UCC scientist part of major new report that has discovered thousands of edible plants

UCC scientist part of major new report that has discovered thousands of edible plants

Arbutus unedo, a popular city tree in northern Europe good for wild bees (Credit - Hauke Koch, RBG Kew)

A University College Cork plant scientist has contributed to a report on the world’s plants and fungi that has discovered thousands of new edible plant species across the globe.

The report takes a deep dive into the state of the world’s plant and fungal kingdoms and brought together 210 scientists from 42 countries, including UCC plant scientist Dr Eoin Lettice.

The report was published today by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. The findings name thousands of plants and fungal species as new to science in 2019, including some that may be used as foods, drinks or medicines.

Within the new findings, the team have discovered 1,943 plant species and 1,886 fungal species which were named as new to science last year, including a new species of Artemisia in Tibet, which is closely related to Other discoveries included six new species of Allium, the group plant to which garlic, onions, leeks and chives belong.

Ten previously undescribed relatives of spinach were also found in California and 30 species of Camellia, the group to which tea belongs, were uncovered in China and mainland South-East Asia, among with other discoveries.

State of the World's Plants and Fungi 2020 Report
State of the World's Plants and Fungi 2020 Report

The international collaboration also looked at the importance of plants and fungi which are being used as a part of everyday life globally and what we may risk losing.

The report highlights the pressing needs to explore solutions that plant and fungi could provide to address some of the pressures of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.

Dr Lettice said that the publication of the report comes at a critical time for global biodiversity.

“We live in a time of unprecedented biodiversity loss. Our report sheds light on the extinction risk of plants and fungi globally, with two in five plants now at risk of being wiped out," he said.

"Given the importance of plants to society – they give us medicines, food, beverages, clothes, energy, and more – it’s never been more important that we identify, record and protect species wherever we find them and that we do that quickly before it’s too late."

The risk of losing plants and fungi with an ever-increasing human population was outlined within the report, along with the new discoveries from across the globe.

“Just 15 plants provide 90% of humanity’s food energy intake. Our report shows that there are at least 7,039 edible plant species known to science. These novel crops could hold the key to feeding a growing global population,” said Dr Lettice.

The underlying data behind today’s report is also published in a series of 12 scientific research papers made freely available in the leading journal Plants, People, Planet.

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