The Threatened Wild Plants Used for Medicine as

Chinese Medicinal Herbs


PENG Hua and XU Zaifu

(Xishuangbanna,Chinese Academy of Sciences, Yunnan)


[Foreword]   [Methods]    [The use of threatened plants for medicine]   [Historical review of management in Chinese medicinal materials]    [Case studies: Rarity caused by use of plants for medicine]    [Results and Preliminary Conclusions]   [Main Literature Cited]

1. Foreword


The flora of China is the most diverse in the North Temperate zone and is one of the richest in the world. About 30,000 species of vascular plants, or one-eighth of the world flora, occur in China. In addition, China has numerous species of food crops, on which the survival of more than 1.2 billion Chinese depends, as well as several thousand species of plants that are ornamental or serve as important sources of medicine, oil, waxes, fibers, timber, aromatics and other natural products. It is estimated that more than 5,000 species of plants are used regularly as sources of medicine in China. Nevertheless, because of continued extensive land use, deforestation, and destruction of natural habitats, more than 3,000 species of plants are endangered. Some studies argue that the number of species is even higher, perhaps approaching 12-15% of the total flora. Many of these forms are threatened with extinction. And the fate of those herbs used in Chinese medicine is troubling. Various causes have led to the threatened status of Chinese medicinal herbs. The main causes have been different at different times. We attempt to make every effort to find out these causes, to determine clearly who is responsible, and to provide the proper authorities and agencies concerned with these data for reference and subsequent conservation action. Practicable measures will be advanced based on the results of current present research.


2. Methods


Here we attempt to value the use of threatened plants used for Chinese medicinal herbs in China. It is a synthetic study that covers a wide range of disciplines; to complete it we need knowledge of every aspect of both natural sciences and social sciences. In view of this breadth of necessary information, we concentrate our analysis on the most common taxa. Our analysis includes to all the materials about these taxa that we could gather. We also investigated the markets of Chinese medicinal material and interviewed businesses engaging in the medicinal materials. Very limited financial support prevented more extensive surveys. The reliability of the valuation depends, to a great extent, on the selection of correct methods, so we emphasized such information as was available from experts in this discipline. And because the objects of the study were so numerous and interrelated, we had no alternative but to select representative taxa in order to establish some general viewpoints on the subject.


3. The use of threatened plants for medicine


We first concentrated on those Chinese medicinal herbs most frequently used -- in other words, the materials from plants used commonly in Chinese medical formulas. After preliminary research and analyses, some initial conclusions have been drawn. Among the 426 herbal drugs used unprepared or stir-baked for curing diseases in "Pharmacopia of the People's Republic of China" (edition 1995), 28 (Table 1) are included in the "Red Data Book of Chinese Plants," taking up 6.57% of the total, and far exceeding the average (1.29%) of all plant taxa in China. Among 388 threatened plants, 77 species are typical Chinese medicinal materials, making up 19.86% of the total.


Table 1. Plants Used for Chinese Medicinal Herbs and

regarded in "Red Data Book of Chinese Plants"










Acanthopanax senticosus




F. ussuriensis




Aquilaria sinensis




F. walujewii




Astragalus membranaceus




Gastrodia elata




A. m. var. mongolicus




Ginkgo biloba




Changium smyrnioides




Glehnia littoralis




Cistanche deserticola




Illicium difengpi




Coptis teeta




Juglans regia




Coptis chinensis




Magnolia officinalis




Dalbergia odorifera




M. o. var. biloba




Dendrobium candidum




Morinda officinalis




Dimocarpus longan




Panax ginseng




Eucommia ulmoides




Phellodendron amurense




Ferula sinkiangensis




Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora




Fritillaria pallidiflora




Rosa rugosa





En. = Endangered, Ra. =Rare, Vu. =Vulnerable, according to the

"Red Data Book of Chinese Plants"


Although some species (listed in Table 1) are widely cultivated in China, the wild populations of the taxa mentioned above get rarer and rarer and even are in danger of extinction. The wild gene resource of Juglans regia is found only in two localities in the valley of Yili River in Xinjiang Region. Panax ginseng occurs only in fragments in northeast China. Rosa rugosa is distributed only on the coast and islands of southern Liaoning province and Yantai, Shandong province. Coptis chinensis has very rare populations in S. Shaanxi, W. Hubei and E. Sichuan. The area of the definitely wild population of Ginkgo biloba is the Tianmu Shan mountains in the northwest part of Zhejiang province.


Some of the species are limited to fragile environments. For example, Illicium difengpi occurs in the limestone mountains in Guangxi Region, in which in case the natural vegetation is destroyed, it is very difficult to restore it. Dendrobium candidum is also distributed in such an environment. Dalbergia odorifera is not only used for medicine, but also is faced with multiple forms of exploitation because 1) the timber of the tree has become first-class material for rare furniture and handicrafts due to its many advantages and lasting fragrance, and 2) the distilled oil from the timber can be used for a chemical reparation to fix the fragrance on account of its lasting fragrance. The distribution of this species, however, is very fragmented in Hainan province, so the natural resource of this species has had a sudden drop in recent years.


