Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants which contains over 13500 species. It is widespread, but the largest species diversity is focussed in the tropics and subtropics. It contains several genera and species of note and economic importance such as Coffea (coffee); Cinchona (which yields quinine, historically used to cure malaria and now as a component of tonic water); and Gardenia and Bouvardia (ornamental cultivars). This particular expedition features Psychotria, one of the largest genera of flowering plants.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries with over 2,400 known-to-science vascular plant species. This biodiversity is essential in delivering ecosystem services locally and globally, providing food, medicine and natural fibres, along with storing carbon, producing oxygen, and regulating global water cycles. Due to unsustainable development, agricultural expansion, and resource extraction however, this biodiversity is threatened and about 200,000 hectares of forest is lost each year. This loss would not only result in the disappearance of essential services we are aware of, but also prevent the discovery of untapped potential in Colombia’s vast array of plant and fungal species.
The Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia (UPFC) collaboration between Kew and the Humboldt Institute in Colombia, focusses on increasing the understanding about Colombia’s useful plant and fungal biodiversity. This will allow the identification of key species’ geographic distributions, ecology, traditional uses, and conservation status, providing essential information to local communities, policy makers and industry to “motivate sustainable use of biodiversity and the protection of surrounding natural resources”. By volunteering on this expedition, you will play a key role in this project by recording information on Kew’s previously hidden collection of useful and underutilised Rubiaceae specimens from Colombia and its neighbouring countries.