According to a recent analysis done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, one fifth of the earth's plants are threatened with extinction; endangered plants make up 29% of the plant population in the United States alone. The state of Hawaii has earned the status of "endangered species capital of the world." To some people, plants are just pretty to look at; however, there are many reasons why plants are necessary for the survival of the planet. Animals, humans, and plants are intertwined. Plants purify the air and water, regulate climate, soak up water from floods, and prevent erosion. They provide people and animals with food, homes, and jobs. It is estimated that 40% of medicines are made from plants, and only 5% of plant species have been explored for medicinal uses! For example, rosy periwinkle, native to the rain forests of Madagascar, contains anti-tumor properties and is now an endangered species in the wild. As plant species become extinct, the chance to discover new medicines disappears. Our survival depends on a wide variety of plants; each one is important.
Both nature and man can cause plants to become extinct. Sometimes natural events like volcano eruptions or other natural disasters can kill a plant species in a short amount of time. Other times, a change in climate kills species slowly over time; however, humans are responsible for the endangerment of many plant species, mostly from habitat destruction. Even though they only occupy 2% of the world, rain forests are home to 50% of the world's animals and plants. Every second a piece of rain forest the size of a football field is destroyed for lumber, ranching, agriculture, or development. Pollution, use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals, over collection of endangered plants from the wild, extinction of pollinators, fire and flood control, and invasion of non-native plant species are other big reasons that certain plants are becoming extinct. For example, the rare Rafflesia, which produces the largest endangered flowers in the world [and smells like rotten meat], is at risk of extinction due to its natural rarity, destruction of the Indonesian rain forests, and over-collection by humans. The carnivorous pitcher plants of the United States are another group of endangered species due to the draining of wetlands. Doll's daisy, a type of wild aster, is nearing extinction due to destruction of natural habitat and because of the elimination of prairie fires by people, which help the plant to grow.
Fortunately, there are many ways to save endangered plant species. Be kind to the environment-reduce, re-use, recycle, and don't pollute. Research products before buying them and make sure they are made by a company that cares for the environment, and that they are not made of threatened or endangered plant species. Do not dig up any plants or pick any flowers from forest preserves, federal parks, or state parks. If an unusual looking plant is found, take a picture of the plant, record the location, and do some research to see if it is a protected species. If it is, notify a parent, university, or conservation group. Sometimes seeds of endangered species are available from seed saving groups; if possible, grow endangered plants that are native to the area, and share them with friends. Do not plant any non-native species that could become invasive. Write letters to state senators and representatives asking them to support legislation that protects endangered species; write letters to newspapers explaining the importance of endangered flowers and plants. Educate friends, family, and classmates about the dangers of plant extinction and what they can do.
Written By Ava Rose.