St. Louis operation seeksto catalog all plant species

ST. LOUIS - Humans have studied and named plants for thousands of years, but now a team in St. Louis is leading an effort to create a catalog of all the world's plants.

It's a massive undertaking, creating a sort of encyclopedia of every green living thing, from the papyrus that ancient Egyptians made into paper to the Pacific yew tree that yielded a cancer-fighting drug.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Missouri Botanical Garden has begun a $100 million, decade-long effort to build a database that will include every tree, grass, flower, fern and moss known.

Its creators hope that the "World Plant Checklist" will offer scientists and backyard botanists a comprehensive source of information about the name, range and conservation status of every plant species.

The database could be used to determine if a newly discovered plant is actually new, or to predict locations around the globe where endangered plants might be found.

Peter Raven, the garden's director, envisions the database as a tool for documenting and protecting the approximately 400,000 plant species in the world, about a quarter to a half of which are considered to be threatened by extinction.

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