Climate change has become increasingly identified as a challenge to mother earth and human kind.
Changes in seasonal patterns, weather events, temperature ranges, and other related phenomena have been reported and attributed to noticeable changes in our environment. Numerous experts in a wide range of scientific disciplines have warned that the negative impacts of climate change will become much more intense and frequent in the future particularly if environmentally destructive human activities continue.
Like all living members of the Earth’s surface, atmosphere and sea, medicinal and aromatic plants are not immune to the effects. Climate change is causing noticeable effects on the life cycles and distributions of the world’s vegetation, including wild plants. Some are even confined to geographic regions or ecosystems particularly vulnerable to change, which could put them at risk.
The life cycles of plants correspond to seasonal cues, so shifts in the timing of cycles provide evidence that climate change is affecting species and ecosystems. In some areas of the world, plants are experiencing not only earlier seasons but also warmer temperatures that are more typical of summer.
Changes in climate are also causing plants to migrate into new ranges, shifting towards the poles and/or to higher elevations in an effort to “reclaim” appropriate growing areas. Some slow-moving species may not be able to migrate quickly enough to keep pace with range shifts generated by climate change. Natural and human-made barriers to migration could also affect the survival of some species undergoing climate-induced range shifts.
And so it’s also expected that movement of cultivated plants would occur for the same reason, it is not entirely clear what type or degree of movement might take place. There is some indication that agricultural crops will be more adaptable to climate change than natural ecosystems, but some regions may become significantly less productive.
Extreme weather events such as storms, droughts, and floods have become more prevalent and intense across our planet in recent years. The frequency and severity of these events are expected to increase in the future as a result of continued warming, having negative effects on human health, infrastructure, and ecosystems. (It is important to note, however, that although trends in extreme weather events have been observed and projected, it is still difficult to attribute individual weather events directly to global warming.) Extreme weather events have been known to affect harvesters’ and cultivators’ abilities to grow and/or collect medicinal plant species, and such difficulties have certainly been reported in recent years.
Climate change may not currently represent the biggest threat to native plants, but it has the potential to become a much greater threat in future decades. Many of the world’s poorest people rely on medicinal plants not only as their primary healthcare option, but also as a significant source of income. The potential loss of medical and aromatic plant species from effects of climate change is likely to have major ramifications on the livelihoods of large numbers of vulnerable populations across the world. Further, the problems associated with climate change are likely to be much more difficult to combat than other threats to our botanical world.
The changing climate and its effects will certainly increase in the near future, although the extent to which they do so cannot presently be determined. The effects of climate change on medicinal plants, in particular, has not been well-studied and is not fully understood. As the situation unfolds, climate change may become a more pressing issue for the herbal community, potentially affecting users, harvesters, and manufacturers of medical and aromatic species.
We need to appreciate our environment for what it gives us, and we can’t take for granted what we currently have available to us, as one day we might just be without the wild medical herbs and plants that we obtain so many benefits from as well as the chemical understanding we gain from experimenting with mother earth and nature.