To rate reasonably the threatened state of Chinese Medicinal herbs most in use, we should think over the natural property of the plant species and their economic property as special commodities. In this way, the rated state of the concerned plants should be much more weighted reasonably than that of other common plants, especially for those taxa with multiple uses. Among the 130 herbal drugs regarded as the most important objects, 85 use parts which tend to be a life-and-death matter to the plant individuals (such as the under-ground parts, the whole plant, the bark, etc.), thus taking up 65.38%. The rest use parts of plant such as fruits, flowers, branches and leaves, etc. Due to the pursuit of commercial profit, little care has been taken of the sustainable use of the regenerative resources by the people who desire quick success and instant benefit. Even for plants used only partially, for expediency, people like to utilize entire plants.


Table 2. The Change every 6 months of Average Prices in Main Markets of

Threatened Plants Used in Chinese Medicine



Feb. 1994

Aug. 1994

Feb. 1995

Aug. 1995

Feb. 1996

Astragalus membranaceus






Coptis chinensis






Eucommia ulmoides






Gastrodia elata






Magnolia officinalis






Morinda officinalis






Panax ginseng








Based on changes in a few editions of these pharmacopias and the investigation of markets, it can be shown that the use of related taxa of the 130 herbal drugs is getting wider and wider. For example, in Semen Armeniacae amarum, Prunus armeniaca var. ansu and P. mandshurica were added on the base of two original plants during the 1950's or 1960's. The original plants of Fructus chebulae were augmented with Terminalia chebula var. tomentella. Fritillaria delavayi, F. przewalskii, F. unibracteata were augmented as the new original plants of Bulbus Fritillariae cirrhosae. Medical resources are in greater need, on the one hand, with the population growth and the level promotion of medical and health care, and on the other hand, chiefly with the decrease in the output of the genuine kinds of products. Therefore, people have no choice but to look for new substances. At the same time, it is obvious that false medicinal materials frequently appear in medicine products.


Market investigation of the 130 herbal drugs found that their output is not exhausted, and even sometimes exceeds the need of the market. Seven herbal drugs of threatened plants in Table 2 have decreases in price in different period because of supply exceeding demand. Therefore, human long-term large-scale cultivation of Chinese medicinal herbs most in use have been made without reasonable arrangements for production according to market-driven changes. The resulting false appearance has led people to think that attention should not be paid to the wild resources these commodities represent. In fact, it is when the price of these commodities decreased that their wild resource are most put into jeopardy of being extirpated because the then their exploitation is not profitable. Take Morinda officinalis as an example. Though its successful cultivation was realized as early as the 1960s, the ratio of output value to vested capital is low because the cycle is too long with traditional cultivating methods, output is low (commonly less than 200kg dried product per mu), and the disease it is used to treat is serious. Thus, it is most profitable to collect the wild resource of this species in mountains, and the wild resource is near to being exhausted. In general, at present, for 80% of kinds of Chinese medicinal material, 60% of their commodities depend on the wild resources. The hot economy, out-of-control administration, multilateral management, and the rush to purchase by raising prices have caused a serious destruction of the resources of Chinese medicinal materials.


Some cultural and social factors played an important role in our investigation. The human population explosion is a serious problem that has been a primary cause of crisis against nature. At present, China is a society with a high proportion of old people; that is, a considerable proportion of the population is more than 60 years old. The elderly have been a constituent that needs a greater quantity of medicines. One direct reason for the increased usage of Chinese medicinal materials from natural products is that the elderly favor medicines of this type. Now, in the wake of promotion of the people's living standard, the level of demands has changed. People are no longer content with simple food and clothing. It seems that the people have changed the way they look at things -- into loving better beauty and paying more attention to the promise of longevity. Along with this trend is the springing up in the cosmetics industry of “keep-fit” medicines, tonics whose primary composition may stem from traditional Chinese medicinal herbs. For example, the "Huerfu" produced by Guangdong Institute of Medicines is subsidized with Ginseng, and the "Meirongshuang" produced by the CTF research group of the Second University of Military Medicine is made of Ligusticum wallichii, Angelica dahurica, etc. Thus these taxa have come to have multiple uses, and the need for medicinal materials has been increased.


Genuine medicinal materials result from the valuable experience of Chinese medicine that has evolved over a long period of time. Identification of these materials has profoundly scientific implications. The Chinese have trusted the natural materials used in Chinese medicine for a long time and have thought that those products which were cultivated were not genuine. Sometimes this thinking would go to extremes, and even lead to blind faith of using nothing but the genuine ones. This thinking undoubtedly increases the pressure put upon wild resources, and was a social factor that has contributed to their over utilization. In recent years, the environmental consciousness has begun to enlighten Chinese society -- in which previously the essence and aim of environmental protection was not understood. As a result, materials "taken into mouths" have been included under a set of intense environmental standards. When drinking, one asks for natural mineral water; when ill, one would like to ask for Chinese herbal medicine without being polluted. The latter scenario leads to a lopsided stress on wild herbals, even those in the natural state far from everyone. If the market takes concerted action and mirrors these desires with increases in price, the wild populations of Chinese herbal medicine will be faced with even more serious destruction.



