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Centres of Plant Diversity #2

Plant WHS may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but since my blog post from a month ago Solivagant and I have deep-dived into the Centres of Plant Diversity (CPDs). We got access to the full list and mapped the WHS to CPDs, resulting in two new connections. And, as always with exercises like this, we also learned some other things about WHS and the WH process along the way.

The Books

After a short exploration of the topic on our Forum, it became clear quickly that we could not finish this without having access to at least one (and possibly all three) of the CPD books. These are generally sold new at high prices (60-100 EUR each), but cheaper copies can be bought from online second-hand bookstores. I got Volume 3 (Americas) and Solivagant acquired the whole set including the other continents. It turned out that we needed the full set, as each volume only lists the CPD in its geographical region.

If you’re into encyclopedic specialist works, you might like to have these CPD books in your collection. Each volume is a large hardcover of up to 600 pages, including maps and black-and-white photographs. However, working with them for a few weeks for our purposes, serious flaws came to light as well. Mostly because the work feels incomplete and unfinished – less than half of the CPDs have a usable description. Maybe the project by IUCN and WWF was overambitious from the start, which also could be the reason that no updates have ever been planned. Having been compiled in 1994, they are now outdated as since then many new floral inventories have been done, especially at national parks that came into existence later.

The List of CPDs

It turns out that there are not 234 CPDs, as quoted in several sources including Wikipedia, but 490. The confusion lies in the fact that out of the 490, only 234 are fully described in so-called datasheets and are displayed on the maps in the book. However, the others are identified as well with unique IDs, and each has a short introduction text; they are equally important as the others. Especially for Africa and China, the coverage by full datasheets is low.

Some of the CPDs cover a very large area, such as Central Anatolia and the California Floristic Province (see map below).

Mapping them to WHS

We started the mapping process with a spreadsheet containing all the natural WHS that are inscribed on criteria 7, 9, or 10. As criterion 8 is for geological sites we deemed it irrelevant for this cause. By region and country, we then tried to place the WHS within a CPD, a rather time-consuming task as the texts generally do not reference WHS and – as stated above – over 50% of the CPDs are hardly described or displayed on maps. For those we mostly had to rely on the CPD names plus the state/province they are in. Some WHS for this reason were impossible to map; Kaeng Krachan Forest for example is labelled as being in a CPD in its AB evaluation, but we found no sure match (it could be part of ‘EA58 Limestone flora’ but who knows?).

The mapping led us to the following main conclusions:

  1. Not all WHS with plant diversity OUV are part of a CPD - we've found another 35 that could easily be in there. We only selected the WHS inscribed on Criterion X (biodiversity) and clearly described plant value. Central Suriname Nature Reserve, Coiba NP, Guanacaste, Lopé-Okanda and Noel Kempff Mercado NP seem the most glaring omissions.
  2. IUCN puts way too much worth into the CPD listing – IUCN in its evaluations somewhat routinely refers to a site ‘being in a CPD’, without relating it to specific plant value. They‘d better reuse the criteria (such as “holds over 1,000 plant species”) instead of this outdated inventory.
  3. Criterion X is not always used where it should have been – Some sites, such as Pirin NP and the Hyrcanian Forests, that have only criterion 7 or 9, are clear examples of a CPD. While criterion X was never discussed for Pirin NP (despite the comparative analysis concluding “an extremely rich flora which cannot be matched anywhere else" [in Central and Northern Europe]), it was for the Hyrcanian Forests but IUCN requested an inventory per component of this serial site and I guess Iran/Azerbaijan refused the work and accepted inscription on criterion IX only.
  4. Unrepresented CPDs may identify Natural Gaps on the WH List - most CPDs aren’t represented by a WHS at all. Northern Canada for example has 9 CPDs, but none match a WHS with plant OUV. For example, IUCN found Gros Morne NP (photo 3) representing "about 60% of Newfoundland's flora" but it was not inscribed for its biodiversity. Especially notable is the case of Papua New Guinea, which has no less than 39 separate CPDs but no (natural) plant-related WHS at all! On its Tentative List though linger Kikori River Basin (3 CPDs), Trans-Fly Complex (1 CPD) and Upper Sepik River (3 CPD).

Additionally, we found Table 6 in this IUCN publication about possible future natural WHS based on biodiversity not too reliable. They seem to have mapped the WHS based on geographical coordinates only, which have the hoodoos of Göreme and the fossils of Miquasha being placed in a CPD while they have no plant OUV whatsoever. This is partly caused by the very large size of some CPDs: following this logic it could also be said that cities like Izmir and Los Angeles are in a CPD.  


