Where have all the flowers gone? And why is their universal popularity not matched by a universal outcry about their continued decline? It’s a question that exercises us on a regular basis at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), usually when some permutation of our name appears in the press. We have been called many things in our time, but Flora & Fauna International is a perennial favourite. The subliminal message, clearly, is that it’s high time we put flora first.
Take tulips, for example.
You may think that it’s stretching the bounds of credibility to put tulips in the neglected species category, but don’t let the worldwide appreciation for an iconic spring flower lull you into a false sense of security. As we’ll see, global adoration for domesticated tulip varieties doesn’t necessarily translate into concern for their wild relatives.
And tulips are not alone in that regard. Some of the world’s foremost floral stars are in deep trouble in their countries of origin. Here in the UK, magnolia blossom is a glorious sight right now. But while we’re busy admiring this harbinger of spring through western-tinted glasses, many magnolia species in their native Vietnam are clinging to survival by their root tips, a crisis that FFI is helping to address.
Many of the wild ancestors of the ubiquitous iris and other familiar garden bulbs are enduring a similar crisis in a South African flower hotspot. Renosterveld supports the highest diversity of bulbous plants in the world, but is one of the most degraded, mismanaged and threatened ecosystems on the planet.
Meanwhile, wild orchids throughout the tropics are continuing to feel the heat as their populations are plundered and illegally traded to satisfy the burgeoning demand for exotic hothouse flowers. FFI has plans to assess the extent and impact of trade in pitcher plants and orchids in Indonesia later this year.
But we’re here to talk about tulips.