First National Report Of Pakistan to the Convention on Biological Diversity Ministry of Environment Government of Pakistan Contents

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Threats 5

All the threats to the Biodiversity in Pakistan ultimately can be attributed to the increase in population. However, the rate of increase in population has been cut to 2.6% in the late 1990s from 3.6% of the 1980s; the trend in population increase is 1.86 % in 2006. Urbanisation is on the increase and with its problems of ecological footprints is threatening the ecosystems. The policies in context are not sensitive to the ecological considerations. Few EIAs are conducted in urban and rural land use planning; resultantly invasion from one land use to the other is common. Protected areas have been declared but the rules for conservation face setbacks at the implementation level.

Chapter 3: Plant Biodiversity

This section describes Pakistan’s plant species of particular importance. The major threats to Pakistan’s plant Biodiversity are also listed, and actions that have been taken or are proposed for plant Biodiversity conservation are described.


Pakistan has over 6000 species of flowering plants reported in the Flora of Pakistan 6 with around 400 endemic species and 4 endemic genera. The National Herbarium, Islamabad is the federal institution engaged in data collection on the floral diversity of Pakistan with over 100,000 plant specimens stored in primary field data. The National Herbarium has prepared the first account of the Flora of Pakistan, an inventory of plant diversity of the country. The National Herbarium has started preparing databases to facilitate scientific research and information exchange with other regional institutions in the country. Karachi University, the NARC Herbarium and other research and development organizations are engaged in developing mechanisms for floral taxonomic surveys. The Pakistan Museum of Natural History has launched a Biodiversity Network Program that is available on the World Wide Web. This information will be useful to assess the market demand and conservation status of rare plants greatly in demand. Such networks will be helpful in taking the necessary steps for the cultivation of threatened species to ensure a sustainable supply to markets and to determine research priorities. Some private organizations (Hamdard Laboratories, Qarshi Foundation etc) are also instrumental in cultivating rare medicinal plants in their gardens.

The Pakistan Museum of Natural History and the National Herbarium at the National Agricultural Research Council undertake surveys of flora and fauna in the country; however, no standard reporting format on the status and trends on species composition is available on a regular basis. A project to compile the Flora of Pakistan is on-going at Botany Department University of Karachi. Botany Departments of all the Universities survey the natural areas in the sphere of their jurisdiction. Some individual scientists are also active in this field. Efforts are under way for the establishment of the National Botanical Garden at National Institute of Health. Chak Shahzad Islamabad, it is hoped that the establishment of such Botanical Garden will be a major breakthrough for the systematic floral surveys in the country.

Medicinal Plants

Medicinal plants are a major source of drugs for the treatment of various health disorders. Pakistan has around 6000 species of wild plants (Stewart 1972) out of which about 700 are considered to be medicinally important7. An estimated 80% of the rural population of Pakistan depends on a traditional medicinal system called Tibb-e-Unani for their primary healthcare needs, the majority of which uses plants or their active ingredients. See Box 2 for details of the Tibb-e-Unani system.

The four ecological regions where medicinal plants are exploited commercially are described below:

Medicinal Plants of Alpine and High Altitude Areas

Most plants of these areas are slow-growing perennials, which require several years of vegetative growth for reproduction by seed. Most of these are classified as threatened or vulnerable. Endangered plant species of this area include Podophyllum hexandrum, Saussaurea costus, Picrorrhiza kurrooa, Aconitum heterphyllum, and Corydalis spp.

Medicinal Plants of Temperate Montane Forest

Common medicinal plants of these areas are Atropa acuminata, Angelica glauca, Paeonia emodi, Geranium wallichianum, Artemisia spp., Glycyrrhiza glabra, and Ephedra spp.

Medicinal Plants of Sub-Tropical Foothill Forests

Species found here include Terminalia spp., Mallotus philippensis, Phylanthus embilica, Butea monosperma, etc.

Medicinal Plants of Arid and Semi-Arid Areas

Some important species of medicinal plants of commercial importance like Artemisia spp., Ephedra gerardiana, E. procera, Bunium persicum, etc. are found in cold arid habitats. In warm arid areas, species like Commiphora wightii are known to be present.

