Spring is just about in full swing finally and some may find it quite tempting to dig up a nice plant that they find in the forest to add it to their garden. As we advance further into the Homogenocene, there are so many threats to biodiversity that things can quickly seem overwhelming. It is easy to feel helpless and, to a degree, apathetic to many causes. Well, here is one way you can help fight plant extinction:
Don’t pick them!!
That’s right. Aside from habitat destruction and invasive species, over-harvesting of plant species is a serious threat to their long term survival on planet Earth! Exploitation is such a serious issue that an entire category of protection had to be invented to keep some plants from disappearing from our local landscapes!
Because of their beauty or purported value as a medicinal herb, some plants are under serious pressures simply because people want them. Yes, it is possible to love something to death. Each state has it’s own list of plants that are considered exploitably vulnerable but some common threads run through each list.
Most orchids (many of which are, in fact, endangered) fall under this category. The global orchid trade is quite a beast. Many species of orchids can safely be propagated in captivity but many can not. This does not stop people from going to serious lengths to try to add them to their collections. For most orchids, the simple act of removing them from their habitat is enough to kill them. Orchids depend heavily on intricate fungal relationships to survive and if they are disturbed, these relationships quickly break down and the orchid will die a few seasons later. Plants like cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and turtlehead (Chelone sp.) also all too quickly disappear simply because they have pretty flowers. Trillium species are classic examples of this type of deadly beauty. A trillium can take up to 7 years to flower. If picked, the plant is mortally wounded and dies. Seven years of struggle can be wasted by an ignorant person with grubby paws or a shovel. Countless other species end up with similar fates. Entire populations can be lost because people want them in their gardens. It’s not just flowers either, most ferns fall under this category due to their subtle beauty.
Other plants like goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), are sought after for their medicinal benefits. While some herbs have shown promising results when tested, goldenseal is not one of these. It is harvested under false beliefs which, to me, is just too sad. Not all herbalists are bad people though. I would argue that a vast majority of them practice sustainable and ethical collecting. A wonderful group of concerned herbalists collectively known as the United Plant Savers, have begun to put together lists of medicinal herbs that are under serious threat from over harvesting. Here is a list of at-risk herbal species that United Plant Savers has put together:
American Ginseng - Panax quinquefolius
Black Cohosh - Actaea racemosa (Cimicifuga)
Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis
Blue Cohosh - Caulophyllum thalictroides
Echinacea - Echinacea spp.
Eyebright - Euphrasia spp.
False Unicorn Root - Chamaelirium luteum
Goldenseal - Hydrastis canadensis
Lady’s Slipper Orchid - Cypripedium spp.
Lomatium - Lomatium dissectum
Osha - Ligusticum porteri
Peyote - Lophophora williamsii
Sandalwood - Santalum spp. (Hawaii only)
Slippery Elm - Ulmus rubra
Sundew - Drosera spp.
Trillium -Trillium spp.
True Unicorn - Aletris farinosa
Venus’ Fly Trap - Dionaea muscipula
Virginina Snakeroot - Aristolochia serpentaria
Wild Yam - Dioscorea villosa
The IUCN estimates that as many as 15,000 medicinal plant species worldwide are at serious risk of extinction from collecting.
So… some food for thought: Leave wild plants in the wild, they look best there. There are many nurseries out there propagating their own native plant stock. If you seriously desire a certain species, find it for sale. Also, in doing this, make sure the nursery sells “nursery propagated” plants and not “nursery cultivated.” Cultivated means dug up from the wild. If you can’t find them in a nursery, try collecting seeds! Finally, do your research. Know which herbs actually do what they are claimed to do. Many do not! Also, know what companies to get your herbs from. Nature’s Way for example, still harvests their herbs from the wild. They are a corporation just like any other and their bottom line is profit!
Great Nurseries for Native Plants: