Threatened Plant Species: Stories of 9 species you may find in a botanic garden near you

Havard Ostgaard
February 12, 2024


Plants are the foundation of life itself, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear, the medicines we take and the air we breathe. Yet, despite their pivotal role, many plant species face extinction caused by habitat destruction, climate change and other human activities, threatening the balance of entire ecosystems. Though often overshadowed by other environmental concerns, we cannot overstate the importance of conserving plant biodiversity.

Effective conservation efforts rely on a coordinated approach supported by quality record-keeping and monitoring systems. Through data-driven conservation, we can support targeted interventions, enable the assessment of conservation measures, and provide invaluable data for understanding ecological dynamics and formulating evidence-based policies.

This article focuses on nine threatened plant species, highlighting their ecological significance, conservation status, and the importance of proactive conservation measures. By advocating for the preservation of endangered species and emphasizing the need for robust documentation, we aim to support collective action to safeguard our green guardians and preserve biodiversity for future generations.

Rafflesia mira: Monster Flower

Imageeazytraveler (CC BY-NC 4.0)

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered

Hidden within the lush rainforests of Borneo lies one of nature's most mysterious creations – Rafflesia mira, commonly known as the Monster Flower. With its colossal size, foul odor, and elusive nature, this botanical marvel has captured the imaginations of scientists and adventurers alike.

Rafflesia mira belongs to the genus Rafflesia, renowned for producing the largest flowers in the world. This parasitic plant has no roots, stems, or leaves of its own, relying entirely on its host, typically a species of Tetrastigma vine, for nutrients. What sets Rafflesia mira apart is its sheer size – its blooms can reach diameters of over one meter, earning it the title of the largest flower on Earth.

While its size alone is awe-inspiring, what truly intrigues researchers and visitors alike is the flower's putrid scent. Rafflesia mira emits a foul odor reminiscent of rotting flesh, earning it another moniker – the Corpse Flower. This pungent aroma serves a vital purpose, attracting carrion flies and other pollinators that are drawn to the scent of decay.

Encountering Rafflesia mira in the wild is a rare and elusive experience. The plant spends most of its life hidden beneath the forest canopy, only emerging to bloom briefly, typically lasting only a few days. Coupled with its limited distribution in remote rainforest habitats, this rarity has led to the Monster Flower being classified as endangered, further adding to its mystique.

The conservation of Rafflesia mira and its habitat is paramount to its survival. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and illegal poaching threaten this unique species. Efforts to protect its rainforest home and raise awareness about the importance of conservation are essential to safeguarding the future of the Monster Flower.

Beyond its scientific allure, Rafflesia mira holds cultural significance for the indigenous communities of Borneo, who regard it as a symbol of their ancestral connection to the land. Additionally, the plant plays a vital ecological role as a pollinator attractant and contributes to the biodiversity of its rainforest habitat.

Further reading

Dracaena cinnabari: The Dragon's Blood Tree

Image: Rod Waddington (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Vulnerable

In the remote landscapes of Socotra, an island in the Indian Ocean, stands a botanical marvel—the Dragon's Blood Tree (Dracaena cinnabari). For centuries, this tree has fascinated people with its mythical name and striking appearance. 

According to local legend, the Dragon's Blood Tree earned its name from the mythical tale of a dragon slain by Hercules, whose blood gave rise to it.

Dracaena cinnabari belongs to the Asparagaceae family and is native to Socotra. It thrives in harsh, arid conditions. Its distinctive umbrella-shaped crown and gnarled branches make it a unique feature of the island's landscape.

The tree's most intriguing feature is its resin, which turns deep red when wounded. This resin has been prized for centuries for its medicinal, ceremonial, and commercial uses, adding to the tree's allure.

Despite its cultural and ecological significance, the Dragon's Blood Tree faces threats such as habitat loss, climate change, and overexploitation. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect this species and its habitat.

Beyond its cultural significance, the tree plays a vital role in Socotra's ecosystem by providing habitat and sustenance for endemic species and helping to prevent soil erosion.

The Dragon's Blood Tree symbolizes nature's resilience, having adapted to thrive in challenging environments over millennia. Its survival underscores the importance of conservation efforts in preserving biodiversity.

Further reading

Adansonia perrieri: Baobab Tree

ImageHughesdarren (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Critically Endangered

In the sun-baked landscapes of Madagascar, one can find a living monument to resilience and longevity – the Baobab tree (Adansonia perrieri). Revered for centuries by indigenous cultures and admired by travelers worldwide, this iconic tree stands as a symbol of endurance in the face of adversity. 

Adansonia perrieri, commonly known as the Baobab tree, is a member of the Malvaceae family. Its distinctive appearance, with a massive trunk that tapers towards the top, makes it instantly recognizable. Often referred to as the "Tree of Life," the Baobab's ability to thrive in arid conditions and store water in its trunk is remarkable.

For the people of Madagascar, the Baobab tree holds profound cultural significance. It is revered as a sacred symbol of strength, wisdom, and community. Throughout history, various parts of the tree, including its fruits, leaves, and bark, have been utilized for medicinal purposes, culinary delights, and traditional rituals.

The Baobab tree plays a vital role in Madagascar's fragile ecosystem. Its large, hollow trunks provide shelter and nesting sites for a myriad of wildlife, while its nutritious fruits sustain countless species, including humans, lemurs, and birds. The tree's extensive root system also helps stabilize the soil and prevent erosion in the region's dry, sandy landscapes.

Despite its cultural and ecological importance, the Baobab tree faces numerous threats to its survival. Deforestation, habitat loss, and climate change are taking their toll on these majestic giants. Conservation efforts, including reforestation initiatives and sustainable land management practices, are essential to safeguarding the future of the Baobab tree and its associated biodiversity.

The Baobab tree's timeless presence in the Madagascan landscape is a poignant reminder of the interconnectedness of all life forms on our planet. 

Further reading

Ginkgo biloba: The Maidenhair Tree

ImageAgnieszka Kwiecień, Nova (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Endangered

Few trees hold as much mystique and historical significance in the world of botanical wonders as Ginkgo biloba. Revered for its resilience, distinctive fan-shaped leaves, and medicinal properties, this species has captured the imagination of cultures across the globe for millennia. 

Often referred to simply as Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree, this unique species has survived virtually unchanged for over 270 million years. Believed to be the only living member of the Ginkgoaceae family, it is considered a "living fossil", providing a window into the Earth's ancient past.

One of the most recognizable features of the Ginkgo tree is its fan-shaped leaves, which turn a brilliant golden-yellow in the fall before carpeting the ground with a vibrant tapestry of color. Its slender, elegant branches and deeply furrowed bark add to its aesthetic appeal, making it a favorite choice for urban landscaping and botanical gardens.

Throughout history, the Ginkgo tree has held profound cultural significance in various parts of the world. In China, where it is native, the Ginkgo is revered as a symbol of longevity, resilience, and hope. Its leaves are often depicted in traditional art and literature, representing endurance and vitality.

Ginkgo biloba's therapeutic properties have been recognized for centuries. Extracts from its leaves have been used in traditional medicine to improve cognitive function, enhance circulation, and alleviate symptoms of conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Modern research has validated many of these claims, leading to the widespread use of Ginkgo supplements in alternative medicine practices.

Despite its ancient origins, Ginkgo biloba has proven remarkably adaptable to urban environments. It thrives in polluted city streets, tolerating poor soil conditions, air pollution, and compacted soil with ease. This resilience has earned it the title "urban survivor" and has become a popular choice for street tree planting in cities worldwide.

While Ginkgo biloba is considered endangered, conservation efforts are essential to protect its genetic diversity and natural habitats. Urbanization, habitat loss, and climate change pose significant threats to the long-term survival of this ancient species. Initiatives to preserve Ginkgo populations in their native range and promote sustainable cultivation practices are critical for safeguarding its future.

Ginkgo biloba is a testament to nature's enduring power and the timeless wisdom contained within its ancient branches.

Further reading

Araucaria araucana: The Monkey Puzzle Tree

ImageDicklyon (CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Endangered

Nestled within the rugged landscapes of South America, Araucaria araucana, better known as the Monkey Puzzle Tree, stands as a living relic from a bygone era. With its striking appearance, ancient lineage, and intriguing name, this tree has captured the fascination of botanists, adventurers, and nature lovers alike. 

Araucaria araucana is a living testament to the Earth's ancient history, belonging to a lineage of trees that dates back millions of years. Also often referred to as a "living fossil", it is one of the few surviving species of the Araucariaceae family, which once dominated the Southern Hemisphere's forests during the dinosaurs' age.

The Monkey Puzzle Tree is instantly recognizable by its unique appearance. Its branches are adorned with stiff, overlapping leaves that resemble scales, giving the tree a spiky, otherworldly appearance. The name "Monkey Puzzle" reportedly originated from an observer's remark that the tree's intricate branches would puzzle even a monkey attempting to climb it.

Native to the Andes Mountains of South America, Araucaria araucana thrives in the high-altitude forests of Chile and Argentina. It is well-adapted to the harsh conditions of its mountainous habitat, withstanding extreme temperatures, strong winds, and poor soil conditions. The tree's longevity and resilience have made it a symbol of endurance in the face of adversity.

Throughout history, the Monkey Puzzle Tree has held cultural significance for the indigenous peoples of South America. The seeds, known as piñones, are a traditional food source for the Mapuche people of Chile and the Pehuenche people of Argentina. Additionally, the tree's wood has been used in construction and woodworking, prized for its durability and resistance to decay.