4. Historical review of management in Chinese medicinal materials


Early in the 1950's, a traditional way was followed of purchasing Chinese medicinal materials; private merchants built points and roved around the countryside for purchasing. In a few instances state-run trade companies were in charge of purchasing a few major kinds of medicinal materials. In 1955, the purchasing market of the state-run, cooperative trades was regularly extended. The situation of the unitary purchasing by state-run medicinal material companies had been formed since 1956.


In 1957, the free markets were once opened except for 38 kinds of materials ratified by the State Council as products that were unitarily purchased by local medicinal material companies according to the state plan. Under the situation of the "Great Leap Forward," the meeting of the national medicine administration put forward a target that, by 1960, the output of purchasing would be doubled. They also demanded that the purchase of medicinal materials be given special attention. The slogans of "go to all the, rove all the townships, to collect all the things for medicine" and "dig up all the things (suitable to be used for medicine) growing on ground, shut down all the things flying in the sky, dredge up all the things growing in water" were shouted. This collection of all the medicinal materials, large or small, made yielded the situation where many materials were kept too long in stock, and made for unprecedented destruction of the wild biological resources used for medicine. After 1959, it was not until 1980 that medicinal materials were divided into three groups to be managed, i.e. huge purchase, plan purchase, and control purchase.


Since 1980, the medicinal material markets have been fully freed except for musk, radix glycyrrhizae, cortex eucommiae, cortex magnoliae officinalis that remain in the unitary purchase domain of state-run trade agencies. This situation occurred due to the relaxing of policy restrictions in agriculture and the practice of a diversified economy in agricultural by-products. Many kinds of economic elements, the forms of a diversified economy, and many kinds of medium of circulation present a scene of "activity." Buying and selling was extended and markets were made to prosper. On the other hand, a hopeless mess was inevitably caused by "all the trades managing medicinal materials."


5. Case studies: Rarity caused by use of plants for medicine


5.1. Dendrobium candidum


Dendrobium candidum, a species listed as endangered, is generally found growing as an epiphyte on the trunk of some species of Fagaceae (such as Cyclobalanopsis glauca, Quercus variabilis) or on stone with bryophytes. Its habitat is often associated with high temperature and high humidity, and it normally occurs at elevations from 1700-2000 m above sea level.


The entire plant has medicinal value. The effect of drugs from this species promotes the production of body fluid to quench thirst, nourishes “yin” to moisten the lung, soothes the throat, and diminishes inflammation. Its prepared commodity is called "Xifengdou," a kind of high-grade drink which has especially good effect for curing hoarseness, and is commonly combined into a tonic with ginseng and young pilose antler. This commodity is very expensive in international markets -- up to $3,000 per kg (in the middle 1980's). A single kilogram of this substance can be bartered for 12,000 kg of wheat. Thus it can potentially serve as an important export material. Nevertheless, this orchid resource has decreased rapidly and has become a species of endangered plant for a variety of reasons.


Although there are some internal causes that could have led to the endangered status of this species, such as excessive demand for the habitats it occupies and infertility (seed without endosperm, embryo in a stage of proembryo), the direct cause of the recent sudden decline of the species is the unsustainable harvest of the species. Because this species has high value, along with slow growth and reproduction in natural conditions, many people have tried to harvest this natural resource before it can be more fully protected. In doing so, they think only of the present and neglect the future. They act as predators on this resource, collecting even very small seedlings. Such collections have further intensified the decrease in the valuable resource (it has become even more valuable as it has become even more rare in nature).


When working in a purchasing station of the Prefectural Foreign Trade Department in Wenshan Autonomous Prefecture (southeast Yunnan) in the sprang, the first author witnessed several heaps of abandoned immature Dendrobium candidum rotting, because its value at that time was lower than the cost to transport the product. With reference to the responsibility for the plunder of such resource in great demand, it may be said that the local people are blind in action, but it goes without saying that foreign trade departments should held mainly responsible. If appropriate conservation measures had been taken at that time, such as 1) enforced moderation in the quantity that could be purchased; 2) prohibition from purchasing very small seedlings; and 3) implementation of an educational program instead of fines to first-time sellers of the product, today Dendrobium candidum would not be listed in the "Red Data Book."


5.2. Cortex Magnoliae officinalis


Cortex Magnoliae officinalis is comprised of the bark of Magnolia officinalis and M. officinalis var. biloba., and represents a key conservation topic with regard to Chinese medicinal materials. The two kinds of plants are distributed widely in the northern subtropics in China. Forests in this area have been over harvested unreasonably over cut. Many trees of these two taxa have been skinned for the Cortex product. Thus, the valuable resource is rapidly decreasing. Their area of distribution is getting smaller and smaller. Wild plants are very rare; they exist primarily in fragments pure forest and sporadically they are grown in gardens by people. The examples below highlight the status of these species.


Longquan City, Jingning County, Yunhe County of the Lishui Prefecture, in south Zhejiang province, are the traditional production areas (output of about 50% of the national total). Before the 1960's, there was a wide distribution of wild populations of this species in the area. A substantial amount of wild plants of the species was mixed in the natural forests from 300 to 1200 m in elevation.


These statistics made by the Medicine Company of the Prefecture throw a light on the matter: from 1965-1969, 513,600 kg of commodity bark from this source was provided annually by the prefecture. In the 1970's, after the large-scale timber forest of China fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) was built (occupied by the simple thought of the timber forests in dominance within the whole country), a major part of the Magnolia officinalis mixed forest was cut down and replaced by the pure forest of China fir. The distribution of the wild Magnolia officinalis rapid declined, and the output of the bark also declined sharply. From 1970 to 1979, only 203,000 kg of the commercial bark was produced, so that there was a corresponding rise in price as the product became increasingly rarer.


In the 1980's, there was a big increase in the purchase price of the bark. In 1982 alone, the price increased from 0.84 yuan/kg to 1.52 yuan/kg (up 80%). Driven by the economical benefit of these higher prices, the local forest workers pulled up all the trees with more than 10 cm diameter at breast height (d. b. h.) by the root. It is during this year that the amount harvested reached 2,234,000 kg, a value 7.4 times the average quantity of the preceding 17 years. The resource suffered devastating destruction. Even worse was the panic purchasing in 1988, in which the purchase price shot up from 3.0 yuan/kg to 30-50 yuan/kg. At such a price, wild young and sprouted branches were nearly extirpated in the wild.


After 1989, the local government realized the serious nature of this crisis and decided to adopt administrative measures to prohibit strictly the skinning of trees without planning authority to do so. However, this decision was too late to remedy the matter, as all products by this time originated from artificial forests. From 1990 to 1993, an investigation of townships and villages producing the resource was conducted by concerned authorities of the prefecture. The study showed that no wild Magnolia officinalis community could been found except for over 1,000 trees with d. b. h. more than 15 cm surviving in some villages such as Houliaokeng, Shuizhuyang of Yunhe County, Kengshanhou of Jingning County. No trees with d. b. h. more than 20 cm were found in the Baishanzu (national-grade) reserve. These data show the exhaustion of the wild gene resource. Further, all the seeds collected from wild trees throughout the prefecture amounted to less than 30 kg.


The same thing also happened in major production areas of the other provinces. Jiujiang City, Jiangxi province, is the locality of the “type” specimen of Magnolia officinalis var. biloba. Tens of thousands of wild trees originally grew in Shimen Township, Wuning County of this city. After the predatory harvest of 1988, none remained. Sichuan is the major production area of Sichuan Officinal Magnolia in which the output makes up about 10% of the national total. According to information given by the Wanxian Prefecture Station of Chinese Medicinal Material, a significant number of wild trees of this species occurred there, and their quality was considered first-class. Bark from these trees was historically presented as tribute to royal governments. From the initial post-liberation period to early 1970, tens of tons of the commercial bark were exported overseas. Recent investigation of Kaixian, Wushan, Wuxi counties, determined that no wild trees with d. b. h. more than 20 cm could be found. Also, there was no evidence that any of the trees were reproductively active; no seeds were found. Western Hubei is also a major locality for Sichuan Officinal Magnolia; here the output makes up 20% of the total. During our investigation of Wufeng, Hefeng, Laifeng, Enshi and Lichuan etc. Counties and Cities, no wild representatives of this species was found. It was said by the local farmers that before the 1970's, no one wanted the seeds because the financial return for their sale was small (only one jiao for one aggregate fruit).


The main reason for the rarity of this resource is that production of Cortex Magnoliae officinalis has depended on the resource in the wild. The resource has been unsustainably harvested. Although the state listed it (including the var. biloba) as endangerednable use in conservation, Thus, the destruction of the resource reached an unprecedented extent so that now it is impossible to harvest any bark, plants and as an object of second-class conservation, many managing departments did not make and adopt appropriate measures for its sustai and no flowers can be collected in many areas. Some good wild gene resources are rapidly vanishing.


5.3. Liquorice


The situation of some plants whose names are not in the Red Data Book is not hopeful. Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.), a product used commonly in Chinese medicine, serves as an example of this problem.


The production of Liquorice has depended on collection of wild resources for a long time. Inner Mongolia used to be the main production area for Liquorice. Yikezhao League had 18,000,000 mu of distribution area during the initial post-liberation period. This area had declined to 5,000,000 mu by 1980. Because of the rapid drop in availability, and thus output, from Inner Mongolia, the first area of importance became the Xinjiang Region. Nevertheless, the outlook of Liquorice in Xinjiang does not seem to be hopeful. Before the liberation, there was a rare population there, as well as a small cultivated source. The discharges of rivers were large, there used to be flood irrigation over the grasslands, and as a result Liquorice grew luxuriantly. The 30 years of exploitation of Liquorice in Xinjiang after the liberation was marked by continuous (sometimes predatory) collection of the wild resource. Thus, the taxa suffered serious destruction. In the early 1950's, all oases of both northern and southern Xinjiang contained Liquorice. It was regarded not only as a valuable drug herb, but also it played an active role as a windbreak to fix sand and conserve local vegetation. Liquorice is now vanishing in Hejing, Heshuo, Yanqi, and Bohu Counties, in which it used to be abundant. Liquorice in Xinjiang has decreased by 70% since the 1950's.


In recent years, the destruction of this resource has reached an unprecedented degree because the range of its application was expanded (used for medicine, industrial raw material, export and preparation, etc.) and the need for the product was rapidly increased. Liquorice is contained in only a few species of plants with great vitality. No one has found it difficult for these taxa to reproduce themselves in the wild. The artificial factors are the main cause that put it in the awkward predicament of administrative conservation called as called for by the documents of the State Council. The purchasing and managing departments have the responsibility of adding fuel to the flames, which they can not shirk.


In international trade, the quotation of prices for Liquorice on the market has been captivating in recent years. The tendency to lay stress on the international market and look down upon the domestic market, diversification in Liquorice, and the phenomenon of swarming into export ranks have occurred one after another. Liquorice growing in northern China was swamped by troops who were digging the drug herb up from northeast China, to Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia, to Inner Mongolia, up to Xinjiang, approaching the border. The Liquorice zone lying across northern China has being wiped out chunk after chunk. There are thick holes in the sand everywhere, looking like a scene of devastation after a disaster. This is a new serious problem facing drug herbs as a special commodity, in the course of change from the system of planning economy to the one of market economy.


5.4. Tunica-like Psammosilene


Some raw materials, which are not listed in the national pharmacopoeia, but used in a great quantity for producing drugs, should be taken full account of. For example, although Tunica-like Psammosilene is not in the national pharmacopoeia, it was used among the people in Yunnan 500 years ago. Its root is used as a drug and its effect is to stop bleeding, relieve pain, diminish inflammation, and detoxify so as to promote regeneration of the tissue. It is mainly used for curing injuries from falls, fractures, contusions and strains, rheumarthritis, lumbago and pain in leg.


Tunica-like Psammosilene is a plant of monotypic genus in the family Caryophyllaceae. It is endemic to southwest China, and is disjunctly distributed in Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan and Xizang (Tibet), mainly in northern Yunnan and southwest Sichuan. It occurs in Linzhi and Mangkang Counties of Xizang, but is found only in Weining County of western Guizhou. It occupies sunny stones, and slopes and stone-cracks, from 1500 to 3500 m a.s.l.


Although it has a wide distribution, it is in great need because it is the main composition of a famous Chinese patent medicine. Its sprout capacity is great, but its growth is very slow. Because the need is getting greater and greater, and the change from wild to domestic is not realized, up to now the wild resource is obviously decreasing. This species is faced with extinction. This conclusion is based on scientific evidence throughout its range. Therefore, it is imperative to carry out practical and effective conservation of this species, to prevent over-exploitation of it, and to build a research base to allow domestic husbandry of the species. The taxon not only is of medical value, but also is with value for scientific research.


5.5. Cephalotaxus and Taxus


It was a research section of the Department of Agriculture of the United States that did the phytochemical study on Cephalotaxus, and that reparated harringtonine, homoharringtonine, isoharringtonine from Cephalotaxus harringtonia. These studies proved that these chemicals effectively restrain the lymph leukaemia P-388 in small mice. In 1972, Cephalotaxus was regarded as an important object of study at a national meeting about tumors, and a cooperative research group was established at the same time.


The genus is distributed chiefly to the east of the Hengduan mountains, to the west of Qinling mountains through the west part of Hubei, and Guizhou to the Nanling mountains, which is the geographical distribution center of the genus with most species of the genus. The timber of the genus can be used for furniture and building materials because the wood is solid, of fine grain and of much elasticity. The plants of the genus were, to a certain extent, cut down before the medical effect was found. Since the 1970's, the clinical need for harringtonine and homoharringtonine has gotten greater and greater. Many provinces and cities swarmed to purchase raw materials to produce these chemical compounds, and, as a result, formed an historical upsurge of cutting the trees of this genus. Though all the plants in this genus contain Cephalotaxine without biological activity, but from which harringtonine can be produced, these production costs are too expensive to be adopted. Nowadays, the production of the compounds still depends upon the plants cut down for their raw materials.



Table 3. The distribution of harringtonine in the plants of Cephalotaxus






deoxy harringtonine

C. oliveri





C. sinensis





C. fortunei





C. mannii





C. harringtonia





C. wilsoniana






The crushing destruction made some species disappear in their distribution area. C. mannii is very rare in Hainan; its resource is near exhaustion. C. lanceolata, C. mannii and C. oliveri have been listed in endangered plants of our country, and are badly in need of conservation. The survival of C. fortunei is in jeopardy. The majority of medical factories have stopped producing the compounds because of lack of raw materials, except that ones in Yunnan and Hainan can purchase a small amount of raw material to produce harringtonine, homoharringtonine. So the degree of conservation of this genus is much less than one of use of them (maybe of all the wildlife resources).


