as a bribe, if the rough-handed son of the soil would miss out locations where more rare and delicate specimens were struggling to survive.

Apparently the good ladies’ efforts were successful and many a country lane on both sides of the pond is more beautiful and bountiful today thanks to a drop of the hard stuff.

Sadly far too many roadside verges are still devastated either by chemicals or by cut and slash.

Local councils and private landowners who should know better still spray or cut at the wrong time.

In fact if mowing and trimming is left until the flowers have set their seed the long term beauty of the verges is actually enhanced. Kill-all herbicides have no place at all in the mantainence of our verges.

There are many miles of roadside verges in Britain and if they were looked after properly they would not just be nicer to look at they would also make a major contribution to biodiversity.

Today the most likely place to see a kestrel or sparrowhawk is hovering over a motorway verge. As it stoops on its prey it demonstrates just how valuable these roadside strips are as safe homes for small mammals like shrews, voles and mice and other creatures like large beetles, frogs, toads and even snakes.

Wild flowering roadside plants are also essential for pollinating insects including the much threatened honey and bumble bees. Songbirds feed on the seed-heads of many wild flowers.

If I needed proof of how things could be in a better ordered countryside a recent spring visit to Normandy provided it.

Here the lanes are almost entirely covered with wild flowers. In late April mile after mile — should that be kilometre after kilometre — of the verges were pale Normandy butter yellow with a close carpet of primroses.

Then the brighter and more ragged yellow of cowslips and the strange almost ghostly oxlip.

More shady verges will soon bring forth lily of the valley. The French celebrate May Day giving fragrant bunches of lily of the valley to friends, relatives and on the left to political comrades.

Most spectacular at this time of year are the frequent clumps of hundreds of bright purple pyramidal orchids. They really make a dramatic highlight to a walk, bike ride or country drive.

No Norman farmer or municipal authority would think of spraying or untimely mowing and if they did public opinion would soon put a stop to such unsustainable silliness.

Some parts of Britain seem to have learnt the lesson. On a visit to the Shetland Island of Yell we enjoyed hundreds of spring orchids and other flowers making a brave show beside the roads.

So next time you see someone mowing or slashing your local verge or hedgerow why not have a quiet word, or better still bribe them to leave the little flowers with a bottle of whisky?

Kew Gardens in London, video

This video from London, England is called Top Ten Attractions at Kew Gardens – in just two minutes.

It says about itself:

15 July 2014

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is in Richmond on the outskirts of London, and is one of the most amazing gardens in the world. It has an extraordinary diversity of plants and over 14,000 trees all set within a vast and beautiful landscape layered with history and heritage.

This short film gives you a bird’s eye view of Kew and reveals the must-see attractions within the gardens.

Why cuts might force Kew Gardens to shut. Successive Governments have constantly cut their commitment to Kew: here.

Save London’s Kew Gardens from David Cameron

This video from Britain is called A Year at Kew – 1.1.

It says about itself:

2004. Series 1 – This program follows the daily life of various individuals at Kew over an entire year, showing work on the Gardens, behind-the-scenes science, and some overseas expeditions. It follows the trials and tribulations that affect the myriad of gardeners, horticulturists and the other people who work at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.

From weekly The Observer in Britain:

Jane Goodall and David Attenborough lead fight to save Kew Gardens

Campaigners weigh in as world-renowned botanical research centre faces budget reduction of £5m

Robin McKie

Sunday 13 July 2014

It has achieved fame for being the world’s greatest centre for botanical research, a place where the planet’s rarest plant and tree species are preserved and studied. But now Kew Gardens, established more than 200 years ago, is set to become the focus of an international battle following an intervention by renowned biologist Jane Goodall, who has denounced a recently inflicted budget cut as “unbelievably stupid”.

Goodall, who carried out pioneering work on the behaviour of chimps, has written to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, urging him to hand out £5m to restore the centre’s budget in the wake of financial cuts imposed by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs. “To read that 125 professional staff members are set to lose their jobs because of cuts in government funding is shocking,” Goodall says.

In an interview with the Observer, she revealed that she had made contact with several Kew scientists while researching her book, Seeds of Hope. “There is a tremendous feeling of anger and frustration there and I share it. This an unbelievably stupid thing to do. This is the mother of all other botanical research centres. Britain should be proud of it, not dismantling it. It is like tearing up the Union Jack. That is why I wrote my letter. I want my protest to go viral. I want thousands and thousands of people to protest as well.”

Goodall’s anger is shared by other noted figures. Sir David Attenborough, a former Kew Gardens trustee, said the cuts were scandalous. “Kew is one of the world’s most important botanical institutes and this country depends on it for all kinds of things – for publishing surveys of our plant life, carrying out botanical research and pinpointing imported plants and other species that customs cannot identify,” he said. “To treat it like a playground that can be taxed or not, depending on how you feel, is simply an uncivilised, philistine act.”

