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Conservation Concerns in Canada and South America

Conservation and sustainability of plants has been a growing concern due to modern agricultural practices and rapid deforestation.1 Biological and cultural heritage is being lost as plants and the cultures that sustain them are driven to become domesticated. Around 40% of raw plant materials used in health products are wild harvested every year.2 In Canada, approximately 1,445 plant species are harvested to make commercial botanical products, of which 1,217 are native to the country. A thorough account of wild plant distribution as well as methods of sustainability are needed to ensure species survival.

Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and western Brazil form a "health axis" spanning Andean and Amazonian ecosystems with many shared or parallel uses of plants.1 Trade in native species already faces unsustainability. Dragon's blood (Croton lechleri, Euphorbiaceae) and cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa and U. guianensis, Rubiaceae), were found to be "immensely popular" locally, each contributing about 7% to the annual herbal market in Northern Peru. Wild harvesting of cat's claw is no longer sustainable, and adulteration has been occurring for years. The authors detail the Nagoya Protocol which provided indigenous communities rights to use and authorship of traditional knowledge and the Chácobo Ethnobotany Project, a more inclusive model of gathering traditional knowledge of medicinal plants. They also explore how pandemic travel constraints could change the means in which indigenous knowledge is gathered placing it in the hands of local researchers rather than Western researchers unfamiliar with the territory.

Canada’s rate of climate change is two to four times higher than the global rates.2 Northern ecosystems may be hit hardest. Globally, less than 27% of plant species are "red-listed" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as threatened; 2.2% of the 91 Canadian species assessed are listed as such. In a preliminary conservation assessment of Canadian medicinal plants, the researchers determined that Nunavut, the largest and most northern territory, had 84% medicinal species that had not yet been assessed. This territory and the Inuit Nunangat arctic territory were considered at the top of the researchers list for botanical assessment, given the rapid change in climate in these areas. Considerable traditional medical knowledge has been generated in these regions, as cultural and social changes are also rapidly occurring. Many species used medicinally by Inuit peoples do not appear in sources used by botanical researchers and conservationists. The researchers conclude that centralized harvest data for Canadian medicinal species are a priority, and establishment of a Canadian seed bank should also be considered.

Lori Glenn
HerbClip™ Managing Editor


1Bussmann RW, Paniagua-Zambrana NY. Ethnobotany in the Andes and Amazon in a world of Nagoya Protocol and post SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Botany (CSP). November 12, 2021;100(2):97-108.

2Erland LAE, Turi CE, Murch SJ. Preliminary assessment of the conservation status of medicinal plant species in Canada. Botany (CSP). February 2022;100(2):247-260.