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21 Percent of World’s Plants Could Disappear


One in five of the world’s plants is currently at risk of disappearing forever. That is what a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London says.

The report is one of the first to try to describe all the plants known to science. It says scientists have so far identified 391,000 plants. And, it says, more than 80,000 of those are in danger of becoming extinct.

Why are plants disappearing?

The plants are endangered by growing populations and clearing land for agriculture and urban development.

Steve Bachman is a researcher with the Royal Botanical Gardens.

“There's a lot of mouths to feed in the world now and that's growing, and we need the land. So basically the land’s 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.”

Plants are also threatened by logging and climate change.

Scientists say governments should do more to create protected areas.

Kathy Willis is director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens. She says scientists need to identify which areas are important to conserve, or protect, for their diversity.

Willis also says scientists need to identify which areas should be developed.

Some plants are stars – but most do not get much attention

Even while some plants are disappearing, scientists are discovering others. Each year, scientists identify about 2,000 new plants.

Last year, a specialist discovered a new plant in Brazil while viewing photographs posted on Facebook by a fan of flowers. The plant is a 1.5 meter insect-eating sundew.

What are sundews?

They are one type of carnivorous plant. In other words, they trap and eat insects for food. These kinds of insect-eating plants are very popular on the Internet.

But other plants do not get the same amount of attention.

Scientists says a general lack of interest in plants creates problems. Botany — the study of plants — is just not one of the more popular subjects in school.

Kathy Willis says people should study botany because plants are so important to humans.

“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.”

But collecting and recording data on plants is a very difficult job. So difficult that botanists find it almost impossible to document all the plants that are becoming extinct.

I’m Anne Ball.

George Putic wrote this story for VOA News. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

extinct – adj. no longer existing

urban – adj. relating to cities

diversity – n. the quality of having many different types

underpin – v. to strengthen or support from below, to hold up

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