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, south-west London, became a centre for plant research as a result of work by scientists including Joseph Banks and Joseph Hooker, a friend and collaborator of Charles Darwin. The garden is now a Unesco world heritage site that attracts more than two million people a year to its historic buildings and spectacular plant collection, the world’s largest. Kew research is considered vital in understanding climate change, conservation and crop improvement, while its other site – at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex – houses the Millennium Seed Bank, a conservation project that aims to preserve plants worldwide.

Many campaigners now believe these efforts are under threat, a claim denied by Richard Deverell, Kew’s director. “Yes, we will probably lose the jobs of around 40 scientists in addition to other staff members because of these current cuts and, yes, further budget cuts are scheduled for next year. But I am confident that by then we will have found new ways to raise money,” he said.

But this was denounced by another celebrity Kew campaigner, former newsreader and former Kew trustee Anna Ford. “Defra was always snipping away at Kew and telling us we had to sell our science. But that is simply wrong,” she said. “Botanical science is not a product to be sold. It is a reciprocal relationship. Kew gets samples from other countries and in return we provide information about how to conserve and protect such plants in their homeland while we are also learning about their essential properties, including their medicinal uses.

“Money should not enter into this relationship. Kew would not have been able to assemble its collection if it had not freely provided its botanical expertise – in an exchange for samples – to other nations. So it is wrong to try to raise money this way. The real trouble is that this government clearly doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about Kew.”

Last month a petition demanding the restoration of Kew’s budget – signed by more than 100,000 people – was handed to 10 Downing Street, while 34 MPs signed an early-day motion expressing alarm “that vital international conservation work would be threatened should further cuts take place” at Kew.

“It is certainly not too late to act,” said Attenborough. “If the government could accept what a dreadful thing it is imposing on the gardens, they could undo that damage with a stroke of the pen.”

Potted history

A garden of exotic plants at Kew Park was originally established by Lord Capel John of Tewkesbury in the mid 18th century and was enlarged and extended by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales.

One of the first structures was the Chinese pagoda. It was built in 1762, when Chinese artefacts were considered strange and exotic, and still towers over the park, providing views of the new Wembley Arch and Canary Wharf.

Sir Joseph Banks, naturalist, botanist and president of the Royal Society for more than 40 years, is credited with turning Kew into a world-leading science centre. He took part in James Cook’s first great voyage between 1768 and 1771 and followed this up by sending botanists round the world to collect trees, shrubs and flowers which were then planted at Kew. The strategic importance of Kew was underlined when, in the 19th century, gardeners succeeded in propagating rubber trees for cultivation outside South America, mainly in British colonies.

Hundreds of Kew’s trees were destroyed in the great storm of 1987, and in 2003 Unesco put the gardens on its list of world heritage sites.

London’s Kew Gardens threatened by government

This video from Britain is called Kew Gardens from above – a bird’s eye view of the world’s largest living plant collection.

By Dennis Moore in England:

Budget cuts threaten scientific and cultural projects at London’s Kew Gardens

11 June 2014

Kew Gardens in London is facing cuts totalling £1.5 million, despite warnings of the impact it will have on one of the world’s leading botanic research institutions.

A cut of £1.5 million from the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has come on top of other financial pressures that have left a £5 million hole in Kew’s budget. The shortfall will lead to the loss of possibly a sixth of the 750 workforce at the institution, with these job losses being mainly in areas of botanical research.

Defra oversees a network of 28 agencies and as part of the governments’ cuts programme its budget has been slashed by £500 million since 2010, with a further £300 million in cuts to be pushed through by 2016. One of the agencies, the Environment Agency, which deals with many critical areas including flood prevention and protection, is to cut about 1,500 jobs by October.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have been one of the worlds’ leading centres of plant research since its creation in 1759. Apart from the scientific value of the gardens, Kew draws in 2 million visitors a year to its spectacular plant collections and historic buildings, which last year saw a 29 percent rise in visitor numbers.

The Palm House at Kew Gardens

The famous Palm House, built between 1844 and 1848, was one of the first large-scale applications of wrought iron and is considered one of the most significant surviving Victorian iron and glass structures in Britain.

These cuts were approved against the advice of consultants at Defra who told ministers back in 2010 that Kew would lose its world-class status, with research declining below a critical level if the operating grant was not maintained beyond 2012.

Kew was set up as a non-departmental government body in 1983 receiving 90 percent of its funding via grant-in-aid from the government. Since that time, there has been a continuous cut in funding that has left it now receiving below 40 percent of its funding from grant-in-aid this year.

