Washington, April 17 : If estimates are to be believed, than by the end of this century, over half of China's species could be extinct or at the verge of extinction.
According to a report in National Geographic Magazine, China is home to more than 31,500 plant species, about 10 percent of the world's total. Several species, including the dawn redwood and the maidenhair tree-also called ginkgo-are as old as the dinosaurs.
But, 20 percent of these plants are at risk of extinction due to human pressures, according to Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
As many as a sixth of Chinese plant species are used in traditional medicines, and many more are vital to Chinese diet and culture.
Many plants, such as rice and soybeans, are staple food crops around the world. Others are familiar ornamentals such as lilacs, magnolias, forsythia, many kinds of roses, and rhododendrons.
But this crucial flora is threatened by a swelling Chinese population and higher rates of pollution, according to Raven.
Add to that fact is that over the next 20 years, China's metropolises are expected to add another 250 million people, a growth which would threaten to eat up more farmland and further pollute the air, rivers, and streams.
Meanwhile, wild plants are being overharvested to supply the constant need for popular Chinese traditional medicine, as well as a burgeoning demand for medicines distributed around the world.
Another glaring problem is that China's national park and nature reserve system is currently one of the most poorly funded per unit of land of any developing country.
"That leads to a situation-especially if the parks are not well integrated with the needs of the local populations-where the forests and natural resources of the area can disappear more rapidly than you would think," said Raven.
But, China's new plant conservation strategy, developed with the help of London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International, would help to protect the species, with the country planning to revert nearly 37 million acres (15 million hectares) of farmland to forest within three years. Other facets of the plan include a sweeping inventory and analysis of the country's plants, increased protection both in the wild and in botanic gardens, and a nationwide public-awareness campaign.