One of the biggest factors threatening plant species is the destruction of habitats, including for farming, such as palm oil production (pictured) and cattle ranching. Photograph: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
Modern civilization has not been kind to the world's flora. More than 20 percent of the plants known to science are facing extinction because more and more of their habitat is being used for agriculture and urbanization.
“There's a lot of mouths to feed in the world now and that's growing, and we need the land, so basically the natural habitat is being converted so that we can have soya plantations, crops, livestock, and as a result, that's really causing species to lose their habitat,” said Steve Bachman, a species conservation researcher.
According to a report prepared by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, out of 391,000 plants known to science, more than 80,000 are in danger of extinction. Along with agriculture and urbanization, the threat comes from logging and gathering of plants, as well as climate change.
Scientists say governments should do more to create protected areas.
“The real thing we need to be doing is identifying which are the important areas to conserve because of the incredible plant diversity they contain and which areas we should be developing,” said Kathy Willis of the Royal Botanic Gardens.
Plant diversity is so great that each year, scientists identify about 2,000 new plants. This 1.5 meter insect-eating sundew from Brazil was discovered last year on Facebook by a specialist who was viewing photographs posted by an orchid enthusiast.
Carnivorous plants have a huge following on the Internet, but other plants... not so much. And that, scientists say, also creates problems. Botany is simply not a popular subject in schools.
“It's very rarely taught as 'this is a really important discipline because plants underpin all aspects of our human wellbeing,' from climate regulation, through to food and fiber and fuels,” said Willis.
Botanists working on collecting and logging the data say for now, the task is so daunting that it is practically impossible to document all the plants that are becoming extinct.