Status of the distribution of medicinal plants

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), approximately 400 plant species are used extensively in traditional medicines. The Tibbi Pharmacopoeia of Pakistan (a pharmacopoeia of traditional drugs compiled by the Tibbi Board) has listed around 900 single drugs and about 500 compound preparations made of medicinal plants. The Drugs Control and Traditional Medicines Division of National Institute of Health in collaboration of Hamdard University and World Health Organization has published Monographs of Unani Medicines, Vol-1, which contains more than 300 monographs of single medicinal plants. There are about 30 large herbal and around 100 manufacturing companies in Pakistan, which produce Unani and Homoeopathic medicines on a commercial scale. The number of herbal and Homoeopathic medicine manufacturers in the non-organised sector runs into the hundreds. The annual sale of Herbal medicines was around 6 billion rupees. The annual turnover of some large herbal manufacturers is comparable to multinational companies in Pakistan. Traditional healers (around 100,000 in numbers, including hakims and homeopaths and around 300 vaids) serve about 60% of the population, especially those living in the rural areas.

Table 3.1: Endangered Medicinal Plants of Pakistan


Local name

Annual Consumption

(Tons) approx.

Ecological Region

Commiphora wightii




Picrorrhiza kurrooa



Alpine Himalayas

Podophyllum hexandrum



Temperate Himalayas

Dioscorea deltoidea



Temperate Himalayas

Paeonia emodi



Temperate Himalayas

Onosma echiodes



Cold dry mountain

Polygonum amplexicaule



Temperate Himalayas

Valeriana wallichii



Temperate Himalayas

Aconitum heterophyllum



Temperate Himalayas

Rheum emodi



Temperate Himalayas, Hindukush

Saussurea costus



Alpine Himalayas

Atropa acuminata



Temperate Himalayas

Source: Rafiq, 1998

Box 2: The Unani System of Medicine in Pakistan

The Unani System of medicine locally identified as Tibb-e-Unani may be traced to that system of Greek medicine which was developed during the Arab civilization. The Greek scholars like Hippocrates and Galen perfected this system. The later empires of the Byzantine however shelved all Greek knowledge and the world was ignorant of its existence during the dark ages of Europe. By the time the Arabs had penetrated into the Byzantine and Persian Empires, Greek science had for centuries ceased to be a living force. Unani system of medicine which flourished on the fundamental concept of humors, found its support from the Arabs who developed it many fold. It was Mamun ur Rasheed, the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad, who in the eleventh century launched big campaigns to acquire the old Greek works and had them systematically translated in the 12th century A.D. This system reached to perfection when the Indian knowledge of medicine was added during Mamun’s time. In addition to the translators, the Muslim physicians who are esteemed due to their long lasting works include Ibn Sina, Al-Razi, Al-Tab-ari, Ibn Nafis and many others. The practitioner of Unani medicine is called a Hakim. A Hakim has to pass a five year course in one of the recognized Tibbia Eastern Medicine / Unani Medicine colleges to secure the degree of B.E.M.S. Hakim had always enjoyed respect and authority in the courts of the kings of India. Hakim Ajmal Khan was the best known Hakim of the last century. His formulations like Ajmaleen were patented in Germany. Hakim Mohammed Said, founder chairman of the Hamdard Foundation Pakistan was another renowned Hakim. Due to the work of Hakim Said, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the Unani system in the early eighties, when the Government of Pakistan (GoP) also gave it official status. The GoP set up a Tibbi Council under the Ministry of Health. The council has an elected president and fifteen elected members. A draft law, the Unani Drug Act, has been debated and is likely to be promulgated soon. This law will help standardize the formulations and set pharmaceutical standards in quality control, packaging etc.

The Unani System of medicine is based on the concept of developing resistance in the human body against disease. Therapeutics comprises: Regimental, Dietotherapy, Pharmacotherapy and Surgery. Unani medicines are known to have no side effects. A commercial manufacturer of Unani medicine is known as a ‘Dawa Khana’ (Laboratories), the largest among them being Hamdard. Others are Qarshi, Rehmania, Ajmal etc.

Hakims are rendering services all over Pakistan. Some use branded medicines while others make their own. Most of the formulations are passed down from father to son. However, Hakim Said of the Hamdard Foundation Pakistan published formulations (in Hamdard Pharmacopoeia) and set up research laboratories in Karachi. Hamdard University also takes up the cultivation of medicinal plants at its research site called Madinat al-Hikmah in Karachi. Only a narrow band of other medicinal herbs is cultivated in the private sector institutes.

Since herbs are the main source of Unani medicines, threats to the ecosystems are threats to human health. Due to shortages, the Unani system has also started extracting the active ingredient / extracts. A classic example is the common household traditional medicine for flu – ‘Joshanda’. Joshanda is no more available in the market in its original form (a blend of herbs). Instead, only powdered commercial brands are commonly available.

