You have to fast-forward almost 80 years from the origins of Fauna & Flora International (FFI) before you find any formal acknowledgement of our interest in things botanical, but plant conservation was on our agenda long before ‘Flora’ featured in our actual name.
As early as 1933, FFI president Lord Onslow chaired a historic conference that spawned a landmark document granting international protection to a list of animals and, for the first time, a named plant – the weird and wonderful Welwitschia.
As approaches to wildlife conservation became more sophisticated and holistic, the focus shifted from a narrow preoccupation with individual species to encompass broader habitats and even whole ecosystems. And with that shift came a growing awareness that plants are no less vital to the equilibrium of these ecosystems than the megafauna and mini-beasts.
Sir Peter Scott, that colossus among conservationists and one-time chairman and president of FFI, was among those rooting for plants in the 1960s. He encouraged Ronald Melville, a retired botanist from Kew, to begin compiling what amounted to a Red List of flowering plants. This Herculean task was taken over by IUCN and Kew under the umbrella of a Threatened Plants Committee. The appearance of the IUCN Plant Red Data Book in 1978 put flora conservation firmly on the world map, but it could only skim the surface, featuring a mere 1% of the estimated 25,000 threatened plant species.