Introducing The Global Flora

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At Cuttings HQ we love a new botany journal – even if it’s technically described as a serial. So, we were really pleased to find out about The Global Flora, whose first issue was launched in January 2018. Published by Plant Gateway Ltd, this new publishing initiative is intended as a “practical flora to vascular plant species of the world”. Now what could be more botanical than that? [Ed. – one that deals with all phyla of the Plant Kingdom, i.e. including the non-vascular mosses, liverworts, and hornworts..?] Agreed, but we are where we are, so let’s focus on what we have rather than what we don’t – currently! – have.

 The signboard “Methodus Plantarum Sexualis in sistemate naturae descripta” (Leiden 1736) images according to Linnés sexual systems 24 classes.
Methodus Plantarum Sexualis in sistemate naturae descripta (Leiden 1736). Image: Georg Dionysius Ehret / Wikipedia

According to Chief-Editors James Byng and Maarten Christenhusz, the intention of The Global Flora is “to provide accepted species level classifications for all vascular plant families [i.e. those within the fern and fernallies, gymnosperm, and angiosperm plant groups] based on available or generated molecular data and re-examining the literature and herbarium specimens in major herbaria*”. The goal therefore is “to provide a current, balanced and practical taxonomy reflecting evolutionary relationships”.

The Global Flora will be published frequently and at regular intervals. It will be amply illustrated and should appeal to many different users [e.g. ecologists, conservationists, gardeners and other plant enthusiasts in the applied sciences, i.e. not just the rather restricted audience of practising taxonomists]. True to its word, its first article – “The phylogeny of angiosperms poster …” by James Byng et al. is a full-colour visual overview of the relationships of all angiosperm families currently recognised by APG IV [Angiosperm Phylogeny Group]. It features stunning colour images of flowers of 269 families in-text, and is accompanied by a magnificent, free to download, A0 size [a wall-plastering 841 x 1189 mm; 33.1 x 46.8 inches], poster of the paper’s phylogenetic relationships in one view, along with those amazing full-colour flower images. That graphic is a truly amazing visual experience**. Such a pity it is likely to be out-of-date in the (very )near future as the evolutionary relationships continue to be assessed and re-evaluated, and changed. Still, it records our current understanding of something that continues to evolve as our understanding and techniques of phylogenetic analysis improve, and is therefore a valid historic document.

However, and arguably even nicer, is the stated commitment that The Global Flora will share royalties – presumably from subscriptions to the journal – with authors, and compensate reviewers and editors for their respective duties. The journal views this as important to maintain momentum for such studies to be undertaken, “because relatively few institutions provide time and funds for researchers to do this time-consuming, yet crucially important work”. And an “unspoken consensus of many taxonomists is that the historical lack of remuneration for this type of research is a primary reason that taxonomy does not progress more rapidly”***. Where royalties are unable to be transferred, the sums will contribute to a Global Flora Small Grants Fund that will be used to allow future contributors to undertake herbarium visits and generate data for future treatments in … The Global Flora. Both an outlet – and an incentive – for traditional Botany: What’s not to like?

* Although it’s not stated in that editorial what the definition of ‘major’ is, for those interested in lists of things, the latest census of the world’s herbaria – as at 1st December, 2017 – published by Index Herbariorum states that are 3001 active herbaria in 176 countries of the world, containing 387,007,790 specimens. That number may well need revising upwards if all the world’s private herbaria are accounted for, the importance of which often unappreciated resources and repositories are reviewed by Francesco Roma-Marzio et al..

** Intriguingly, a non-illustrated version of a poster on angiosperm phylogeny by Theodor Cole et al. is available at PeerJ.

*** For an insight into local concerns, but which likely mirror those more globally, over taxonomic work generally, look at the Australian Government’s report entitled “State of the science of taxonomy in Australia: results of the 2016 Survey of Taxonomic Capacity”, and ‘case studies’ in Peter Hannam’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald.

[Ed. – for those who now realise they have a yearning to know more about the value of herbarium collections, we recommend papers by Estevao Souza and Julie Hawkins, J. Mason Heberling and Bonnie Isaac, and Marcia Yerman (in The American Gardener November/December 2017). And, if you’re still wondering what a herbarium is and does, a good introduction is provided by James Smith.]

References

Roma-Marzio, F., Peruzzi, L., & Bedini, G. (2017). Personal private herbaria: a valuable but neglected source of floristic data. The case of Italian collections today. Italian Botanist, 3, 7–15. https://doi.org/10.3897/italianbotanist.3.12097

Souza, E. N. F., & Hawkins, J. A. (2017). Comparison of Herbarium Label Data and Published Medicinal Use: Herbaria as an Underutilized Source of Ethnobotanical Information. Economic Botany, 71(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12231-017-9367-1

Heberling, J. M., & Isaac, B. L. (2017). Herbarium specimens as exaptations: New uses for old collections. American Journal of Botany, 104(7), 963–965. https://doi.org/10.3732/ajb.1700125


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  • Dear Prof. Singer,

    Please be assured that all opinions expressed in my Plant Cuttings items are personal and must not be inferred to be Annals of Botany policy or anything of that nature.

    This post was originally written several months ago (and primarily as a matter of information for the botanical community – as all Plant Cuttings are intended to be). It’s only recently that I became aware of the ASPT’ concerns set out in the link you kindly provide.

    As a blogged item this post also has some ambition to act as a trigger for debate, etc. Your comment shows that aim has been achieved on this occasion.

    I intended to add a note to this post about those important views – again, as a point of information to share with the botanical community. However, your timely comment has done that for me. So, I thank you for raising this matter and contributing to the debate.

    Cheers,

    Nigel Chaffey