In today’s world where modernization and urbanization are rapidly changing our environment in the name of progress, we are also producing the beginnings of a crisis. The crisis of which we speak is the increasing loss of endemic or native plant species as a result of declining natural areas which in turn is adding numerous species to the “Threatened or Endangered Lists” world wide each year. We are not suggesting that progress in modernization and urbanization should be slowed down, but this is a problem that should concern everyone and should be reflected in our way of thinking and planning. For far too long our thinking and planning has reflected a reactive attitude towards things. Our planning is centered around the desires of our imagination and only when a problem arises and is on the verge of being out of control do we stop to think of how to resolve the problem. How much better would things be and how many fewer problems would occur if we were to change our way of thinking to one of a proactive method.
The Problem

Unfortunately this type thinking is also evident in our conservation efforts. We set up botanical gardens, arboretums and sanctuaries to protect those species which are societies favorites but those which do not make the favorites list are all too often forgotten altogether. In the United States and in some other countries as well there is some effort to restore native habitats, but by and large the solution to conservation is to legislate laws and regulations that address the taking of plant material from natural areas while ignoring funding for restoration.

The problem is compounded in underdeveloped or third world countries where many of nature’s herbs are utilized as alternative medicinals. The trend is to continue taking from the wild without ever replenishing nature’s supply. The failure in this circumstance though is often due to lack of knowledge, means of implementation, or that governments inability to fund such projects.

Change to Proactive Thinking

For the past five years, Botresearch USA has endeavored to set the example and through discussions with various individuals in the Plant Conservation Alliance, the Medicinal Plant Working Group, and the IUCN to explain a scenario which we believe could conceivably serve as a step towards proactive thinking and planning and further serve as a possible model for a program which would address this critical issue. This program however requires the effort of governments, botanical gardens and arboretums, wildflower societies, and academia all working in concert to accomplish a central goal.

Possible Model ?

Botanical gardens, arboretums, and sanctuaries have typically been the entity responsible for the preservation of the worlds plants for hundreds of years. These institutions have primarily also furnished the manpower required to collect and preserve these plants. Over the years their main goal has been to preserve their collections and more recently a spirit of competition seems to be developing.

In this model, these organizations would focus more attention on conservation by helping to expand conservation efforts globally, while learning to utilize other resources or organizations to help accomplish this goal.

Specifically, these gardens would obtain grant monies from their local governments to help fund this project. Next the garden would send several staff members to a country which is known to hold native species of threatened or endangered plants. These staff members would then recruit local people to help collect seed from these species and set up protected garden areas in their surrounding village areas. The collected seed would then be planted by the locals in these protected gardens and they would be taught sound horticultural methods to ensure proper care of these plants.

In addition to the teaching and supervision of these people, the staff members would help the locals to set up a cooperative which would have separate garden areas.As the seed from these species matured into plants producing seed of their own, the second generation seed would be collected in part for return to the botanic gardens, and part for re-introduction into their wild native habitat. Seed would also be collected from the wild for those species which of economic importance with respect to medicinals as they have the potential of becoming a specie of concern if not controlled.

Seed received by the botanic gardens would then be seed banked and a small portion would be turned over to biotechnology companies for mass production via tissue culture. Once mass produced the biotech companies would send the material back to the country of origin where the seedlings would be divided equally between the conservation garden and the wild or in the case of those species which are of medicinal value, into gardens which belonging to the cooperative and would be utilized for sale. Upon the sale of these medicinal species on the open market, the profits would be divided with two-thirds going to the coop members and one-third to be divided between the botanic gardens and biotech companies to cover their expenses. This model not only serves to conserve and perpetuate these species of concern, but it also protects others from becoming such species and provides a method whereby the standard of living and availability of economic species is elevated for these third world countries.

With hundreds of botanical gardens and biotech companies we can not only impact these situations in third world countries, but by utilizing gardens, biotech companies, wildflower societies, garden clubs, academia, and grants from our local governments, we can have the same impact on species in industrialized nations. We have the resources to make this happen, but it will take joint cooperation and efforts on everyone’s part to make it successful.

Botresearch USA has already set this plan into action with respect to members of the Lamiaceae /Labiatae family, but there are many other families awaiting similar action. Who is going to be next to step up and make a difference through proactive thought and actions?