Despite its storied past and ecological importance, Araucaria araucana faces numerous threats to its survival. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and illegal logging have led to population declines in many parts of its native range. Conservation efforts, including protected areas and reforestation initiatives, are crucial for preserving this iconic species for future generations.

Outside of its native range, Araucaria araucana is cultivated as an ornamental tree in parks, gardens, and arboretums worldwide. Its unique appearance and historical significance make it a prized addition to botanical collections and landscaping projects, where it serves as a living reminder of Earth's ancient past.

Further reading

Cypripedium spp.: Lady's Slipper Orchids

ImageSteve Garvie (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Many threatened

Some examples of threatened taxa:

Critically Endangered



Few genera capture the imagination in the enchanting world of orchids, such as Cypripedium, commonly known as Lady's Slipper Orchids. With their delicate blooms, intricate structure, and captivating allure, botanists, gardeners, and flower enthusiasts have long celebrated these orchids. 

Cypripedium orchids are renowned for their exquisite beauty and intricate floral structure. The name "Lady's Slipper" derives from the unique shape of their pouch-like lip, which resembles a dainty slipper or shoe. This distinctive feature serves a functional and aesthetic purpose, attracting pollinators and captivating the human eye.

The genus Cypripedium comprises over 50 species distributed across temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. Each species exhibits its unique characteristics, from the vibrant colors of the flowers to the subtle variations in shape and size. Some species, such as Cypripedium reginae, the Showy Lady's Slipper, and Cypripedium calceolus, the Yellow Lady's Slipper, are particularly prized for their ornamental value.

Lady's Slipper Orchids play a vital role in their native ecosystems as indicators of habitat health and biodiversity. They often inhabit moist, shady woodlands, forming symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. These fungi assist in nutrient uptake, aiding the orchids' growth and development.

Throughout history, Cypripedium orchids have held cultural significance in various societies worldwide. In some cultures, they are revered as symbols of femininity, grace, and beauty, while in others, they are associated with luck, prosperity, and protection. Additionally, certain species have been used in traditional medicine for their purported healing properties.

Despite their cultural and ecological importance, many species of Cypripedium orchids are threatened by habitat loss, overharvesting, and illegal trade. Conservation efforts, including habitat preservation, reintroduction programs, and public awareness campaigns, are essential for safeguarding these delicate flowers and their fragile ecosystems.

Horticulturists and orchid enthusiasts have long prized lady's Slipper Orchids for their beauty and rarity. While some species can be challenging to cultivate, others, such as Cypripedium parviflorum, the Small-flowered Lady's Slipper, have become popular for gardeners seeking to add a touch of elegance to their landscapes.

Further reading

Amorphophallus titanum: Titan Arum

ImageMarie-Lan Taÿ Pamart (CC BY 4.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Endangered

Few plants command as much attention and intrigue in the realm of botanical wonders as the Amorphophallus titanum, commonly known as the Titan Arum or the "Corpse Flower". With its colossal size, distinctive shape, and captivating bloom, this remarkable species has captured the fascination of botanists, horticulturists, and plant enthusiasts worldwide.

Amorphophallus titanum is renowned for its towering inflorescence, which can reach heights of up to three meters (nearly ten feet) tall. Its massive, umbrella-like structure consists of a central spadix surrounded by a frilly, skirt-like spathe, giving it a striking and somewhat otherworldly appearance. This spectacle is a testament to the plant's unique biology and reproductive strategy.

What truly sets the Titan Arum apart is its infrequent flowering. In its native habitat of Sumatra, Indonesia, the plant may only bloom once every few years, making each flowering event a highly anticipated occasion. The bloom lasts for just a few days, during which the plant emits a pungent odor reminiscent of rotting flesh, earning it the nickname "Corpse Flower".

Despite its intimidating name and odor, the Titan Arum plays a vital ecological role in its native rainforest habitat. The foul smell of its bloom attracts pollinators such as carrion beetles and flies, which aid in the plant's reproduction by transferring pollen between flowers. The plant's large leaves also capture sunlight and rainwater, contributing to the forest ecosystem's nutrient cycling.

The Titan Arum has captivated human imagination for centuries, inspiring awe and reverence in cultures worldwide. In Indonesia, where it is native, the plant holds cultural significance and is celebrated as a symbol of vitality and renewal. Its imposing presence and rare bloom have also made it a favorite attraction in botanical gardens and arboretums worldwide.

Despite its cultural and ecological importance, the Titan Arum faces numerous threats in the wild, including habitat loss, deforestation, and illegal harvesting. Conservation efforts, including habitat protection, cultivation, and public education, are crucial for ensuring the long-term survival of this iconic species.

