In an 80-page report that was based on a wealth of data collected from reports, notes in laboratory notebooks, and any other means of listing plants, it was revealed that the Earth has at least 390,900 species of plants. Those are just the known species across the globe. In areas that are untouched, above and below ground, there could be many more.
State of World’s Plants
The report, titled the State of World’s Plants, offered more than just a list of plant species. It also identified which ones are currently used by man, unique features, and other elements specific to plants and their details. This is the first-ever report of its kind, and what it offered was very revealing in terms of how little the world really knows about the plants that thrive on it. It also offered some startling conclusions about the impact of the growing human population.
This report did not include algae or moss, so it doesn’t technically include all of the green or brown things that grow on the planet. However, it did include flowering plants, of which there are 369,400. Flowering or not, humans only use as many as 30,000 species out of the 390,900 identified. Around 17,000 of the plants listed have known medicinal properties that are used by man. Only 5,500 of all plants are consumed by humans. A little over 2,000 plants on the list were plants that were discovered and cataloged in 2015. One of those plants was a carnivorous plant that stands about 1.5 meters tall.
Impact of Man
Because there has never previously been a list of global plants, it is impossible to say with any accuracy just how many plants have become extinct. Even when fossils are found and cataloged, this type of list is not possible because there may be other plants that are still unknown. The one thing that can be said with certainty is that 20% of all of the plants listed are currently in danger of becoming extinct.
Man has a significant role to play in the extinction of these plants. As the population grows, and more structures are built, plant life is removed from the areas where structures are built. Those are just the direct deaths of plants. There is always an indirect impact on any ecological system that is changed in any way.
Man is now able to travel just about anywhere in the world. That means species can be brought in, whether by accident or on purpose, to new areas. Each species has an impact on the system it grows in. Sometimes that impact is death or disease. The same is true when animals migrate or become extinct.
Plants of the Future
Now that there is a list of global plants, scientists can begin filling their laboratory notebooks in earnest as they explore the details and functions of some of the lesser-known species. There may be uses and dangers that have yet to be thought of at all. At the very least, it’s important to learn how one species might impact another, or whole ecosystems, so that extinction and hybrid options can be better understood.