The following is #30 in my ongoing project Extinct & Almost Extinct.
The Purple Paphiopedilum is an Asian Lady Slipper orchid and is representative of 84 Asian Lady Slipper species most of which are threatened with extinction. Purple Paphiopedilum is a rare species with few growing sites. Three are found in Vietnam and a few in China. It grows in humid, well drained rocky soils and steep limestone slopes. It flourishes in shaded tropical mountains and flowers between June and September. The life of individual plants is up to eight years.
The population of this orchid has plummeted by 90% over the past decade. The total number of individual plants is estimated at less than 250. The reasons for this drastic decline in numbers include destruction of habitat, logging, fires, deforestation, climate change, and the ruthless collection of the plant in the wild for regional and international commerce. The collection of this and many other species of orchids has become rampant with wild cuttings of rare orchids bringing up to $7,500 each. While international law bans the trade of endangered plants, a recent study showed dozens of threatened species of orchids on public sale at Thai markets.
Proposals have been made of ways to protect the Purple Paphiopedilum and other plants in danger of extinction. They include the propagation and repatriation of plants back to native habitats, cultivating specimens specifically for trade in hope lessening wild plant harvest, protecting habitats with surveillance and fencing of wild populations, and raised public awareness of the plight of these plants.