Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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CITES and Medicinal Plants Study: A Summary of Findings

We found that, generally, medicinal plant displays are popular features in gardens and that gardens perform a range of important functions in medicinal plant conservation, acting as scientific research centres, advisory bodies, network focal points, and educators.

Catharanthus roseus (Rosy periwinkle) treats 4 out of 5 children with leukemia

Catharanthus roseus (Rosy periwinkle) treats
4 out of 5 children with leukaemia

Photo © Peter S. Goltra for the National Tropical Botanical Garden

However, specifically CITES listed species are inconsistently represented. This was also the case for a group of medicinal plant species that have been assessed as threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). There is therefore scope for a more systematic approach to the cultivation in gardens of CITES and IUCN listed medicinal plants. Whilst legislation and other threat assessment listings may serve to highlight a species in danger, these measures do not actively manage the conservation of the species in question.

Botanic gardens therefore play an important and expanding role in the active conservation of species.

In general, in relation to medicinal plant conservation, gardens can and do:

  • Advise and inform governments on CITES listings.
  • Collect information for IUCN Red List assessments, in this way also helping to set their own conservation priorities.
  • Increasingly integrate ex situ and in situ work, setting in place and supporting sustainable utilisation programmes.
  • Work with, encourage and support local communities, since medicinal and aromatic plants are perfect for small scale projects such as home gardens.
  • Establish nurseries to provide seedlings for medicinal plant cultivation
  • Improve access to information via education and awareness campaigns at both ends of the supply chain. For example, post-harvesting techniques for collectors, certification/labelling for end consumers.
  • Incentivise farmers, collectors and industry to pursue sustainability through networking and acting as a neutral advisory body.
  • Provide specialist knowledge in fields such as re-introduction expertise, gene preservation, plant identification etc.
  • Encourage benefit sharing through work with multiple partners, such as pharmaceutical companies.


Looking to the future, this initial CITES study in particular highlights the need to:

  • Create a universal, global list of endangered medicinal and aromatic plants, consolidating threat assessments.
  • Thoroughly and systematically inventory medicinal plant collections within all botanic gardens.
  • Inventory accession information, to provide accurate data on the genes that are being conserved, from where i.e wild collected or commercially sourced.
  • Within gardens, increase awareness of various perceived measurements of endangerment, primarily IUCN listing and also the links to CITES.
  • Strengthen synergies between CITES and IUCN and other conservation bodies so that a medicinal plant assessed status is uniformly regarded. For example, ensure that all CITES listed species have been IUCN assessed, even though they may not conclude the same major threat.

Successful medicinal plant conservation seems likely to depend on the development of community-based projects that incentivise the protection of wild lands and the species within them by creating an alternative reliable income to unsustainable wild harvest. The traditional ex situ work of gardens (such as developing propagation techniques, education, plant breeding etc.) are important aspects to sucessful medicinal plant conservation as defined this way. With a greater integration of ex situ and in situ work alongside an emphasis on setting in place sustainable cultivation and harvest systems, even the smallest garden could play a vital role in the well being of both plants and people.