We ended up with two connections: one with WHS with plant-related OUV that are part of a CPD, and one with WHS that have Criteria X, clear plant-diversity OUV, and are NOT in a CPD. The first has 95 connected WHS, the latter has 35 WHS. The two combined provide the best overview of WHS that derive their value from biodiversity based on plants and trees.

Some WHS are even spread across 2 CPDs, such as Manu NP, Discovery Coast, Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan and the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra.

Several CPDs are represented by multiple WHS. The Mountains of Middle Asia (Tajik National Park, Tugay Forests, Western Tien-Shan), the Eastern slopes of Peruvian Andes (Machu Picchu, Manu NP, Rio Abiseo) and the Sonoran Desert (El Pinacate, Gulf of California, El Vizcaino) each have more than two.

If you have remarks or want more info about WHS and CPDs, please use the Forum post.

Els - 14 April 2024

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Kyle Magnuson 14 April 2024

Just for clarification and a little pride. Los Angeles has the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, together more than 600,000 Acres (and growing) of protected lands (243,000 Hectares). I know of only a few major cities around the World with that kind of protected lands in its backyard! The Santa Monica National Recreation Area is often cited as the largest urban national park in the World.

Hangar Y (T)

Argo France - 06-Apr-24

Hangar Y (T)

Things have changed a lot at Hangar Y since our visit in September 2014, so it was time for a new visit and review. The Hangar has been fully refurbished and repaired, it now (since March 2023) operates as a museum focussing mainly and obviously on the history of balloons and dirigibles airships, plus some side galleries hosting temporary exhibitions (modern art more (or less) related to air and space). The parc around is accessible as well, with a restaurant at the side of the basin, and a “guinguette” (open in summer only).

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Monastery of Geghard

Nan Germany - 29-Dec-23

Monastery of Geghard

Our half-day excursion from Yerevan led us to Garni and the Geghard Monastery. Like most visitors, we began at the reconstructed Garni Temple, which offers panoramic views of the Azat River Gorge. Continuing further up the gorge, we reached Geghard Monastery, nestled against the rugged cliffside.

Upon arrival, a short climb from the parking area brought us to the monastery gates. Here, visitors partake in a unique tradition: tossing pebbles at the cliffside. If a pebble adheres, a wish is granted. Beyond the gates lies a fortified 13th-century church, partially carved into the rock. The most captivating feature of Geghard is its intricate stone and rock carvings. Unfortunately, dim lighting during our visit hindered our full appreciation, but their craftsmanship was evident.

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SS. Boris and Gleb (Kalozha) Church in the city of Hrodna (T)

Stanislaw Warwas Poland - 02-Apr-24

SS. Boris and Gleb (Kalozha) Church in the city of Hrodna (T)

Visited March 2024

It is going to be a very short review…

I really like this small tserkva, the Ortodox church, standing at the high shore of Neman river, in the central park/part of Grodno (Hrodna)! Its beginnings go back to XI century when local prince Wsiewolod Davidovic decided to build a church in honour to the first Slavic saints Boris and Gleb (sons of Vladimir the Great). How this place of cult looked when built? We do not know. But what we know is that the oldest elements of the present church are its northern wall, part of the western one with the entrance door (it was oriented) and part of the eastern apses

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Green Belt (T)

Daniel C-Hazard Germany - 02-Apr-24

Green Belt (T)

I am surprised and excited to see this nomination. Born in Fulda and still returning to the Rhön a lot for visiting family and practicing paragliding, I know the Rhön very well - but actually the whole area between Rhön and Harz mountains (I focus on the Rhön area in this post). What I do not quite get though is the „Natural only“ nomination. Needless to say, the former border, a man-made strip of landscape with many monuments and museums nowadays, would also fall into the „Cultural“ category (so why not nominate a „Mixed“ site here?). That said, the decade-long off-limits character has surely contributed to some untouched nature. I can recommend a visit to the Rhön, already a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

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Medina Azahara

Caspar Dechmann Switzerland - 19-Mar-24

Medina Azahara must have been a wonder of the age: a palace city, splendid rooms with precious ornaments with no equal at the time, at least in Europe. So, expectations can be high for an unprepared visitor, but what do you get to see? I nice museum with small finds and scraps of ornaments and explanations about the palace city. When you get on the bus to the excavations (beware: they do run only about every 20 minutes and lines can be long so you may miss one) it is not much more then empty ground walls and a few very heavily restored arches. They say it is only 10 percent of the original palace city, but it seems to be the central area and there is no reason to assume further excavations would be better preserved

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