Endangered plants.

Date: Mon, 8 Apr 1996 13:19:09 -0700
From: Howie Brounstein <howieb.TELEPORT.COM>
Subject: Re: endangered species: Top 10

>Hello, Since this is a current topic, I thought some of you might be interested in a recent (short) article by Richo Sech of Herb Pharm where he lists the Top 10 Endangered Wild Herbs along with comments on substitutes/cultivation:

Hmmm .... lets get some definitions down, The word "endangered" implies a legal agreed upon term, defined as

Endangered plants are species in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future. Threatened plants are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

Threatened and endangered (T & E) plants, after becoming listed by the Federal government, receive a certain amount of legal protection, and cannot be harvested or traded in commerce. Many plants are listed as T or E by thestate government, and recieve less protection, but still can not be legally harvested on public lands. The Native plant society of a state, together with the state department of agriculture, university and government botanists pull together in the Natural Heritage Program, and suggest plants that should be included on these lists, but need more information, or more time, to be listed. The federal listing process is very slow, and steeped with a strong brew of politics, so that plants can easily go extinct while awaiting listing.

I believe the subject line of this post, and I assume Richo's article, is very misleading. Very few of this top ten list is legally T or E in any way. Some are. Some may be at this time physically endangered, with few populations left, and could be listed if the information was gathered and appropriately filed. But these plants could become extinct while we wait for this. These are important plants to know.

Others on this list are hard to find in certain locations and not others, but have populations into nearly uncountable billions (hey, I count plant populations, and have counted many millions of plant, I'm not exaggerating) of plants in my area. But these populations might dwindle out of existence if harvested for the whole world from my state. So it is important to consider these plants as "in danger" if harvested for a worldwide commercial basis on the international herb market, not in anyway "endangered" legally. These plants can be harvested legally, and in my opinion ethically and morally, on a bioregional scale.

Now I applaud Rico for his work, and wish I had the time to answer his questionnaire that came my way. But then If I didn't vote I can't complain. That's for politics, not this forum. I mainly agree with Rico, but I feel the term ENDANGERED should be replaced with IN DANGER for many of these.

Let's take a closer look:

>1 Angelica sp. -suggests cultivated Angelica archangelica

There are no endangered Angelicas in Oregon. Endangered should not be applied to this plant. Perhaps the situation is more desperate elsewhere. But then, wildcrafting angelica can be tricky to do safely. I wouldn't by wild angelica unless you looked into the wildcrafter's eyes and could trust their expertise. And it does cultivate, so.....

>2 Arnica sp.- hard to cultivate

There are a few arnicas that are protected in Oregon. One is very localized, the other threatened because it only grows in the very south of Oregon, but the populations runs across the state boundary into another state, where it is common. Threatened because of a manmade boundary only. Perhaps in other places it is more depleted, but in most of Oregon it is widespread, not even close to threatened. Many species grow well in recovering clearcuts. I harvest above ground flowers, and the impact on the population is negligible. There is no lack of wild stock around here.

>3 Echinacea angustifolia - Small amount is being cultivated, but lots of cultivated E. purpurea is available

I use cultivated angustifolia (perhaps I should update my years old web catalog ..... put it on the list)

Wild ech is not legally protected, except for one (or so) species. But the blatant overuse of Echinacea as a cure all at the first sign of any health problem (along with the Echinacea salad dressing) is a big concern, and although I don't personally harvest it wild, I believe we should be very careful. Many reports say the wild stocks are being depleted.

>4 Panax quinquefolium, American ginseng is almost gone from the wild. (I read elsewhere that Herb Pharm, an herbal tincture manufacturer here in US, will no longer be accepting wildcrafted American Ginseng)

An example of a plant which could probably be listed as endangered with enough effort.

>5 Goldenseal, Hydrastic canadensis - current cultivation is insufficient for demand. Suggested substitutes: Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium or M. nervosa) and yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica). Other people have also suggested Golden Thread (a Coptis, sorry, don't have the full name in front of me right now)

Frightening first reports suggest this plant may also be depleted enough warrant running it through the legal process. But goldthread as a replacement ...... let's let someone harvest some first and then tell me if its a feasible replacement. I have my doubts of the practicality of it. I spoke to 7song the other day, and he mentioned it grows in some specific types of bogs in his neck of the woods (Upstate New York). These ecosystems are in trouble enough already.

>6 Helonias (Chamaelirium luteum) cultivation difficult

Beats me, I must've been asleep for this herb.

>7 Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium sp) cultivation difficult

Most or maybe all of this genus is indeed endangered legally.

>8 Skullcap - Scutellaria sp - wild is rare. He recommends organically grown Scutellaria lateriflora as readily available

Hmm. Perhaps he is right. I don't see my wild Scutellaria as rare, just damn hard to find. It's plant that is invisble to most, nearly invisible to the trained botanist, only identifiable a few weeks out of the year. I find S. galericulata quite hardy, handling harvesting very well. The same plants grows back fine even if you remove most of the aboveground portions of it. I have harvested the same stands of skullcap for years without any indication of depletion, similar to peppermint. I would tend to doubt Richo's sources in this matter. He asked wildcrafters and botanists for their personal opinions. I think that the botanists and wildcrafters could not accurately gauge the true populations of this genus. I have met only a handful of folks who could locate skullcap well, and these folks would be cautious when saying there was no skullcap in an area. They would say they didn't see it in an area. (N..B.Desert species not included in this discussion).

>9. Valerian - Valeriana sp - He says Valeriana officinalis is easy to cultivate and readily available

Yes, this is true. But Valerian, once again, is not even close to endangered in the northwestern United States. There are two varieties in my neck of the woods. One grows at lower elevations on rocky wet cliffs. This variety shouldn't be harvested at all in most cases because the ecosystem is to fragile, and whole hillsides could cave in from one improperly trained wildcrafter. The other variety grows in middle elevation meadows. This can be harvested ecologically, will recover from the cut and burn of a timber harvest, and is so common as to be a codominant plant in the standard plant associations in our area. I have personally seen thousands of acres of Valerian. Once again, this could just be localized to the Cascades of the Northwest.

>10 Wild yam - Dioscorea sp - heavily overharvested

I don't deal with this herb.

To sum it all up, I agree with Rico that these plants should be looked at, and I feel that bioregionalism is the way to save wild plant populations, but I also feel that calling Valerian, arnica, and angelica endangered is misleading. These can be harvested ethically and legally.

From: Howie Brounstein <howieb.TELEPORT.COM>

Seems that the article wasn't written by Richo at all.
A journalist interviewed him over the phone and put his name on the article. I'm not sure if he has even seen it yet.

They even spelled his last name wrong ... it's Cech not Sech.

Also, perhaps I am being a little narrow in my vision concerning Arnica. My area is the worldwide center of biodiversity for Arnicas, according to the Flora of North America North of Mexico.

But it still grows back well.