Guest Column

Why plants need an identity

2018-05-27 00:00
Coca plants being dried. (iStock)

Coca plants being dried. (iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Plant experts in South Africa have a challenging deadline to meet: gather everything that’s known about the country’s 21 000 indigenous plant species into a formal online record by 2020.

It’s not simply an academic exercise; it’s to help preserve the world’s biological diversity. The SA National Biodiversity Institute – helped by volunteers – has an important contribution to make as a member of the World Flora Online Consortium.

The 41-member group is creating a central record of the world’s plants. This list, known as a Flora, is a description of all species and where they are found.

The online Flora project addresses three problems affecting plant species conservation. One is that some plants have not yet been scientifically named. Without a name, they can’t be part of a conservation plan. The second is that names can change and multiply, creating confusion for researchers. Third, there is no single collection of information about all the world’s plants.

Whenever a new plant species is discovered, it must be named. Through formal naming – taxonomy – a species is clearly defined and described. Its definitive characteristics are highlighted, with its relationships to other species.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature evaluates the risk of extinction of species and informs conservation plans, policies and legislation. But it can’t protect an undescribed species.

Taxonomy is not a static science. As more information becomes available, taxonomists try to improve classifications.

Consistent naming is important because names should precisely match the properties of organisms. Environmental managers need this information to guide their strategies.

Taxonomic information is scattered throughout a vast collection of journals, theses, popular articles, books and electronic sources, some of which can be difficult to access.

A Flora that makes information more accessible and easier to share will support the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, which the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity follows. South Africa has signed the convention.

Compiling a Flora is an immense task. A first version of the World Flora Online portal was launched in Shenzhen, China, in 2017 at the International Botanical Congress.

About 6% of the world’s plants occur in South Africa and 3% of these are found nowhere else in the world. Despite this botanical wealth, South Africa doesn’t have a complete, up-to-date Flora. The last comprehensive Flora was published in the Flora Capensis in 1933 and dealt with about 11 500 species. That number has almost doubled since then.

South Africa is making good progress with this project. Information for almost 85% of species has been collected and the first set of data will be on the World Flora Online portal this year.


SHARE: publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Jobs in Western Cape region

Reporting Accountant

Cape Town
Network Finance Professional / Prudential
R310 000.00 - R360 000.00 Per Year

SQL Reporter

Cape Town
Communicate Cape Town IT
R10 000.00 - R12 000.00 Per Month

Cluster Financial Manager

Cape Town
Network Finance
R950 000.00 - R1 000 000.00 Per Year

Property [change area]

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.