Colombia is one of the countries with the greatest plant diversity on the planet. This enormous plant wealth is the foundation upon which hundreds of indigenous civilizations flourished in this part of the world, and it is a priceless heritage to which our country must now look to ensure its future. The conservation and appropriate use of our flora must be part of our agenda in the coming decades. If not, the country will miss out on an excellent opportunity for its sustainable development. The first step in the conservation and sustainable use of our resources is knowing what and where they are. A basic inventory of the flora is fundamental to managing our nation’s plant resources. But an inventory of this sort hadn’t existed in Colombia until now, despite the long history of botanical studies in our country, which date back to the Royal Botanical Expedition initiated by José Celestino Mutis at the end of the 18th century. There is no institution better suited to produce such an inventory than the National University of Colombia, a pioneer in the study of our flora, and repository of the largest collection of Colombian plant specimens in the world. It is therefore with great satisfaction that the National University and the Colombian Government present to the country and the entire world the Catalogue of the Plants and Lichens of Colombia. This work, perhaps the most ambitious botanical endeavor ever accomplished in the country, compiles, for the first time in our history, the 28.000 plant and lichen species that have been identified in Colombia to date, providing for each one the following information: size of the plant, the ecological regions and political departments in which the species has been found, elevational range, current conservation status and global distribution (when the species is present in other countries). This Catalogue, the compilation of which involved 180 researchers from 20 countries over 13 years, is in no way the end of botanical research in Colombia. As the editors point out, knowledge of our flora is still incomplete and there still exist vast regions of the country that have barely been explored. Each year, dozens of species new to science are discovered and the known range of many others is expanded, while every day researchers discover new applications for our plants. The road ahead remains long. But the information presented here constitutes a valuable tool for planning the future of our flora: for its study and protection, rational use, and incorporation in our national identity; and above all the Catalogue is a source of information that contributes to research-based approaches to the protection of our country’s resources.
Gabriel Vallejo López Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Ignacio Mantilla Prada Rector Universidad Nacional de Colombia