housands of plant species have vanished in the past 2000 years due to them being harvested too much. These are wild plants that need a very pretentious habitat in order to grow, the reason why they are so scarce. One of the most sought-after plants is Fritillaria Delavayi which has been used for thousands of years to create traditional medicine.
Its most predominant location is in the Hengduan Mountains in China. A few hundred years ago the plant was growing at the base of the mountains, but as it started being hunted more and more by humans it moved its locations higher, towards the peaks of the mountain. What makes the plant so rare is that it only springs flowers every 5 years and that is what is used to produce various medicines.
Nature Adapting to Human Destruction
With the introduction of Fritillaria Delavayi in commercial use, it was becoming dangerously close to being extinct. However, it seems that the plant has gone through some transformation as it changed its color from green to a grayish brown that acts as camouflage with the surroundings. The plant blends so well with the rocks around it that it is almost invisible, making it very difficult for the pickers to find them.
The bulb from the flowers that spring is turned into a powder that is used to produce different substances. A kilogram of the powder now costs $480 ($218 per pound) and requires harvesting more than 3,500 individual plants to produce a kilogram of this powder.
This change was not only observed by the gatherers, but also by biologists. A study was done on this phenomenon had shown the real reason for this evolution.
“Like other camouflaged plants we have studied, we thought the evolution of camouflage of this fritillary had been driven by herbivores, but we didn’t find such animals,” (Quote by Dr. Yang Niu)
Dr. Yang Niu, of the Kunming Institute of Botany, and co-author of the study in Current Biology had mentioned that humans seem to be the leading cause of this biological evolution. Dr. Niu also added that more and more plants are going through a similar evolution. The rise in the demand for this plant as well as the high price point has pushed more people to gather it without thinking of the consequences.
Humans are Ultimately at Fault
“It’s remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the colouration of wild organisms, not just on their survival but on their evolution itself,” (Quote by Professor Martin Stevens)
It is most probable that 2000 years ago the flower was in abundance due to the fact that only a handful of people were hunting for it and also due to a low price. Despite the mysterious ways nature works, it somehow connects the whole ecosystem and protects in its own way such wild organisms from threats like humans.
As Professor Stevens and Doctor Niu describe in their study paper, it is commercial harvesting and hunting that is ruining this ecosystem more than the destruction climate changes are having on natural habitats. Their study also shows that within the last 10 years, things are only getting worst and worst with a rise in the world’s population which equals to a rise in the demand for such plants.