The snow lotus is threatened by over-harvesting for use in traditional medicines. Photo courtesy of Jan Salick.
Most people are familiar with Chinese traditional medicine enough to know that ginseng and gingko can be used to treat various ailments. Yet they may not be aware that roses, peonies, and Boston ivy are in their backyard thanks to China as well. China has a rich botanical heritage that is not well-recognized by the rest of the world. It is under increasing threat as China grows.
National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration has focused quite a bit on botanical research projects in China since Dr. Peter Raven of the Missouri Botanical Gardens became its chairman. Many of the projects they fund go without popular reporting. It is hard for plant collectors to compete against folks who study lions or sharks. Botany is rarely the stuff of headlines. Yet these projects are critical for biodiversity and threat assessments. Much of what scientists conducting these projects have found highlights China’s unique botanical heritage and raises concerns that special efforts should be made to protect it.
Dr. Raven (of the Missouri Botanical Gardens) and the Chinese government are trying to draw attention to a crisis. As writer John Roach reports in his news report, “... in February 2008 China officially unveiled its own plant conservation strategy.”
This effort, however, is rowing against a strong current. As Roach points out, “within three years China hopes to revert nearly 37 million acres (15 million hectares) of farmland to forest. That’s an area bigger than England…” The needs of the Chinese for food and space will only continue to grow.
Protecting the environment is a complex issue for China. Hard choices are being made every day. Is China doing enough to stay green?
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