Why Plant Conservation?

On Sunday, March 15, Dr. Peter H. Raven gave a very thought-provoking acceptance speech for the 2009 Scott Medal and Award where he was recognized for his outstanding national contribution to the science and the art of gardening. Described by Time magazine as a “Hero for the Planet,” Dr. Raven impressed the importance of plant conservation in a rapidly changing world.

It is important to recognize that we depend on plants for food, medicine, and ecosystem processes. Probably 300,000 valid species have been named, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 more are yet to be discovered. But even of those plants that have been named, we know very little about the great majority of them.

Endangered Ginkgo biloba. photo credit: R. Manduca

By maintaining biodiversity, we allow opportunities to discover:

  • Improved, sustainable sources of food
  • New foods and medicines
  • An understanding of sustainable ecosystems
  • New ways to purify soil and water
  • Sustainable energy
  • How to maintain the beauty in our lives

In Dr. Raven’s lifetime, the human population has tripled while our consumption of the earth’s resources has increased. As a result, the extinction rate is currently several 1000′s species per year. This is compared to a thousand species per year from 1500 to 1950. At this current rate, more than half of all species may be lost by 2100.

Franklinia alatamaha is extinct in the wild but you can see it at the Scott Arboretum. photo credit: D. Mattis

In the face of these overwhelming numbers, there are several actions we can take including:

  • Discover and document existing species
  • Set aside natural areas and protect them
  • Bring endangered species into cultivation and when possible reintroduce them to natural areas
  • Combat alien invasive species
  • Provide alternatives to gathering species in nature

As an individual, Dr. Raven encourages you to:

  • Promote international understanding
  • Learn about the biodiversity around you
  • Act to help protect and preserve diversity
  • Vote to support environmental programs and supporters

To see excerpts from Dr. Raven’s presentation and his recommendations for Swarthmore College, click here to download a pdf of his PowerPoint presentation.

I invite you to visit your local garden, botanical garden, or arboretum to learn about the plant diversity in your area as well as to take sustainability classes to learn about protecting and preserving our environment in your own backyard. Download a list of the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM currently preserved at the Scott Arboretum.

Categorized as Sustainability Topics

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  1. Thanks for these reminders of the roles we can play in the natural world.

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