Demand for wild orchids and their derivatives continues to grow unabated in China and neighbouring countries of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. Plants are collected for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and for horticulture, and by some estimates, over-extraction now constitutes the single greatest threat to their survival in the region.
Our surveys of markets selling wild-collected ornamental orchids across South China, including Hong Kong, suggest that up to 440 different species and more than 1.2 million individuals are involved each year, and that this trade is worth over US$14.6 million. In the context of declining populations of many native orchids in the region, this trade is unlikely to be sustainable. Moreover, wild-collected orchids are consistently priced significantly cheaper than nursery-grown ones, exploiting an innate consumer preference for relatively inexpensive plants. This suggests that without tighter supply-side regulation, traders could push species to extinction. It also indicates that awareness-raising amongst consumers is critical to encourage a shift in demand away from wild-collected plants.
KFBG’s orchid specialists also monitor orchid trade in Lao PDR. Our work has shown that supply chains have the capacity to impact natural areas far removed from the eventual point of sale. The array of wild collected orchids commonly seen on sale in Hong Kong, for example, indicates that plants are being sourced in southern Yunnan and neighbouring countries. Some of this trade is in breach of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates cross-border trade of all orchid species.
Confronting wild orchid trade therefore requires concerted, inter-governmental effort. On this front, we collaborate with other researchers studying orchid trade dynamics under the IUCN Orchid Specialist Group umbrella.
Gale, S.W., Kumar, P., Hinsley, A., Cheuk, M.L., Gao, J., Liu, H., Liu, Z.-L., Williams, S.J. 2019. Quantifying the trade in wild-collected ornamental orchids in South China: diversity, volume and value gradients underscore the primacy of supply. Biological Conservation 238: 108204.
Williams, S.J., Gale, S.W., Hinsley, A., Gao, J., St. John, F.A.V. 2018. Using consumer preferences to characterize the trade of wild-collected ornamental orchids in China. Conservation Letters 11: e12569.
Hinsley, A., de Boer, H.J., Fay, M.F., Gale, S.W., Gardiner, L.M., Gunasekara, R.S., Kumar, P., Masters, S., Metusala, D., Roberts, D.L., Veldman, S., Wong, S., Phelps, J. 2018. A review of the trade in orchids, and its implications for conservation. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 186: 435–455.