For the first time in Canada an importer has been fined a six figure sum for the importation of endangered orchid species. The species, Dendrobium, is commonly used in the traditional Chinese medicine market and the importer Sun 2006 Import and Export Ltd was a wholesaler to the market.
Following a year long investigation into the company Environment Canada raided the premises and discovered a range of other species used in the Chinese medicine field as well as the orchid.
- tree fern (Cibotium Barometz),
- orchid (Bletilla),
- ivory of African elephant (Elephantidae),
- monkey (Primates),
- bear (Ursidae)
- crocodile (Crocodyllians).
The raid netted 110Kg of dried Dendrobium which is know by the herbal name of shih-hu. Orchids including Dendrobium are becoming increasingly rare in the wild with over 20,000 species of orchid are now covered by the CITES treaty. Because of the popularity of Dendrobium in Chinese remedies vast fields of the orchid are cultivated in China, however the wild variety is under threat which is why international trade is closely regulated.
The Dendrobium orchid is associated with healing ailments of the kidney, lung and stomach and it is thought that the high concentration of alkaloids within the plant is what gives it it’s healing qualities – though only small scale scientific testing of claims have been undertaken with mixed results. Trials in animals and diabetes patients have shown that shih-hu can reduce blood glucose levels and stimulated insulin production to a limited extent. Alkaloids from the orchid has also been trialled in stomach and lung cancer treatments.
While Dendrobium is on the 50 fundamental herbs used in Chinese medicine – so a lot is used – most ethical wholesalers purchase from orchid farms and can trace their supplies back to cultivated stocks. the biggest threat to wild orchids though is the trade in live plant species for collectors and gardeners rather than Chinese medicine practitioners.
over 20,000 species of orchid are now covered by the CITES
High penalties and rigid enforcement and investigation is really the only way to tackle this sort of problem. An investigation in Europe 8 years ago into the orchid trade found many prestigious plant nurseries openly selling illegally imported wild orchids alongside their cultivated cousins.
- Greater Mekong reveals more species (wildlifenews.co.uk)
- Floods, climate change challenge Thailand’s orchid export success | CNNGo.com (jeffpruett.wordpress.com)
- Biotechnology needed for orchid industry (lookatvietnam.com)
- Orchid rises from the dead (theage.com.au)