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The kingdom of plants is vast and varied. From a tiny iris to a towering redwood, from the prairie grasses of the Great Plains to the dense vines and ferns of the rainforest understory, plants drive the engine of our planet. Their importance cannot be overstated - they convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen, which makes life on earth possible. Starting 3 billion years ago, they have made our planet into the habitable world we enjoy today. The nutrition they create and store stocks the base of the food pyramid, providing energy for most other forms of life. Through nitrogen fixation and decomposition, they enrich and renew the soil. They filter water, provide food, create potent medicines, beautify our living spaces, and furnish a variety of material goods from the wood for our furniture to the cotton for our clothes.
There are around 400,000 described species of plants. Scientists consider 1 out of every 5 plants as threatened. In some cases, imperilment is so severe that there are no known individuals left by the time a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act. A major problem for plants is a lack of information; only about 4 percent of all described plants have been evaluated by the IUCN. Of those, nearly 70 percent were described as threatened in 2010. If that is any indication of the situation for plant species not yet evaluated, we may be facing a future in which the majority of species in our planet’s life support system are threatened with extinction.