Despite my best efforts I’ve not been able to produce a daily post about the International Botanical Congress (IBC) in Shenzhen. The days were just too busy: too many interesting people to talk to; too many great talks to see; too much cold beer to be drunk and tasty food to be eaten; and a too-comfortable bed to collapse into at the end of a long, long day.
It’s Sunday today, and the closing ceremony took place yesterday afternoon. Speeches were made and thanks offered to our Chinese hosts. It was a fitting end to what has been a truly remarkable conference, the like of which I’ve never previously experienced, and may never again. It wasn’t just the scale of it – almost 7,000 delegates giving and attending hundreds of talks – but just the very positive buzz of all of these plant scientists determined to make a difference in some way, through their research and education and outreach work. That’s been the main theme of this conference: that a healthy global population living in a safe and sustainable world is not possible without plants, and to achieve that we must take the plant sciences very, very seriously indeed. Plants are the foundation of our civilization and the key to surviving the future.
Anyone who doubts that last sentence should have joined us the other day when we made a short visit to a local fruit and vegetable market. Beautifully displayed on low stalls was botanical produce that reflected both thousands of years of Chinese cultivation and crop breeding, including food plants not very familiar in the west……
….together with the produce that’s only been a part of the Chinese diet for a few hundred years, or less, following its introduction from Europe and the Americas, including current staples such as chillies, squashes and potatoes:
Global movements of food crops have enriched diets and supported the populations of entire countries: most of the fruit and vegetables that we eat in the UK, for instance, are not even native to Europe let alone the British Isles.
During this trip to the market I was able to add two new plant families to my life list of those I’ve eaten. They were Sauruaceae (the leaves and rhizomes of Houttuynia cordata) and Portulacaceae (Portulaca oleracea being a common leaf vegetable in some parts of the world, but not the UK). That brings my current total of pant families I’ve eaten to more than 90.
That theme of the importance of plants was codified by the launch at the IBC of the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences, on which the Natural History Museum’s Sandy Knapp has been an author; hopefully you can read the seven priorities in this image:
The Shenzhen Declaration provides both a rallying call for plant scientists to convince their governments of the importance of their work, but also highlights how seriously China takes the whole concept of sustainable development. It’s remarkable (but actually perfectly logical) that such a fast developing country should be the prime mover in the area of green sustainability. Only time will tell if they are doing enough, at a pace that will make a difference.
There were a couple of awards made at the closing ceremony, including the first ever Shenzhen Award to Prof. Peter Raven, 81 years old and still going strong. Earlier in the week a colleague introduced me to this giant of botany and evolutionary biology, and I got to shake his hand, feeling a bit awe struck I have to admit!
The Engler Medal went to Chinese botanist Prof. Hong Deyuan for his systematic work on paeonies and other Chinese plants:
So, that’s it for another six years. IBC 20 will be held in Rio in 2023; the Shenzhen Congress has set a high bar, but we’re sure that Brazil can match it!
Today I’m off to Fairy Lake Botanical Garden to do a bit of exploring with some colleagues, then I fly home tomorrow evening. It’s been a wonderful trip but I’m looking forward to seeing my family, our cats, and how our garden has changed in the short time I’ve been away. My sincerest thanks to all the friends and colleagues who have made this such a stimulating and extraordinary conference. Especial thanks to our Chinese hosts who made us feel so welcome, and the IBC Awards Committee for providing me with an “Excellent Scholar” award to enable me to take part. Over and out from Shenzhen.