As successive governments have cut funding, Kew has had to rely on funding from its partner charity, The Kew Foundation and through the sales of tickets to enter the gardens, which cost £16 per adult. On top of this, it receives money from consultancy work and research grants but this will not fund the £5 million shortfall. These cuts have left Kew ever more dependent on philanthropic and commercially-generated funding.

The plant collection at Kew is considered the largest in the world. At their grounds based at Wakehurst Place in Sussex the Millennium Seed Bank, an international conservation project, has been set up to preserve plants throughout the world. The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is the largest ex-situ plant conservation project in the world.

The seed bank aims to collect 25 percent of all the world’s plants by 2020 (75,000 species).

The overall aim is to preserve plants that are threatened with extinction in their natural habitat. The wild relatives of common crops are genetically related to each other and the importance of these wild relatives is important in respect of food security because these wild crops contain greater genetic diversity and are more resilient in the face of pests, diseases and climate change. The project works with 80 partners in 80 different countries and to date the project has been able to successfully bank over 13 percent of the worlds wild plant species.

The Adapting Agriculture to Climate project at Kew has begun to collect seed from 29 common crop plant relatives whose genetic diversity can be used to breed useful traits into crops that are of commercial interest to better enable them to adapt to climate change, disease and pest resistance. The list of plants includes many of the staples for food including, rice, potato, rye, sunflower, wheat, oat and lentil.

In a 2010 report commissioned by Defra and written by Neil Chalmers, former director of the Natural History Museum, concerns were raised that Kew’s scientific work was already suffering because of a lack of funds. This had led to key vacancies not being filled, and staff being diverted from key areas of research into fund raising.

David Attenborough, one of the world’s renowned naturalists and a BBC television presenter, commented, “The important thing to remember is that it is the première botanical gardens in the world scientifically. In praise of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank he added “The seed bank is of world importance and it should be supported by the government like a proper institution or university and the continuing idea that Kew Gardens is merely a playground and that you just put up the prices to look after it is a misguided assessment of the value of Kew”.

Colin Osborne, Reader in Plant Biology at Sheffield University, has explained the importance of the specific area of plant taxonomy, the science of the classification of animals and plants, an area of scientific research that Kew is renowned for globally.

He argues: “Kew is one of the last bastions of taxonomy, a branch of biology that has been driven to ground in universities because it doesn’t yield immediate impact. It’s a slow-burning science that underpins what everyone else does. We still don’t know the names of vast numbers of species on Earth, and we never will if taxonomy dies. In the current climate, core funding for Kew and Natural History Museums is one of the few ways that will happen.”

Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, an organisation that works to develop education amongst scientists and promoting public interest in the life sciences raised concerns about the impact of these cuts to the Kew’s world class contributions to heritage, conservation and education.

“Seed collections are valuable for conservation of biodiversity and are a potential source of plants with medicinal properties. The collection also includes wild relatives of crop plants. Many have favourable characteristics, such as drought tolerance, which can be introduced into commercial crops”.

The significance of plants and their place in the future health needs of humanity are critical when considering the implications of cuts to research. Some 70 percent of the world’s top-selling pharmaceuticals are derived directly or indirectly from plants, with 80 percent of the world dependent on plants for medicine, whilst at the same time 15,000 medicinal plants are threatened with extinction globally.

The scientists at Kew are working to conserve the vast diversity of plants and fungi that the future health and food needs of the planet are dependent on. It is a social crime that this work is in any way being jeopardised by cuts to funding.
Whilst critical scientific and cultural institutions such as Kew Gardens are threatened by the impact of cuts, the super-rich continue to accumulate obscene levels of personal wealth. A tiny fraction of this could quite adequately fund Kew Gardens and its vital projects for many generations to come.

Arabica coffee becoming extinct in the wild?

This video is called Coffee Arabica.

From ScienceDaily:

Arabica Coffee Could Be Extinct in the Wild Within 70 Years

(Nov. 7, 2012) — A study conducted by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (UK), in collaboration with scientists in Ethiopia, reports that climate change alone could lead to the extinction of wild Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) well before the end of this century. Wild Arabica is considered important for the sustainability of the coffee industry due to its considerable genetic diversity.

The Arabicas grown in the world’s coffee plantations are from very limited genetic stock and are unlikely to have the flexibility required to cope with climate change and other threats, such as pests and diseases. In Ethiopia, the largest producer of coffee in Africa, climate change will also have a negative influence on coffee production. The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide.

These are worrying prospects for the world’s favourite beverage – the second most traded commodity after oil, and one crucial to the economies of several countries. The research is published in PLOS ONE on 7 November 2012.