Rescuing the Rainforests

“In the dark undergrowth of the Caribbean rain forest, only a rustle of leaves betrayed the presence of Larry Conners, KMOV-TV news anchorman.”


Tropical rainforests play a huge role in keeping our planet healthy. The dense vegetation soaks up carbon dioxide, and converts it into oxygen. Tropical rainforests also supply food, medicine, and other vital natural materials we depend on in our everyday lives. The vast biodiversity of these regions are still being discovered and documented, even as rainforests face ongoing threats such as deforestation.

The St. Louis Connection

The Missouri Botanical Garden has been involved in tropical rainforest research and conservation for decades. In 1992, KMOV Channel 4 helped shine a light on those efforts with the documentary Saving the Rainforests: The St. Louis Connection.

For the film, KMOV news anchor Larry Conners followed Garden researchers Dr. Jim Miller and Dr. Charlotte Taylor to El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. They showed the news crew how they collected specimens, and explained the importance of discovering plants and protecting the tropical rainforest ecosystem. The documentary also included experts from the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Science Center and Washington University, highlighting the role of St. Louis institutions in rainforest conservation.

Read the original Bulletin article: Rescuing the Rain Forest

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KMOV anchor Larry Connors (left) and Missouri Botanical Garden research scientist Jim Miller during filming of the documentary.

A Lot Has Happened in 25 years…

The Garden’s commitment to tropical rainforest conservation continues today. Missouri Botanical Garden staff are working in about two dozen countries on three continents: South America, Africa, and Asia. In the 25 years since the documentary, Garden botanists have described between 3 and 5 thousand new species. Dr. Taylor alone has discovered more than 300 new species.

Deforestation is still a big problem, but Dr. Miller says public awareness in the 1990s helped influence government policies in the tropics. Some countries, like Brazil, have seen a noticeable decline in the deforestation rate. The Garden also encourages community-based conservation, by educating people about the importance of protecting their local ecosystems.

An example of the Garden’s work in Madagascar.

Into the Digital Age

Technology has greatly changed the way scientists conduct research on tropical plants. TROPICOS® is a publicly available electronic database created by the Missouri Botanical Garden. It contains more than one million plant names, and more than four million specimen records.

“The amount of data in TROPICOS is staggering.  We operate by far the largest botanical database in the world and it gets 65 million hits a year.  It means you can look up plant names or specimen data anywhere in the world where you can get an internet connection.  I can do original research in an airport on my laptop.”

Dr. Jim Miller, Senior Vice President for Science and Conservation

In addition to TROPICOS, the Garden is also involved in the World Flora Online, an international initiative aiming to create an online inventory of all plant life on earth. This collaborative effort of botanical gardens and research institutions around the world will play a key role in the future understanding of, and ultimately the protection of tropical rainforests.


Cassidy Moody, Digital Media Specialist

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