In 2015, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew launched its first Science Strategy establishing its vision to document and understand global plant and fungal diversity and their uses, bringing authoritative expertise to bear on the critical challenges facing humanity today. The Science Strategy also committed Kew to delivering nine strategic outputs with the overarching aim to disseminate Kew’s scientific knowledge of plants and fungi to maximize its impact in science, education, conservation policy and management. The Plants of the World Online portal (POWO), is one of the nine strategic outputs and its aim is to enable users to access information on all the world’s known seed-bearing plants by 2020.
With over 8.5 million items, Kew houses the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world in the Victorian Herbarium and Fungarium in West London. They represent over 95% of known flowering plant genera and more than 60% of known fungal genera and yet, only 20% of this knowledge is available online. POWO is Kew’s way of turning 250 years of botanical knowledge into an open and accessible online global resource.
POWO draws together Kew’s extensive data resources including its regional Floras and monographs, alongside images from the digitisation of the collections. The portal has been designed to maximise accessibility and enables the dissemination of plant information to its users via a mobile, tablet or desktop computer.
POWO was launched in March 2017 with a focus on key tropical African Floras - Flora Zambesiaca, Flora of West Tropical Africa and Flora of Tropical East Africa specifically. Descriptive data from these Floras was linked via a curated taxonomy to images from the digitisation of the collections enabling Kew to finally put a substantial part of these Floras online. In addition, data from Kew’s Grassbase and PalmWeb databases have also been included along with species level data for some but not all Orchids.
It is important to note that POWO is not perfect and represents work in progress – see Limitations below. Ultimately, POWO will become a single point of access for authoritative plant species information, a multi-dimensional catalogue of plant life, including information on identification, distribution, traits, conservation, molecular phylogenies and uses. The codebase is open source and Kew hopes to support existing partner networks to set up their own portals, creating a distributed network of botanical data hubs. POWO aims to become a resource that has global coverage which can empower and inform citizens, policy makers, conservationists and farmers everywhere, about the importance of plants and fungi to life. In addition, a key function of POWO is to ensure that Kew’s floristic data can be harvested and ingested by the World Flora Online (WFO) portal enabling Kew to support the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) Target 1 2020.
For further information or to provide feedback or make an enquiry about POWO, please email us.
POWO is not perfect and represents work in progress. Data comes from a variety of sources which are both monographic (global) and regional in scope. These data sources vary in the extent to which comprehensive synonymy is included, their stage of development (proximity to publication) and the degree to which they have been exposed to peer review.
There exist other reliable authoritative sources of taxonomic opinion for some groups or some regions which we simply have not had time yet to include. Our ambition is for future versions to be more inclusive and comprehensive. POWO is a dynamic resource and content is added continuously. By 2020, POWO will be the most comprehensive single information resource covering all plants but it will be imperfect and not all the taxonomic decisions contained derive from a peer reviewed, curated, authoritative source. POWO therefore should only be treated as advisory. Other, more authoritative lists may exist for particular regions or taxa.
POWO is only possible through the generous support of our benefactors, Michel and Hélène David-Weill.