Conservation and Bulbous Plants
Arboretum, University of California, Irvine, CA 92717
During the last few years there has been a growing awareness of the possibility of over-collecting of wild bulbous plants for the horticultural trade. This has resulted in the placement of some Turkish bulbous plants on the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) appendix 1. Despite the fact that collecting for commercial use has seriously impacted some wild populations, the major threat remains the conversion of wild bulb fields to agriculture. This is particularly true on the Iberian peninsula, as well as other regions.
It is my opinion that much of the hype about the collection and sale of wild flower bulbs was built more on ignorance rather than fact. When flower species on sale in the bulb market were first tallied it was clear that no distinction was made between domesticated and propagated species and wild species. It seemed much more dramatic to lump the two together, despite the fact that many of the tulip species in the trade were selections that had been painstakingly built up and propagated for decades. Rumors still occur that pictures purported to show piles of bulbs of wild stocks of Galanthus bulbs were in fact pictures taken from farmed stock. Was there really a misrepresentation of the true situation by idealistic conservationists or an honest mistake?
One should also be aware that there is a sentiment among the growing conservation movement that wild species should not be cultivated or kept in private hands. They neglect the fact that all domesticated plants have their roots in wild species and that the species are the basic building blocks for creating new kinds of flowers. They also forget that it is in private collections where much of the germplasm of rare varieties and species is maintained. In the future we most probably will have cause to be grateful for such genetic treasures.
What are the alternatives to complete bans on trade in wild, bulbous species? Perhaps these should be considered before taking precipitous actions in the future. a) Sustainable harvests from the wild. This is probably the most desirable because it produces incentives to leave areas relatively untouched. If all trade is halted it becomes more likely that land will be converted to other agricultural uses. This kind of policy requires regulation and would be similar to some trade regulations in the fishing industry. b.) Trade in farmed species. This is often considered the best approach by conservationists but does not always work. When the international ban on trade in wild species of the slipper orchid Paphiopedilum came into effect several countries also banned artificially propagated species. Consequently in Australia trade in Paphopoedilum delenatii, which has not been collected in the wild for over 50 years, was also banned despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of artificially propagated plants in cultivation, all of which were derived from a single specimen collected decades ago. We must be careful that this situation does not happen to bulbous species, as well.
Many bulbous plants are endangered but often they prove easy to cultivate and propagate. Examples of such species are Gladiolus aureus, G. watermeyeri, G. citrinus, Moraea loubseri, M. atropunctata, and Ixia maculata, which have been saved from the brink of extinction by being brought into cultivation.