Update to list of protected plants

China has released a new list of protected wild plant species, a first update to the catalogue in 22 years.

Endangered plants never garner as much attention as endangered animals, making protecting them more difficult.

The new catalogue contains 455 species under different degrees of threat, a significant expansion from the 168 in the 1999 version. The addition includes most types of Venus slipper (Paphiopedilum), a genus of orchid found in southern China, and snow lotus (Saussurea involucrate), a Himalayan flowering plant considered sacred in Tibetan culture.

Inclusion means protection under China’s Regulation for the Protection of Wild Plant Species, which bans the sale and purchase of Class I protected plant species. Violators may be subject to losing licenses, fines and criminal charges.

Wild plant species are threatened by habitat loss and extraction for medical and ornamental use. Orchids, a symbol of elegance in Chinese culture, are particularly sought after by flower lovers and commercial cultivators.

Compared to wild animal protection, public awareness of wild plant protection is still very low in China. In 2020, celebrity singer Liu Yuning nipped a snow lotus proudly in front of camera for an entertainment show in Tibet, leading to an outcry from conservationists. Liu later apologised