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Eat your orchid and have it too: a potentially new conservation formula for Chinese epiphytic medicinal orchids

Liu, Hong, Luo, Yi-Bo, Heinen, Joel, Bhat, Mahadev, Liu, Zhong-Jian
Biodiversity and conservation 2014 v.23 no.5 pp. 1215-1228
Dendrobium, conservation areas, dietary supplements, epiphytes, forests, health foods, indigenous species, markets, medicinal plants, planting, rural communities, species reintroduction, threatened species, traditional medicine
About a quarter of Chinese wild orchid species are used in traditional medicine or as health food supplements. The market demand for some species, such as those in the epiphytic genus Dendrobium, has diminished many wild populations to local extinction or dangerously small numbers. Conservation of these heavily exploited orchids currently relies on a two-pronged approach: establishing nature reserves and encouraging massive commercial cultivation in artificial settings. We argue that these measures are not sufficient to restore or maintain healthy wild populations, and augmentation and reintroduction of these species in natural forests are needed. We argue for an unconventional reintroduction approach, in which populations planted in natural forests are allowed to be sustainably harvested (restoration-friendly cultivation). Because Dendrobium orchids are epiphytic, restoration-friendly cultivation of these species will not be at the expenses of other native plants. In addition, market premiums on wild-collected medicinal plants will generate incentives for farmers who participate in restoration-friendly cultivation to preserve natural forests. With proper policy and oversight, the restoration-friendly cultivation of medicinal Dendrobium orchids will facilitate the conservation of these threatened species, encourage protection of natural forests, and benefit marginalized rural communities. Adding this restoration-friendly cultivation into the current mix of conservation approaches has the potential to turn deeply-entrenched traditional uses of orchids from a conservation challenge to a conservation success.