China’s Lucrative Orchid Industry Is a Test for the Nation’s Commitment to Conservation

China is a hotspot of botanical diversity, and that includes orchids. Many have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, but are being threatened by habitat loss and overcollection. Dozens of species of Dendrobiums are among those collected from the wild. The dried plants are added into teas or soups to help a variety of ailments. As China’s orchids have become overcollected and rare, it’s importing them from neighboring countries.

Fortunately, China is starting to better conserve its orchids. In 2o21, the nation declared all 96 of its native Dendrobium species to be protected. It’s encouraging farmers to cultivate them in industrial greenhouses, or in native forest conditions, rather than collect wild plants. Challenges include enforcing new rules, and reversing the declines in orchid numbers. If China can balance traditional uses with conservation, it can be a model for other countries working to protect their native orchid species.

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