Scientists have split the atom, landed on the moon and sequenced the human genome but are a long way from documenting the world’s flora [1]. Current estimates of the number of described species of flowering plants range from 230,000-420,000 [1,2]. The last attempt to monograph the world’s flora was that of de Candolle in the mid-19th century. Since that time, the world has been explored at much finer resolution and the number of specimens in herbaria has increased enormously [3,4]. Recent attempts such as the Species Plantarum project have failed because of overambitious aims or lack of finance. Comprehensive monographic treatments in the past 50 years are few [5–7] and often of groups that are relatively small. A major problem for contemporary taxonomy is the sheer volume of material associated with any large taxonomic group. The burden of historical and contemporary literature, the volume of specimens housed in herbaria from many parts of the world, in combination with the tasks of species delimitation, writing keys and describing new species, means that many species-rich tropical groups of plants remain relatively untouched in modern times. If knowledge of the taxonomy of the world’s flora is to be greatly enhanced, pragmatic fast electronic and innovative solutions, focused on a single global agenda —the species level inventory—, are essential [8,9]. This proposal aims to begin the process of developing such novel and innovative solutions.

The text above was the opening paragraph for a grant application to The Leverhulme Trust, submitted in 2012, to write what we called a ‘Foundation monograph’ of Ipomoea. The launch of this website coincided with two major publications: A monograph of Ipomoea in the New World (a taxonomic revision of the 425 American species, published in 2020) and A taxonomic monograph of Ipomoea integrated across phylogenetic scales (phylogenetic trees and methodology for integrating DNA and morphology), published in 2019. This website was designed primarily as a platform to make available the databases that underlie this project, both taxonomical and corological. To date, we have studied c. 30,000 herbarium specimens from over 100 herbaria worldwide, and sequenced thousands of samples for DNA barcodes or whole genome scale data. In addition, we now have in place a robust phylogenetic framework with which to interpret the evolution of this group of plants. All phylogenies are also available on this site, together with the extensive results of our research on the origin and evolution of sweet potato.

 

References

1. Paton et al., Taxon 57, 602–611 (2008). || 2. Scotland & Wortley, Taxon 52, 101–104 (2003). || 3. Prance, Annals Missouri Botanical Garden 64, 659–684 (1977). || 4. Prance, Taxon 50, 345–359 (2001). || 5. Prance, Flora Neotropica 9, 409 (1972). || 6. Hilliard & Burtt, Edinburgh Journal of Botany 59, 1–210 (2002). || 7. Pennington, The Genus Inga (The Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, 1997). || 8. Wilson, Science 289, 2279 (2000). || 9. Wilson, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 18, 77–80 (2003).