Because taxol with much activity against cancer has been found in the trees of the genus Taxus in recent years, the genus is faced with a situation similar to, but more serious than, Cephalotaxus. Comparison of domestic and foreign utilizaton can set the stage for us to evaluate our perspective. In the United States, taxol is separated from T. brevifolia, of which in the country there are one hundred and thirty million trees whose distribution area reaches one hundred eight million acres. However, in the country, the natural resource is not allowed to be used. Instead, all taxol comes from plantations. The compound for semi-composition of taxol was contained in the species T. baccata, which is common by courtyards and along roads everywhere, but is not allowed to be used. The raw material is bought from India or Pakistan for separation.


There are 4 species of the genus in China, but the maximum number of plants is not more than one million. "All the trades managing medicinal materials" join in plundering the resource. Lured by high profits and flaunting the banner of scientific research, some people from scientific institutes went against even a rudimentary code of scientific ethics, and drew taxol by purchasing large amount of bark of plants of this genus, then went into the expanding trade network of international drugs without ever being noticed. Nowadays, the trees of the genus, especially T. yunnanensis that has a high taxol content, are being threatened. Even though the forestry departments have begun to reproduce it artificially, no enterprise is ready to provide this enterprise with funding.


6. Results and Preliminary Conclusions


6.1. What taxa are endangered because of being over-exploited?


To sum up, it is not difficult to understand that the wild resources of Chinese medicinal herbs are more subject to being destroyed chiefly because those who use them pay nothing for this privilege. It is only one false market appearance that the commodities of some species are in less need. The below four kinds of resources are confronted with a more serious crisis and endangered because of long use, because the degree of their being used is more limited than the common taxa.


6.1.1. The taxa growing in adverse circumstances are more subject to be threatened with extinction.


For instance, Dendrobium candidum and Illicium difengpi were distributed in the fragile limestone mountains in which the destruction of habitats is very serious and the restoration is very difficult. The price of Dendrobium candidum has been very high and the supply of Illicium difengpi falls short of the demand. Ferula sinkiangensis is growing in deteriorated circumstances; it is difficult for it to reproduce itself. Cistanche deserticola is also an example. It parasitizes the root of Haloxylon ammodendron, whose woody stem and branches are good firewood called "coal in the desert" and used by the local people and building materials and whose tender branches are camel feed in the winter and spring. If the host continues to be used to the present degree and is extirpated, then this valuable medicinal herb will disappear also from the harsh desert.


6.1.2. Plants used with methods that make them die are in much danger of extinction.


Let us take the 28 taxa of plants appearing in the Red Data Book as examples. Among them 23 are confronted with deadly use, making up 82.14%, and far exceeding the level of 65.38% of 130 Chinese Herbal drugs. The method of use is an important criteria as to whether the plants are endangered or not.


6.1.3. Special attention should be paid to the threat upon those species with multiple uses.


The above Dalbergia odorifera is a typical example. Phellodendron amurense is also one with multiple uses, and whose rank in the threatened plants will undoubtedly change into more worrisome status sooner or later if it is used like this but not conserved. Dracaena cochinchinensis is the important raw material from which the product for stopping bleeding called "Xuejie" is separated. It is also an ornamental plant which people appreciate. Dunnia sinensis, a plant distributed in a narrow and small area of the delta of Zhujiang River, is an ornamental plant. It also is also a folk medicine herb. Both of these species will be dug up for planting outside people's homes, thus they are faced with multiple pressures. It is not difficult to understand why they are in danger of extinction.


6.1.4. Species with fragmented and/or small populations for which the resource is in great demand are prone to sudden extinction.


The fate of Cephalotaxus and Taxus mentioned above can indicate some problems as to this aspect. The area of Picrorhiza scrophulariiflora in China is very limited, and it is an alpine plant whose growing period in each year is very short. Since it was determined that it could replace the imported material, it has rapidly become threatened because of being dug up in large numbers. For more than a decade after the effect of Coleus forkohlii in curing cancer was found out, its use as a natural resource in China has has sprung up largely without being noticed. Nevertheless, in the middle of the 1980's, when doing a study on threatened species, the first author went to the locality in Dongchuan City, in which Maire found this taxa in those days, and failed to find its track again after looking around for it for several days. It is known to us that it is growing in the barren mountains in which the soil is degenerated and the circumstances are very arid. Its growing area in this locality is very narrow and small, less than 20 km2. Though its distribution area abroad is continental, it will sooner or later disappear from the map of our country if it is not drawn to our attention and given strict conservation. The state of Oplopanax elatus is similar to this, but the day when its value is clearly defined will be the day when it will be put to death.


It is a long-range aim to do a profound study according to all the information and data from the markets to list those species which can be then used to interpret the more complex problems. Therefore, a study on this aspect can be regarded as open-ended. It is necessary for us to make a thorough investigation and study if we can acquire more support.


6.2. Clearing-out the responsibility


Based on the above analyses, it is not difficult to understand that in medical practice, because the effective conservation of medical plants was neglected for a long time, the national conception of sustainable use of biological resource has not been kept in everyone's mind. Thus, the resource of medical plants, especially their wild populations, has suffered wholesale destruction.


A partial responsibility for this destruction can be attributed to the fact that the broad masses of people remain uneducated in matters of nature conservation. However, the basic causes are that concerned departments responsible for the leading work on such conservation issues made mistakes in their implementation of policy (such as slogans in the "Great Leap Forward"), and that these departments poorly guided their management initiatives and badly weighed the advantages and disadvantages of conservation policy. If one looks at these problems from an historical point of view, it is clear that before the 1980's, managing departments of medicinal materials (including foreign trade departments) shirked their main responsibilities. Similarly, silviculture that gave rise to monocultures of timber and wholesale destruction of natural habitats of many species has resulted in endangerment of many species (including those used for medicines) whose survival depended upon only the most diverse forest ecosystems.


After the market for medicinal materials was opened, diversification in management of these materials and shortsighted actions have been commonplace, and these practices in turn have aggravated the endangerment to the threatened medical plants day by day. At the same time, analysis of who is responsible for this destruction is getting more complex. Based on the present problems, it is unreasonable to fully open markets of medicinal materials as a kind of special commodity both from the angle of the medicine and from one of the effective conservation and sustainable use of medicinal materials. It is necessary to carry out a finite unified management program and to enhance macroscopic control. It is imperative for the central agency engaged in conservation of a species to be considered the best qualified authority to speak on making related policy.


As to the historical president, the policy "who reaps profits from the species, to which who compensate" (similar to the one "who pollutes the environment, who purify" in the environmental protection) should be carried out. The concerned troublemakers should seriously shoulder the responsibility. There are really and truly an immense number of papers, even books, on policy, laws, measures, proposals, etc., on this issue of responsibility. What counts is that the troublemakers should conscientiously do their duty, and provide relevant material, financial resources and manpower to earnestly save the endangered species which they utilize. If not, conservation will forever be a thing on one's lips in discussions of ideological guidelines rather than one to deal with concrete matters relating to work.



6.3. Countermeasures in the conservation of Chinese medicinal plants


Chinese medicine has been an important part of Chinese culture for more than five thousand years. The factors that have contributed to the threatened state of some Chinese herbal medicines can be divided into two categories: 1) artificial factors (the main subject of this study); and 2) natural environmental change. In other words, there is the division of artificially rare species and naturally rare ones. It is unwise and impossible to prohibit inflexibly the use of threatened taxa except for a few species whose use has been prohibited by official order of the state. One subject of particular interest to TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) East Asia is the sustainable use of wildlife used in traditional Chinese medicine. Increasingly, TRAFFIC is working with traditional Chinese medicine specialists toward the goal of preserving ancient health-care traditions while protecting wild animals and plants from extinction. It is not difficult to understand with regard to the use of Chinese medicinal materials that their conservation and management will be enhanced by keying in on the issue of sustainable development. Based on such knowledge, we advance the following viewpoints.


6.3.1. Building an information base


It will be important to have available the fullest scientific data possible, in order to provide the basis for taking measures to preserve the biodiversity of the Chinese medicinal materials. An information base about countrywide Chinese medicinal materials supervised by this agency should be established. Only based on such an information base, can we decide what taxa are able to be managed in what region and what is the most reasonable target for exploitation and utilization. With this enacted, further effective conservation of such limited biological resources of ours is hopeful. Attention should also be paid to the economic value of these species. In particular, when certain species evoke strong repercussions in the marketplace, this should signal that the future of these taxa may be rather worrisome. Because the scope of man's use of natural resources is steadily growing, it is necessary to develop the range and quality of such an information base.


6.3.2. Implementing laws strictly


The state has made many related laws and regulations in order to give natural resources proper protection. Why, then, is the situation of conservation of species going from bad to worse? Apparently, the current situation is one in which the existing laws are not being implemented strictly. To correct this, the state should begin to supervise rigidly these laws. In this light, measures to protect threatened Chinese medicinal herbs most frequently in use (especially the wild populations) should be relatively stricter. This solution can only be suggested here. How to solve it is the speciality of the administrative departments in charge of management of natural resources. Also, the issue of increased enforcement of laws can be discussed at some special meetings. In addition, it is important at the same time to educate the public on this important issue.


6.3.3 The scientific significance of conservation


Man's use of Chinese medicinal materials can not be stopped because of their rarity. Therefore, conservation of these species should increasingly involve domestic horticulture. The following aspects are probably feasible.


