Kew Garden Of London

The Kew in London, England is like a transplant center for endangered plants around the world.

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London, England are like a transplant center for endangered plants around the world. Nearly extinct specimens will be uplifted from remote spots around the globe and rushed to Kew to be cared for, propagated and increased in number, and then to be sent home again in their thousands.

The Gardens at Kew are truly breathtaking. More than a million visitors flock to see the magnificently arranged gardens laid out on more than 288 acres (117 hectares). With more than 40,000 types of plants from all over the planet, Kew ranks as one of the top gardens in the world. But to admire the public gardens is only to scratch the surface of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Kew Gardens' rise to fame began when Sir Joseph Banks, botanist with Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery to the South Pacific, organized a massive plant gathering project, with specimens to be deposited at Kew. From that point on botanists travelled the world in search of rare specimens that they could bring back to Kew for classification. Now, Kew has one of the largest collections of dried and pressed vegetation in the world - with details of about 6,500,000 plants in it's files.

Representatives of Kew Gardens were sometimes sent out on international missions to transplant vegetation from one country to another. Just such a task fell to a young man by the name of David Nelson in 1787. Nelson, a Kew gardener, was to collect carbohydrate rich breadfruit from Tahiti in the South Pacific and plant them as a food source in the Caribbean. Unfortunately for him, Nelson was a passenger on the ill-fated Bounty, under the command of Captain Bligh. When the crew, under Fletcher Christian, mutinied, Nelson found himself a castaway with Bligh. He died after reaching land in Indonesia.

Undaunted, the Royal Society sent out other representatives and the breadfruit finally found a new home on the island of St. Vincent. Meanwhile, back at Kew gardens the science of economic botany was advancing rapidly. Economic botany is the search for and study of plants that can be used for medicine and other things that can benefit humankind. Botanists at Kew played a large part in the production of quinine, an antimalarial drug extracted from the bark of a Peruvian cinchona tree.

Another great Kew success story relates to the transplanting of rubber tree seeds from South America to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka). 70,000 rubber tree seeds were extracted from South America and shipped to London. From there they travelled by train to Kew. Of the 70,000 only 2,397 germinated successfully. Two moths later 1,919 of the plants were sent to Ceylon. The vast rubber plantations that exist in that land today are the result.

Today the Gardens serve as a center for disseminating knowledge on economic plants suitable for cultivation in different regions of the world. This is particularly the case with regard to the arid tropics. The directors of Kew believe that, with the depletion of fossil fuel reserves such as coal and oil, mankind will be forced to use plants as its primary source of fuel and medicinal compounds. At that time, the research done at Kew will be vital to our continued living.

Kew Gardens is also at the forefront of plant preservation. Of the 300,000 plants that live on the five continents, some 20,000 of them are threatened with extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature maintains a monitoring unit at Kew Gardens. Scientists at this unit carefully study the seeds of endangered plants and observe the optimum conditions for their cultivation. They then look at how they can mimic the plant's environment. They then begin propagating the endangered species.

To further ensure that threatened species are cared for properly, a plan has developed wherein all threatened species are grown in more than one botanical garden. The exchange of seeds between gardens has led to the establishment of seed banks.

By such efforts the dedicated team at Kew Gardens are doing a vital work in preserving the beauty of nature as well as uncovering it's hidden natural remedies for the ills that plague mankind.

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