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What can I search for?

You can search for any name that you might find in a medicinal plant reference. It could be:

  • a scientific name – either a species, a genus or even just a specific epithet (the species name without the genus)
  • pharmaceutical or drug name - including Chinese (pinyin) and Ayurvedic names
  • common name

The search term must be at least three characters long.

Wildcard searches allow for variation in spelling: simply use an asterisk ‘*’ or question mark ‘?’ in place of letters:

  • * matches zero or more letters
  • ? matches only one letter

Which plants are included? What is a medicinal plant?

The MPNS resource includes names from references about medicinal plants. If a plant appears in these references then it is classed as medicinal for the purposes of the portal. It is possible that a plant that is seen as medicinal has not been included in the resource because it does not appear in the references covered to date. We are continually adding to these references.

MPNS make no judgement as whether a plant actually has medicinal properties, and inclusion of a plant name in the MPNS resource should not be taken as an endorsement of any medicinal use or efficacy. 

At present we are only collecting names of vascular plants.

Why is the plant I am looking for not in the results?

Names that match your search term will be displayed on the search results page. If you do not see what you are looking for it may be because:

  • Results are displayed in a tabbed layout and the exact match you are looking for may appear on one of the other tabs. For example, if you searched ‘chamomile’, several close matches will appear on the ‘Non-scientific names’ tab. Each new search defaults to the ‘Accepted scientific names’ tab which shows you accepted scientific names relating to the term you have searched, e.g. ‘Matricaria chamomilla L.’ is the accepted scientific name for one of the plants that is known as chamomile.
  • The name does not occur in the resource because it has not been included in the references covered to date. You can try searching The Plant List (see below), a working list of scientific names for all known plant species.
  • You have spelt it differently to the way that it is spelt in the resource. This possibility is usually minimised by the use of fuzzy matching.
  • It is there but you can’t see it because there are so many results. Try narrowing your search by typing in a more precise term or by using the filters under the ‘All records’ tab.
  • You searched for a scientific name that is now considered to be a synonym. Look for the name under the ‘Scientific names as used in medicinal plant references’ tab. If it isn’t there select each Accepted scientific name in turn and look under the ‘Scientific synonyms’ tab, or select the ‘All records’ tab in search results.
  • You have limited your search to either scientific or non-scientific names using the drop-down menu to the right of the search box. Try your search again with ‘All Names’ selected.

Why can’t I find a medicinal moss, lichen or fungus? 

Currently the MPNS portal only displays the names of flowering plants and ferns (vascular plants) and does not record names of mosses (bryophytes), algae, fungi, or lichen. We may include some of these other groups in the future.

What languages or alphabets are represented in the MPNS Portal?

All names in Roman script are recorded from publications covered to date regardless of what language the name is in. However, the language or the country where the name is used is not indicated. We are working on recording some names in other characters/scripts, but only a small number of these are currently displayed in the portal.

What is the difference between ‘Scientific names as used in medicinal plant references’ and ‘Accepted scientific names'?

‘Scientific names as used in medicinal plant references’ are scientific names that have been entered into the resource from a medicinal plant reference, following the exact spelling as published. 'Accepted scientific names' are scientific names from Kew’s names databases, either the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (published and unpublished) or The Plant List.

All scientific names as used in medicinal plant references have been linked to corresponding accepted scientific names where possible. Occasionally it hasn’t been possible to make this link and the ‘Accepted scientific name’ in these instances reads ‘Awaiting MPNS review’.

How is the 'Accepted name' chosen?

A number of taxonomic databases for scientific plant names already exist and are actively maintained by scientific institutions, including Kew. MPNS matches scientific names from medicinal plant references to names from the following three taxonomic sources:

  • World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCS)
  • The unpublished World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCS - unpublished)
  • The Plant List (TPL)

Each of the databases above connects a given scientific name with what is considered the taxonomically correct or 'accepted' scientific name at that time. However, they each have advantages and disadvantages, which are discussed below.

When matching names, MPNS aims to match to the published WCS where possible since names in this database have been peer reviewed and there should be strong international agreement regarding the accepted names provided.

Where a WCS match is not available, the unpublished version of the checklist is used instead. These names are still under review and require further research. MPNS actively contributes to resolving names in this database so that they can be moved to the published WCS.

Finally, if no match is available in the unpublished WCS either, The Plant List is used. The Plant List takes names from a number of different taxonomic resources and has the most comprehensive coverage, however some caution is advised when using TPL-accepted scientific names since this resource is considered a 'best effort' attempt at a complete list of plant names and is not perfect. MPNS aims to limit TPL matches where possible by actively reviewing and adding new names to the WCS published and unpublished databases.

What are the ‘Taxonomic sources’ used in the portal?

