Experts to tackle threats to medicinal and other high-value plants

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Experts to tackle threats to medicinal and other high-value plants

Leiden, The Netherlands, 13 May 2002 - Concerned for the long-term survival of rare plants valued for their medicinal and other qualities, the Plants Committee of the Convention on Endangered Species in International Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meeting here from 13- 17 May to evaluate how to promote the conservation and sustainable use of several particular plant varieties.

The devil's claw (so named because of the peculiar shape of its seeds), or Harpagophytum, is a medicinal plant native to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. It is used in pharmaceuticals for treating arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hepatitis, and other complaints. The plant is under pressure due to over-harvesting, expanding exports to Europe, destructive harvesting practices, and over-grazing by livestock and wild herds.

The range states and the European import states met in Namibia in February to discuss the devil's claw's future and assessed its population status, distribution and trade volumes. Based on the report of this meeting, the Plants Committee will consider how best to promote sustainable development of the plant. Devil's claw is not currently subject to any CITES trade conditions.

Agarwood is a product obtained from various species of the genus Aquillaria, which ranges from Papua New Guinea to Vietnam. It results from the trees' reaction to a fungus infection of the wood. Agarwood is used to produce incense and perfumes, mainly in the Middle East. High-quality Aquillaria wood can fetch up to US$10,000 per kilogram. Only part of the wood of one in five trees is infected, and agarwood can be detected only once the tree is cut down and broken into smaller parts. This encourages indiscriminate cutting, which is posing a serious threat to the trees' survival. The Plants Committee will discuss the results of field surveys in Papua New Guinea, the development of molecular analyses of powdered wood that could be used to identify the origins of a particular tree, and recommendations for future action.

Guaiacum is a genus of three or four tree species from Central America. It is mainly traded for its greenish coloured wood and its medicinal properties. The Plants Committee will discuss issues relating to the identification of the wood and a proposal from one government to list the species on CITES Appendix II, which regulate their trade through a system of permits.

The Committee will also consider the merits of removing artificially propagated hybrids of several genera of orchids from Appendix II. These hybrids are traded in very large quantities, but the trade itself has no impact on the natural populations. Delisting them would allow enforcement officers to pay more attention to trade aspects of greater relevance to nature conservation.

The Plants Committee's recommendations will be forwarded for action to the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, which takes place in Santiago, Chile, from 3 to 5 November 2002.

Note to journalists: For further information please contact Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or [email protected]. For official documents and other information, see