Effective conservation of the those species which are threatened should involve comprehensive in situ and/or ex situ conservation measures. In situ conservation should involve the establishment of large nature reserves specifically for those species containing genuine medicinal materials, prohibition of their collection in these areas (strictly enforced and backed up by legislation), and increased education to let the public know that "the things are not inherited from the older generation, but borrowed from the descendants." Quantitative definitions should apply to the description of threatened taxa subject to such conservation action. The conservation range of each taxa should be determined according to accurate scientific knowledge, and the system of conservation should be set up based upon prevailing local conditions. Ex situ conservation ex situ calls for the removal of some seriously threatened plants from natural to artificial conditions to enhance their study preservation. Of course, the fundamental goal of these conservation actions is to realize the reintroduction of the taxa into the nature -- the final end-result of all ex situ conservation efforts.


It is also important to protect natural habitats of taxa. The conservation of species will be incomplete and transient if their natural habitats are ignored. The situation of Cistanche deserticola can serve as an example. Thus, we must not construe the conservation of species to be an expedient measure; instead, it is the long-term conservation of habitats and their corresponding ecosystem upon which these threatened species depend. This view also represents the current basic tendency in the conservation of nature throughout the world. It greatly inspired us when IUCN pointed out that our laying undue stress on a particular taxon lacked in foresight. Instead, our correct selection of activities should have included the preservation of the taxon’s significant habitat. Many medicinal plants are seriously threatened by the widespread destruction of their habitats. The substitute of monoculture timber forests from mixed ones has caused innumerable medicinal herbs native to mixed forests to suffer local extermination of their population. With respect to the conservation of habitats, there exists significant practical experience in the management of natural preserves throughout China that can be drawn upon in our effort to protect medicinal plants.


Because there has been an ongoing serious conflict in the use and conservation of wildlife resources, it essential that we develop effective and lasting methods to enhance: 1) our knowledge of the acclimatization of these wild plants; 2) the consequences of their intensive production to meet the need of markets according to changes in market demand; and 3) efforts to make their wild populations safe and sound forever. Here we involk the implication that "it is the reasonable use that is the most proper conservation," The large-scale cultivation of Ginseng, Gastrodia elata, and Eucommia ulmoides for their drugs for the market presents evidence of successful programs in this respect. Implementation may present some problems, such as the resistance of the majority of enterprises to develop strategic insight and to invest in relevant research. Nevertheless, research institutes are limited in finance. So relevant research remains supported by the government (or by aid from concerned departments organized by the government), and those reaping benefits of this research do not pay their dues.


It should be emphasized that effort should be made to look for valid substitutes for the threatened medicinal plants, even if this appears to be an action against one's will. No assortment of Chinese medicinal materials is immutable from ancient times to the present. It has been the custom to use some substitutes in every dynasty. It is obvious that such substitutes are based on basic research at some level, and that they do not appear arbitrarily.





The authors thank cordially Academician WU Zhengyi, Prof. ZHOU Jun and so on for giving help in the subject, and thank Professor Andrew Smith, international member of the Biodiversity Working Group, for editing the translated text of this manuscript



Main Literature Cited


Fu Li-guo (ed.) The Red Data Book of Chinese Plants - Rare and Endangered Plants (Volume I), Beijing, Science Press. 1992.

Pan Zhi-ming, Han Chang-sheng, Imperativeness of strengthening further management of the markets of Chinese medicinal materials, China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica16 (6):378-379. 1991.

Si Jinping, Pan Xinping et al., The present situation of Cortex Magnoliae officinalis and the opinion on the development and conservation, Journal Chinese Medicinal Materials, 17 (8):11-14. 1994.

The Pharmacopoeia Committee of the Health Ministry of the People's Republic of China (ed.), The Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China, Edition of 1995 (Part I), Guangdong Science and Technology Press and Chemical Industry Press. 1995.

Wang Kai-yi, The preliminary study on the situation and prospect of exploitation and utilization of Liquorice in Xinjiang, Bulletin of Chinese Materia Medica, 13 (9): 6-7. 1988.

Wei Xi-jin, He Maojin et al., Studies on the culture technique of high production of Morinda officinalis, Journal of Chinese Medicinal Materials, 15 (9): 3-6. 1992.

Wu Zheng-yi, Peter H. Raven (ed.), Flora of China, Volume 17. Beijing and St. Louis. Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden. 1994.

Xu Zai-fu, Principle and Practice of Sustainable Development on Tropical Plant Resources, Beijing, Science Press. 1996.

Yuan Chang-qi, Wang Nian-he et al., Imperativeness of strengthening conservation and management of resources of Chinese medicinal materials, China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica, 17 (1):3-5.1992.

Zhang Mao-qiang, On the cause of the greater fluctuation in the output of medicinal materials and the price and the countermeasures, China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica, 16 (2):123-124. 1991.

Zhao Run-huai, Zhang Hui-yuan et al., The resource reserves and output of the medicinal materials most in use in China, China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica, 20 (12):712-716. 1995.

Zhou Bao-guo, The broad domain of exploitation and utilization of Chinese Medicinal Materials, China Journal of Chinese Materia Medica, 17 (10):635-637. 1992.

Zhou Jun in Sun Man-qi & Zhou Ting-chong (ed.), The investigation, research and production, conservation of Chinese natural medicinal materials, The Research and Development of Medicines in China, Beijing, Science Press. 1996.