Threatened Medicinal and Aromatic Plants of Pakistan

A few preliminary attempts have been made to draw up national lists of threatened species, including a list of more than 700 plant species believed to be nationally rare or threatened, no comprehensive and systematic list of species of national concern has been compiled for Pakistan. Such a list would include species which are nationally rare and declining; those which are nationally rare, not declining, but otherwise at risk e.g. from population fluctuations, natural catastrophes, persecution, etc.; those which are highly localized in distribution; and those which are still widespread and common but suffering significant decline. Tables 3.1(above) and 3.2 contain the names of plants, which are endangered and vulnerable in Pakistan.

Table 3.2: Vulnerable Medicinal Plants of Pakistan


Local name


(Tons) approx.

Ecological Region

Plantago ovata



Cold arid Hills

Pistacia integerrima

Kakar Singhi


Sub-tropical Himalayas

Ziziphus sativa



Sub-tropical Himalayas

Glycyrriza glabra



Hindukush, Karakorum

Artemisia spp.



Hindukush, Himalayas

Adiantum capilus-veneris



Temperate Himalayas

Acorus calamus

Warch or gorbach


Temperate Himalayas

Mallotus Philippinensis



Sub-tropical Himalayas

Berberis lycium



Hindukush, Himalayas

Colchicum luteum

Suranjan Talkh


Sub-tropical Himalayas

Citrullus coloynthis




Bergenia ciliata



Temperate Himalayas

Source: Rafiq, 1998


Although adequate data is not available about medicinal plants that require conservation, there is overwhelming agreement among experts in the country that the most threatened ecosystems are the alpine and temperate Himalayan forests in the north of the country. There is also agreement that almost all the forests of Pakistan have been exploited heavily during the last two decades (including the medicinal plants).

To initiate conservation efforts, Pakistan has established reserve areas, mainly national parks covering about 10% of the total land. Please see chapters 4 and 5 for further details. Ex-situ conservation of medicinal and aromatic plant seeds has recently been initiated at the Plant Genetic Resource Institute (PGRI) at NARC in Islamabad, where a special department called the Hakim Mohammad Saeed Chamber has been established.

No specific national target in accordance with the 2010 target has been established but more than 20,000 accessions related to agricultural biodiversity have been preserved in ex-situ collections. As there are no comprehensive lists of threatened plant species this target has not been addressed in the official plans.

Protected Area (PA) planning includes the assessment of rare / endangered / threatened plant species. All development projects related to natural habitats have to undertake EIAs that report on the conservation status of plant species.

Pakistan has a number of institutions involved in research and development work on medicinal plants. However, except for a few, the majority are either inadequately equipped or do not have the human and financial resources required for the assigned work. The institutions engaged in research are listed in Appendix C.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The regular up-date of data is essential for monitoring the conservation of plant Biodiversity. A single institution should be designated to store and maintain data on Biodiversity for analysis and dissemination. Reliable inventories of endangered and threatened plant species need to be prepared so that effective step can be taken for their conservation. The strengthening of institutions to expand and improve the information base is required. Secondly, the development and institutionalisation of systems to monitor the components of Biodiversity is also needed.

For in-situ conservation, better management of National Parks and other reserve areas is required. Lists of internationally threatened species hardly reflect the ground situation. While there are little data available to demonstrate the decline of species’ populations in Pakistan, the accelerating loss and fragmentation of natural habitats clearly implies such a decline is occurring. Habitat fragmentation isolates populations, exposing species to a higher rate of genetic loss and to a greater risk of extinction.

So far as plant species are concerned very little has been done to protect the threatened species. There are few reports available which have indicated the conservation status of some plant species. Chaudhry and Qureshi (1987) reported 709 species as threatened. These studies are primarily based on the herbarium material only. Oldfield et al (1998) reported only two endangered trees from Pakistan. These reports contain merely preliminary data and have no categorization based on the criteria laid down by IUCN i.e. Extinct (Ex), Extinct in the Wild (EW), Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), Vulnerable (VU), Lower Risk (LR), Data Deficient (DD) and Not Evaluated (NE). In fact, earlier works of listing threatened species of plants is either fragmentary or out dated and lying with different agencies which need to be re-evaluated and updated. The use of these earlier lists as a conservation tool is limited by the fact that the status of many species remains unclear, particularly of threatened species. It is therefore, very important to have a comprehensive survey of the important vegetation zones particularly of national parks, to evaluate the conservation status of different endangered species. It is important to prepare National Red Data lists of threatened plant species based on recent IUCN categories. Such lists would include species which are nationally rare and declining; those which are nationally rare, not declining, but otherwise at risk e.g. from population fluctuations, natural catastrophes, persecution, etc.; those which are highly localized in distribution; and those which are still widespread and common but suffering significant decline.

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