Conservation & Trade Ethics: Proposals & Advocacies?

Wed, 02 Jul 2008 21:51:58 PDT

You make a good point about the absence of solutions. While it is true that
too often one hears only abstract philosophizing on the issue of plant
conservation, unaccompanied by concrete remedying proposals, this is still a
necessary phase of understanding. Some of the problems will possibly never
be resolved to general satisfaction, especially where underlying factors
tend to shift. I believe that some understanding of exactly why this issue
is complex and difficult will help people make better decisions on their own

From your suggestion that we end-users need to develop proposals in
connection with our interests in plants, I would ask what is the goal in
broad terms? What are we-- a diverse assemblage of growers, collectors,
sellers, students-- concerned about? This area has its own difficulties and
it may be that in view of the subjective nature of what we might wish to
conserve, and how it will be accomplished, only a very generalized decree
can be hoped for.

It has been my experience that the incidence of direct selling of wild
collected material has been steadily declining for many plant groups for
decades. This owes to a variety of factors, most important of which is the
realization by the consumer (and the seller!) that artificially propagated
plants are stronger and more reliable than their field collected
counterparts. Secondarily, laws and regulations have increasingly restricted
imports and exports of all plants and for all countries over the same
period. For rare collector's items, demand from buyers in this regard will
have more positive impact than any government scheme.

We are not starting from scratch in this topic. There is an ongoing and
growing awareness of the necessity to meet consumer demand for plants both
rare and common by improved means of nursery propagation. But just as it is
difficult or impossible to know if wild collected plants for sale were
gathered ethically, it is likewise unknowable if the original stock from
which an artificially propagated plant derived was collected scrupulously.
How could one possibly know?

Aside from nurseries that state publicly that they only sell artificially
propagated material, such limited knowledge means the buyer has limited
options as far as making "conservation" a criterion on which to base his
actions. Because of better nursery practices and the ever-changing
collecting, importing and export restrictions imposed by modern governments,
it is thankfully a small number of geophytic species that are actually
imperiled by over-collecting in my opinion. Some of the most critically
endangered species are well-supplied in the form of nursery-propagated
plants, Tecophilaea cyanocrocus and various Cyclamen and fritillary species
for example.

As for seeds, a figure I heard recently from a geneticist is that taking
something like up to ten percent of the annual seed crop from a given
population more than once in ten years is "OK" and will not deplete the
genetic reserves of that population. This is naturally a conservative, and
theoretical, figure. I would extrapolate this to mean that taking
approximately one percent each year would do little or no harm. For many,
many bulbous plants one percent of the seed crop is a huge amount of seed.
In the field it can be quite difficult to say what are the limits of a
population-- you found some plants but are there more over the next ridge?
Production variation in wet or dry years will have a direct effect on seed
set. And so on.

I mention these points to give a glimpse of the impossibility of regulating
such activities to anyone's satisfaction-- except the regulator's. On a more
practical level it cannot hurt to inquire with any prospective vendor what
his collecting or propagation policies are, availability of more precise
source or locality information, etc. A good businessman will respond to your
sincere query.

Lastly, it bears reiterating that habitat loss in general, occurring apace
as we speak, is incomparably greater than the most blatant digging of wild

Dylan Hannon

Dylan Hannon Rare Bulbs

On Wed, Jul 2, 2008 at 8:14 PM, David Maxwell <> wrote:

> Hi All,
> I've been following the recent & on-going discussion on the conservation of
> threatened & endangered native plants (bulbs) with respect to seed trade
> ethics.
> For better or for worse, I feel indirectly responsible for initiating this
> discussion when on June 23rd I posted my experience...sticktly from the
> standpoint of a consumer...of buying Chilean Rhodophiala seeds from an
> online vendor.
> The discussions that have ensued...and the many topics that have
> been brought up... are indeed complicated and sometimes difficult to
> follow or to completely explore...inpart due to the nature of communicating
> this way in writing through emails.
> Also, the speed & convenience of using pronouns when writing a forum
> posting
> sometimes makes it difficult to immediately express (or understand) exactly
> what (or whom) is being referred to without taking the time to write it out
> in full (or go back and re-read earlier communications).
> But I do feel that to heighten everyone's knowledge & awareness of these
> and
> other related issues through discussion & contribution is exactly (in part)
> what an online forum is for.
> That being said, I keep hoping to read a member make a direct proposal or
> advocate a particular course of action to address and hopefully remedy a
> solution to these problems being discussed (conservation & commercial trade
> ethics).
> Purhaps there is a piece of communication that I have missed or have not
> understood correctly/fully?
> I feel that it is those members most educated, knowledgeable and
> experienced
> in these matters who are in the best position to not only *propose*
> possible
> solutions...but also could and should step into the online line of fire by
> *
> advocating* one.
> Otherwise, to my ear, all this fervent discussion starts to sound academic
> and hypothetical...and I find myself asking the all-to-familiar question
> '...yes, but how?'
> Recently (after my Rhodophiala posting) I added the book "Hearst Garden
> Guides: Bulbs" [John E. Bryan, Editor] to my collection, and under the
> heading "Conservation of Endangered Species" the book proposed and
> advocated that consumers purchase bulbs "from dealers who have publicly
> pledged to sell only propagated bulbs" and "purchase only those packages of
> bulbs that are labeled 'Bulbs grown from cultivated stock.'"
> Advocating a boycott by the individual consumer is certainly one valid
> soluation in seed (bulb) trade ethics, but in my opinion it doesn't
> actively
> address the source or cause of the problem, or take into consideration the
> nature of commerce...or human nature...or the difficulty of Government to
> regulate commerce.
> If I were to make one general proposal within this limited scope, it would
> be that we should focus on somehow putting the burden-of-responsibility
> on the respective governments to somehow regulate and/or restrict the
> commerce of a threatened or endangered specie of bulb within its
> established
> (and hopefully protected) native habitat.
> But what the most efficient & effective way of making/persuading a
> government...particularly a foreign take this
> responsibility
> is...I couldn't say.
> As for addressing & hopefully illiciting positive change among the myriade
> of other contributing factors (i.e. development of native habitats) both in
> the U.S. & abroad...I think it all depends on how much each of us is ready,
> willing & able to take on.
> -d.
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