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environment

Save the Orchid

Bloom and Bust Despite an international ban on the trade of wild orchids, spiraling demand from the Chinese diaspora has led to the widespread illegal harvesting of these rare and beautiful flora By Wang Yan in Guizhou

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very weekend, dozens of farmers from rural areas surrounding Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, come to Guigang flower and bird market to sell prized wild orchids to urban collectors. Aware of the illegality of the trade in wild flora and fauna, reporters are typically shunned at such gatherings. However, one trader in her late thirties agreed to speak with us. “Normally, my husband and other family members spend weekdays in the mountains, collecting hundreds of orchid stems before returning home on Friday,” she told NewsChina. “Sometimes, they bring back thousands of plants. I am responsible for selling these plants at weekend markets.” Enterprising rural residents have discovered that the lucrative wild orchid trade is far more profitable than conventional farming. Individual wild orchid stem can be sold for anything between 5 yuan (US$0.80) to 800 yuan (US$128.40) and more for the most coveted varieties. With law enforcement largely disinterested in cracking down on this vibrant local trade, the main problem black market orchid traders face is the finite nature of their product. Delicate wild orchids grow and reproduce slowly under very specific conditions. Large-scale harvesting can

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quickly eradicate entire species. The solution? Harvest the wild orchids still growing in neighboring counties. Monday through Thursday, the Guigang trader’s family members all go to Duyun, a city some 80 kilometers away from their township in Longli County, to scour mountain forests for wild orchids. They used to search closer to home, however, the trader told our reporter that “Wild orchids on our neighboring mountains have declined for years because of their overexploitation by local farmers.”

Demand

The collection and cultivation of orchids has been a prominent passion in China for hundreds if not thousands of years. Since the mid1980s, when commerce ceased to be taboo, until today, China’s wild orchid market has enjoyed a continuous boom. Apart from orchid lovers who purchase wild orchids for academic or esthetic reasons, many more have waded into the industry as speculators and investors. It was reported that in 2006, one wild orchid plant was even sold for 14 million yuan (US$2.25m) at a black market auction Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province. CHINA WEEKLY I March 2013

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