No plants: no foods, no fuel, no life…

Monday at the Botanic Congress

For humanity, all seven billion of us, plants, algae and fungi are the major source of food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

Our fossil fuels were formed by them. They clean our air and water, store carbon, and protect us from floods and drought.

Our native flora and our gardens are a source of inspiration and enjoyment for many. Society depends upon wise and responsible care of the botanical world around us.

The world’s botanists meet once every six years for the International Botanical Congress. They are at the Melbourne Convention Centre this week discussing our future. How will we feed the world? Can crops replace fossil fuels? How will plants cope with climate change? There are over 2,000 delegates from 73 countries discussing these and many other issues.

Today’s stories from the Congress are:

How can we feed 9.5 billion people?

Kenneth Cassman from University of Nebraska will discuss food security as the human population reaches a climax of 9.5 billion.
Richard Richards from CSIRO will discuss where the genetic improvement of major crops will come from in the next 20 years. Genetic engineering is likely to make only a small contribution to improving yields and tolerance to environmental stress he says.
David Fischoff from Monsanto will discuss combining GM and non-GM technologies to improve food supply.

How will climate change wine?

Australian vintages have been moving forward by 1-3 days a year over the past 15 years. What impact is earlier harvest and a changing climate going to have on established terroirs particularly if we, as consumers, wish to continue to savour the ‘grassiness’ of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or the ‘white pepper’ of cool climate Shiraz?

What sort of wines can we look forward to in the future? Find out with Snow Barlow in a free public lecture at 6.30 pm tonight at the Melbourne Convention Centre.

Should we move species affected by climate change?

Are our nature reserves in the right place? Relocating species threatened by climate change is a radical and hotly debated strategy for maintaining biodiversity. In a paper published today in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from CSIRO, University of Queensland and United States Geological Survey present a pragmatic decision framework for determining when, if ever, to move species in the face of climate change.

Science and religion agree – again…botany drops Latin

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet

In 1539 the Church of England recognised Latin was a barrier to understanding, and published the Great Bible in English. The Roman Catholic Church authorised usage of languages other than Latin in its services in the 1960s. Now scientists—or at least botanists—are catching up.

By next year the technical descriptions accompanying the scientific names for new plant species will no longer have to be exclusively in Latin. English will be acceptable. And botanists proposing new species will no longer be required to publish a paper in hard copy—an electronic version will do. Latin, however, will still be used for the two-word, scientific species names.

What flowers could a dinosaur give his beau?

Synchrotron light has revealed some of the first flowers from the Cretaceous period. Else Marie Friis, Professor, Department of Palaeobotany, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden will reveal her studies and she and her colleagues will preview their new book about fossil flowers.

For more information:  call me on 0417 131 977, or AJ Epstein on 0433 339 141 or email We’ll be in the Media Room (214 from 8:30am Monday 25 July).