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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 listing.
  • 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.

Please get in touch with Belinda Hawkins at if you would like any further information about the study.

CITES Manual for Botanic Gardens: Second Edition

Botanic gardens have a key role in implementing CITES, which aims to protect rare species from trading activities. This revised and updated Manual reflects the evolution of CITES itself since 1994, when this pamphlet was first published. PDF download available now, in English and Spanish.


Conserving Threatened Medicinal Plant Species

BGCI is working to link plant conservation with improvements in human well-being through a new project for threatened medicinal species to help ensure on-going access to vital plant resources. You can support our project and help make a difference to community health and plant conservation.


BGCI Continues with Medicinal Plant Conservation

Having highlighted some important focal points with our CITES and Medicinal Plants project, BGCI is continuing it's work in this field in association with both the IUCN's Medicinal Plants Specialist Group (MPSG) and the Medicinal Plants Working Group (MPWG) of the Plant Conservation Alliance (PCA).


CITES - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

The main purpose of CITES is to ensure that no species of wild flora is subject to unsustainable exploitation because of international trade.


The Evolution of CITES - W. Wijnstekers (2006)
This comprehensive publication presents a history of the evolution of cites. It begins with the basics and guides the reader through its complex structure. The provisions of the convention are clearly highlighted in the book, and the numerous resolutions and decisions are explained.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
This book does not debate the value of Eastern or Western medicine but brings together Chinese herbal lore and Western scientific methods in a current, comprehensive treatise on the pharmacology of Chinese herbs. Covering 473 herbs, it records everything from the chemistry to the history of each.
Zulu Medicinal Plants
This inventory of nearly 1000 plants used in Zulu traditional medicine is based on a survey dating from the late-19th century to the present.