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International Rhododendron Experts Meet to Develop an Action Plan for Threatened Species
25 April 2013
The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, the Rhododendron Species Conservation Group and BGCI jointly hosted a two-day conference with the aim to develop a coordinated action plan to save threatened Rhododendron species from extinction in the wild.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh played host on 20th & 21st April to the most knowledgeable and influential group of international Rhododendron experts ever assembled under one roof. Although common in cultivation, research by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), which led to the publication of The Red List of Rhododendrons in 2011, showed that a quarter of the more than 1,000 known species of Rhododendron are under threat in their native habitats.
Famous for their flowers, Rhododendrons (including azaleas) have long drawn plant hunters to their centres of diversity in the Himalayas and mountains of Southeast Asia. In their native habitats, Rhododendrons are valued for their medicinal properties, and in some communities they have a wide range of other uses, including firewood, timber, teas, jams, narcotics and also as a source of insecticide. Rhododendrons grow in areas of high rainfall and high humidity on acidic soils; conditions under which few plants would survive. They stabilize slopes and protect watersheds, notably in the Himalayas where five of Asia’s major rivers start. Deforestation on a massive scale, for timber, mining, clearance for grazing, road construction, or to make way for development of towns and tourist infrastructure, is having major impact on the native habitat of Rhododendrons.
The Red List of Rhododendrons was a major step forward in recording the data available to taxonomists and scientists. The publication is available on the BGCI website and will enable the conference delegates, and other knowledgeable individuals, to make an input to verify the data and add further details from their findings during expeditions in the field. In this way the 290 species which were classified as ‘Data Deficient’ will each be targeted with the aim of making a viable assessment, wherever this is practicable. Taxonomists and scientists residing in the Himalayas and Southeast Asia will also seek to establish the numbers and locations of these plants in the wild. Educating people in the local communities and developing their horticultural skills to care for threatened plants in the wild, and encouraging them to take an active role as custodians of their plant heritage, is a vitally important component of the plan.
To visit BGCI's Rhododendron pages and download The Rhododendron Red List and the global ex situ survey, click here.
To find out more about the Rhododendron Species Conservation Group, click here.
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The Rhododendron Red List
A quarter of the world's Rhododendron species are threatened with extinction in the wild.
Global ex situ survey of Rhododendron collections
Many of the Critically Endangered or Endangered taxa are currently not known to cultivation and therefore at great risk of extinction if threats that they are facing in the wild are not addressed.
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Over 8000 tree species, 10% of the world’s total, are threatened with extinction. The Global Trees Campaign is addressing the problems with help from botanic gardens and BGCI.