Plants are pulling a vanishing act, and gardeners may have to play a larger role on the world stage if vulnerable species are to be preserved and restored.

Imperiled animals and birds generally get top billing, said James Wandersee, a botanist and educator at Louisiana State University, who called the appreciation gap between flora and fauna “plant blindness.” But many plants also are threatened by extinction, he said.

Overlooking the value of plants is costing us a bundle — some $384 million a year for the genetic contributions that disappearing strains of wild native sunflowers make to cultivated varieties alone, federal officials say. And that doesn’t include plants’ inestimable aesthetic appeal or medical uses. At least 25 percent of prescription drugs contain ingredients derived from plant compounds, say the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


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