Destruction of unique alpine plant draws criticism

Rheum nobileis not an endangered plant and is a common traditional Chinese herb familiar to local people in the Tibetan autonomous prefecture. [Photo provided to]

A man who destroyed a unique alpine plant in the mountains of Yunnan province triggered public outcry after he showed off his actions on social media.

On the video-sharing platform Douyin, a man in a black coat recently posted a video in which he pulled out a plant that looked like a large stem of lettuce, tore its leaves and threw them away.

The plant was later identified as Rheum nobile, also known as the Sikkim rhubarb or noble rhubarb, a giant herbaceous plant native to the Himalayas, from northeastern Afghanistan to Nepal and China, which thrives in the alpine zone at an altitude of 4,000 to 4,800 meters.

After the video spread on the internet, the public responded with strong criticism.

“His behavior is horrible. Destroying such a unique plant is shameful and should not be imitated by more people,” the Weibo user Shinning Ruby commented.

According to Gu Yourong, a botanist who denounced the incident on his Weibo account, the man saw and ate the plant on his way through Langdu village in Yunnan.

In an online conversation posted by Gu, the man told Gu he didn’t know it was a rare species and that local people have enjoyed the stalk for its sour flavor for a long time. The man apologized to the public.

According to a police officer from Shangri-la in Yunnan’s Deqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture, the man voluntarily surrendered himself Monday, but he will not face punishment because the plant isn’t under State protection.

Although it has a very distinctive appearance, Rheum nobileis not an endangered plant and is a common traditional Chinese herb familiar to local people in the Tibetan autonomous prefecture, according to the officer, who refused to be named.

As a member of the buckwheat family, Rheum nobilecan grow up to 6 feet in height, making it easily the tallest plant for miles around, according to Song Bo, a scientist from Kunming Institute of Botany under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

He said Rheum nobileusually blooms in June or July after five to seven years of growth, and the creamy yellow petal-like leaves torn by the man were actually a cluster of its flowers arranged on the stem. The plants die in September. In China, the plant can be seen in Yunnan and Sichuan province.

“Once its petals are destroyed, the plant will die without producing mature seeds,” Song said. “Rheum nobilehas well-developed roots, which can be as long as 2 meters. It has a strong ability to conserve water and soil. The local government should strengthen public education about its protection among local people and tourists.”

China’s State-protected wild plant list, containing more than 200 species, was jointly released by the Ministry of Agriculture and former State Forestry Administration in 1999. The list does not cover Rheum nobile.

According to Gu, a number of wild plants not listed are still threatened due to overuse, such as wild Dendrobium officinale, a type of orchid.

“Apart from public education, updating the protection list is urgently needed as a crucial step to guarantee law enforcement,” he said.