Importance of Cultivated and Wild Species as Plant Genetic Resources
Plant genetic resources of agricultural and horticultural crops are defined as propagating material of plants used in the past, present or with potential utilisation value including plants suitable for breeding purposes. The definition of plant genetic resources includes not only crops but also their wild relatives and wild plants.
Given their ability to use sunlight as an energy source, plants - and some microorganisms - provide the basis for biological energy production and storage on earth and are the starting point in all food chains.
Some 7,000 plant species are currently in use. This figure does not include ornamental and woody plants. Arable farming going back around 10,000 years has resulted in the development of a huge diversity of region-specific varieties and ecotypes among domesticated plant species. Since the beginning of time, in fact, people have used a wide range of wild species for food and as raw materials.
But in agriculture only few plant species play a significant part world-wide. They are used as crops for arable farming, grassland management, horticulture, viticulture and for the production of renewable resources. In contrast, the utilisation of wild plants e.g. as soft fruits (berries) or medicinal and aromatic plant species is of low significance, but can still be of regional importance. Most cultivated plants are a result of breeding, except for autochthonous grassland. In this regard, the availability of plant genetic resources is important as basis for future crop breeding and breeding research activities.
Of the roughly 3,600 species of wild flowering plants that grow in Germany in situ, just under 1,000 are valued as genetic resources because they do have an actual or potential value for use. Taking into consideration two additional categories of use "plants used for breeding and breeding research" and "ornamental plants" another 1,800 species can be added as "native" plant genetic resources.