Sun, Aug 11, 2019 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Foundation is saving plant species

By Wu Po-wei and Ko Lin  /  CNA

Dr Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation Center head Li Chia-wei stands next to a plant at the center in Pingtung County on July 10.

Photo: CNA

A growing number of plant species are going extinct because of climate change, posing a serious threat to the planet. Once they are gone, they are lost forever — or maybe not.

A Taiwanese nongovernmental organization, the Dr Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation Center (KBCC), is combating this trend through its dedication to conserving plants, hoping ultimately to reintroduce endangered species into nature.

The KBCC has collected 33,309 plant species, mostly tropical and subtropical, making it the world’s largest plant repository in term of varieties, said Li Chia-wei (李家維), who heads the Pingtung County-based plant shelter.

England’s Royal Botanic Gardens has about 18,000 species, the US’ Missouri Botanical Garden has 17,500 and China’s Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden has 13,000, Li said.

The KBCC keeps live species instead of storing seeds in a controlled environment like other conservation programs, such as England’s Millennium Seed Bank Project.

The center said its approach gives endangered plants the chance to proliferate, making it more likely that they can be recultivated in their original environment.

Among the KBCC’s collection are plant species endemic to Taiwan, such as the critically endangered Lithocarpus formosanus and Rhododendron kanehirai, which is extinct in the wild, according to the center’s database.

The collection also includes several critically endangered plants found on Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼), such as the Endiandra coriacea, Polyalthia liukiuensis and Pinanga tashiroi.

This Noah’s Ark of flora has focused mainly on supporting local plant conservation efforts and serving as a model for similar undertakings worldwide.

The KBCC has also played a role in advancing plant preservation efforts in other countries, including the Solomon Islands, known for its rich and diverse flora.

In 2013, the center teamed up with Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund, a government-funded agency involved in foreign agricultural aid programs, to help the Solomon Islands inventory and conserve its plant resources, Li said.

The challenges in store for the project were evident as soon as the team arrived in the country, Li said, citing as an example the need bring materials from Taiwan to construct a greenhouse so that living plants could be conserved.

However, the project’s importance was obvious during its five-year run, as native plant species were threatened by logging and the clearing of land for cash crops such as palm oil and cocoa.

“The logging business in the Solomon Islands is mainly run by Chinese, so most of the logs are shipped there,” Li said, adding that some were also destined for Taiwan.

The survey team, comprised of botany experts, archived 5,000 specimens of different plants, including a variety of orchids and other wild vascular plants that had never been identified before, he said.

The team also staged workshops and set up modern equipment at the government-run National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens, as well as helping to publish an illustrated survey of Solomon Islands flora to give the country a sound foundation for further conservation and sustainability.

“Plant conservation knows no boundaries,” Li said.

In 2016, the team tried to duplicate its success in Sao Tome and Principe, also renowned for a rich ecosystem, but the naton later broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan and the project was suspended, Li said.

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