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Researchers publish list of all known vascular plant species in the Americas

A team of 24 scientists from around the world, including two from the University of Michigan, have published the first-ever comprehensive list of all known vascular plant species in the Americas. At creation, the searchable database includes 124,993 different known species.

Vascular plants, also known as higher plants, are a group of land plants with vascular tissues (lignified tissue known as the xylem) that transport water and minerals throughout the plant. Because of this unique attribute, vascular plants are able to grow larger than non-vascular plants. Most plant species on Earth are vascular, including trees and flowering plants.

The first-of-its-kind project Vascular Plants of the Americas, led by the Missouri Botanical Garden, combines decades of research and classification into a single, comprehensive list of known plants. 12 existing national and regional lists contributed to the project. The study appeared in Science as “An integrated assessment of the vascular plant species of the Americas.”

Lead author Carmen Ulloa Ulloa of the Missouri Botanical Garden spoke on the importance of their research. “This is the first time we have a complete overview of the plants of the Americas. It represents not only hundreds of years of plant collecting and botanical research, but 6,164 botanists who described species that appear on this list.”

Paul Berry, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and curator of vascular plants at the U-M Herbarium and Lois Brako, Assistant Vice President of Research – Regulatory and Compliance Oversight, contributed to the study.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to merge all of this data into a central database—and do a fair amount of data cleanup and verification in the process—to yield an overall picture of all the different native vascular plants found in the Western Hemisphere, based on verified records covering the entirety of the region,” Berry said.

The nearly 125,000 species are furthered detailed by their families and genera, and geographical foci of their diversity. The list will not remain stagnant for long. According to the researchers, the rate of plant species discovery in the Americas averages almost 750 annually, so this valuable resource will continue to grow.

Xylem is derived from the Greek zylon meaning ‘wood.’

Photo: Disocactus martianus, found in Central America/Mexico.

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