For botanists and plant enthusiasts, the Titan Arum remains a subject of fascination and study. Its unique biology, including its massive size, rare bloom, and pungent odor, intrigues researchers seeking to unlock the secrets of its reproductive strategy and ecological adaptations.

Further reading

Wollemia nobilis: Wollemi Pine

IUCN Red list : Critically Endangered

In the heart of Australia's ancient wilderness, hidden within remote and rugged canyons, lies a botanical treasure unlike any other – Wollemia nobilis, commonly known as the Wollemi Pine. With its prehistoric origins, remarkable resilience, and captivating beauty, this living fossil has captured the imagination of scientists and nature enthusiasts worldwide. 

Wollemia nobilis belongs to a unique genus within the Araucariaceae family, which includes other ancient conifers such as the Norfolk Island Pine and the Monkey Puzzle Tree. Discovered in 1994 in the Wollemi National Park of New South Wales, Australia, the Wollemi Pine was hailed as one of the most significant botanical discoveries of the twentieth century.

What makes the Wollemi Pine genuinely extraordinary is its status as a "living fossil." Thought to have existed for over 200 million years, the species was once believed to be extinct, known only from fossil records dating back to the time of the dinosaurs. Its discovery in the wild was akin to finding a living relic from a bygone era.

The Wollemi Pine is characterized by its unique appearance, with dark green, fern-like foliage and a distinctive bark pattern resembling bubbling chocolate or reptilian scales. The tree typically grows to heights of 25 to 40 meters (82 to 131 feet), forming a slender, conical crown that stands out against the backdrop of its ancient rainforest habitat.

In the wake of its discovery, extensive conservation efforts were initiated to protect the remaining population of Wollemi Pines in their native habitat. Strict measures were implemented to prevent the spread of disease and human interference, ensuring the species' survival in the wild. Additionally, propagation programs were established to cultivate Wollemi Pines for conservation and research purposes.

The Wollemi Pine holds cultural significance for Indigenous Australian communities, who have long revered the species as a symbol of resilience and connection to the land. Its discovery sparked widespread public interest and excitement, captivating people's imaginations and fostering a renewed appreciation for Australia's unique flora and fauna.

Outside of its native habitat, the Wollemi Pine has become a prized addition to botanical gardens, arboretums, and private collections worldwide. Its rarity, historical significance, and ornamental value have made it a sought-after specimen for horticulturists and plant enthusiasts seeking to preserve and showcase this living relic.

Further reading

Pinus longaeva: Great Basin Bristlecone Pine

ImageJim Morefield (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

IUCN Red List: Least Concern

California Native Plant Society (CNPS) places Great Basin bristlecone pine on their watch list (CNPS List 4) as a plant of limited distribution in California. The World Conservation Union's Species Survival Commission (IUCB-SSC) lists Great Basin bristlecone pine as vulnerable, with this classification needing updating.

Nestled within the rugged peaks of the American West lies a botanical marvel that defies the passage of time – Pinus longaeva, the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine. With its ancient lineage, resilient spirit, and breathtaking beauty, this iconic tree stands as a testament to the enduring power of nature. 

Pinus longaeva is one of the oldest living organisms on Earth, with some individuals surpassing 4,000 years of age. Endemic to the high-elevation mountain ranges of the Great Basin region of the United States, including parts of Nevada, Utah, and California, these ancient trees thrive in harsh, windswept environments where few other plants can survive.

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine is characterized by its gnarled, weather-beaten appearance, twisted branches and a distinctive orange-brown bark that exfoliates in thin, fibrous strips. Its short, needle-like leaves and small, egg-shaped cones add to its unique charm, while its ability to withstand extreme temperatures and nutrient-poor soils speaks to its remarkable resilience.

What truly sets Pinus longaeva apart is its unparalleled longevity. Some individual trees have stood witness to thousands of years of history, weathering countless storms, wildfires, and changes in climate. The rings of these ancient trees serve as a chronicle of the past, offering invaluable insights into the environmental conditions of millennia gone by.

The Great Basin Bristlecone Pine plays a vital role in its alpine ecosystem, providing habitat and sustenance for various wildlife species, including birds, mammals, and insects. Its slow-growing nature and ability to retain moisture in its wood make it a valuable resource for soil stabilization and erosion control in high-altitude environments.

Despite their resilience and longevity, Pinus longaeva populations face threats from climate change, habitat degradation, and human disturbance. Conservation efforts, including protected areas, monitoring programs, and public education initiatives, are essential for ensuring the continued survival of these ancient trees and the ecosystems they support.

For Indigenous peoples of the Great Basin region, the Bristlecone Pine holds cultural significance as a symbol of strength, endurance, and connection to the land. Its ancient presence serves as a reminder of the timeless wisdom inherent in nature and the importance of preserving Earth's natural heritage for future generations.

Further reading

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