  • World Checklist of Selected Plant Families

The WCS has been developed over the last 16 years at Kew with guidance and advice from more than 150 botanical specialists worldwide. It contains world species lists for an increasing number of plant families. For all species in any of the included families, one can discover geographical distribution and full scientific synonymy, ie cross references to all of the scientific names ever used for each plant (except misapplied and invalid names). Peer-reviewed accounts are available online for c. 50% of plant families, which include c. 33% of plant species. MPNS is also using the unpublished version of this resource which is not directly available online. These are names which have been resolved, but which still need to be reviewed by the taxonomic community before they can be published.

  • The Plant List

The Plant List was built in collaboration with the Missouri Botanical Garden and others worldwide. It is a working list of all known plant species and aims to be comprehensive for all species of vascular plants and bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). The Plant List is not perfect and represents work in progress. Data records from numerous existing global checklist databases, including WCS, were brought together and combined with regional and national checklist data and other records from Tropicos, managed by the Missouri Botanical Garden. These resources were then complemented by the inclusion of additional names found in the International Plant Names Index (IPNI) (for Angiosperms, Gymnosperms, and Ferns & Fern Allies). The Plant List may omit some names and may include some duplicate names. Furthermore some names derived from nomenclators may not include any indication of whether they are accepted or synonyms. The Plant List includes 1 million scientific names of species rank, of which c. 350,000 are accepted species names, c. 470,000 are synonyms and c. 242,000 are unresolved names, the latter arising when it wasn’t possible to establish from contributing sources whether the name should be accepted or not. The aim was to produce a ‘best effort’ list by 2010 to demonstrate progress and stimulate further work. Version 1 was released in December 2010 and was then updated to Version 1.1 in September 2013.

Why does the MPNS taxonomy differ from other databases such as The Plant List?

By taxonomy we mean which scientific name is the accepted name for a particular plant and which are considered to be synonyms.

The taxonomies presented in reference databases managed by various institutions differ for a variety of reasons. MPNS seeks to provide the most up-to-date and authoritative taxonomy available for the medicinal plants included, based upon the most reliable and, where possible, actively-curated databases. This means that in some cases the taxonomy presented in MPNS will differ from one or more of the better-known taxonomic resources that are available online (such as The Plant List) for the following reasons:

  • MPNS will use the taxonomic view presented by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCS), as this has undergone international peer review. For families not yet covered by the WCS, MPNS aims to reach the same standard for the names of all medicinal plants. While the taxonomy for these plants is being checked, however, some names may not be included in the synonymy presented.
  • The Plant List is a static (not actively curated) synthetic list built by bringing together datasets from various sources. It includes data supplied by these different sources in August 2012. Taxonomic opinions will have changed since then and the original sources edited and updated. MPNS choose to use the more up-to-date views.
  • Other databases are similarly static and also go out-of-date.
  • Each version of MPNS used to support the names portal is static (while we are working on the next version) and may become out of step with resources such as the WCS, which are actively curated online.
  • Finally, where MPNS accepts a narrower view of a species, fewer synonyms will be listed and, where the excluded names are not recorded as having medicinal activity, they will not be included in the MPNS resource.

How should I cite the MPNS portal?

Please cite the portal as:

'Medicinal Plant Names Services Portal, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, accessed on dd/mm/yyyy'

How can I get involved in the work of MPNS? 

Become a Partner

MPNS does not intend to duplicate work that others are already doing in gathering and disseminating more detailed information, for example, on plant chemistry, toxicity or trade data. Instead we propose that MPNS becomes part of the medicinal plant information landscape, serving as an intelligent gateway to these multiple resources, and helping them to become accessible, regardless of the plant name used by the resource or by those looking for information.

Since the MPNS project began we have been working closely with Professor  Uwe Schippmann who built and curates the Medicinal Plant Resources of the World (MAPROW) database. MAPROW contains drug, pharmaceutical and common names alongside plant part information from medicinal plant references including pharmacopoeias. It is used by the IUCN International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP).

We are currently talking to potential partners, but are interested in hearing from other data managers.

Please contact us at to find out more.

Become a member of our User Group

The MPNS user group has been fundamental in establishing effective information services and has a wide representation both geographically and across research sectors and industries.

We held two workshops in November and December 2014 to seek feedback on the services we offer with representatives from medicines regulatory agencies, the pharmaceutical sector, and herbal medicine practitioners and suppliers.

The needs of clients have driven development of our services by helping to prioritise the addition of new content, shaping the design and scope of the services, and ensuring that we consider their practical constraints and business environments.

We are actively seeking further individuals and organisations that are willing to offer their time and advice. Please contact us at to find out more.

My question is not answered here – how can I contact MPNS?

If you have further questions about the portal, or MPNS in general, please get in touch.


Medicinal Plant Names Services (MPNS)
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

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