Wild flora facing increasing peril
China's wild flora are facing an ever-increasing threat due to excessive exploitation, degradation of the environment and invasion of alien pests.
"Such resources are being drastically reduced following their random collection by profit seekers, particularly wild flora with high value as ornamentation, medicine and food," Zhang Xuemin, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration said.
The country has some 30,000 so-called higher plants -- or 10 per cent of the world's total -- with 15 to 20 per cent of them endangered or five to ten per cent above the world's average.
Some precious wild flora species are extinct. Others have had their chances of survival damaged, such as orchids, yew, cycad and nostoc -- a special kind of algae called "Fa Cai'' (Make Fortunes) in Chinese growing in North China's pastures.
Of the world's 20,000 species of orchids, more than 1,200 species of orchids, mostly wild, grow in China.
But a booming market of orchids throughout the nation in recent years has caused havoc with the species with growing overseas demand.
Massive deflowering by farmers since the 1980s has damaged many wild orchids in vast areas south of the Yangtze River, according to the latest survey by the administration.
To date, "wild orchids are disappearing in Southwest China's Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces as well as in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Fujian and Hunan provinces," Yu Yongfu, president of the China Wild Flora Conservation Association, told China Daily.
A natural environment suitable for the growth of wild flora like the orchid is also harmed by increasing human activity including logging, land reclamation, road construction, water works and worsening pollution.
"In some provinces, many forests or woodlands have turned into barren hills or farmland without any wild orchids," experts working for Yu's association complained after studying some original samples of orchids collected in the 1930s.
In Yunlong, a mountainous county in Yunnan, 9,200 yews -- a tree containing a kind of anti-cancer chemical composition -- were chopped down by rural people within six months in 1994, causing estimated losses of up to 1 billion yuan (US$120 million).
In Inner Mongolia, about 13 million hectares of pasture was damaged with more than a third of the desert soil becoming valueless for farming after 1.9 million farmers from neighbouring Gansu and Ningxia flocked there to collect edible nostoc from 1993 to 1996.
In Ningxia, nearly 40 per cent of the total wild liquorice resources were destroyed between 1950 and 1986 when needy rural poor collected the plants for money with the acquiescence of local authorities.
Over the past two decades, at least 60 per cent of China's total areas growing wild cycad, one of the world's ancient seed plants, were lost with three species becoming extinct during massive unorganized harvesting.
In Guizhou, over 70 per cent of wild cycad has been dug out upon the plant's discovery in 1983.