FWS Summary From North Carolina
Harvest Rotation Inventory Study of the Medicinal Herbs Black and Yellow Cohosh (Actaea racemosa and Actaea podocarpa) in a Mesophytic Forest Type of Southern Appalachian
Members of the Plant Conservation Committee of the Medicinal Plant Working Group, which includes representatives from the medicinal commerce, government, academia, and environmental organizations, collaborated on the second annual census of the medicinal herb black cohosh. The group’s focus for 2001 was to begin to assess potential sustainable harvest levels of black cohosh. A group of enthusiastic "Partners for Plants" volunteers representing ten clubs of Garden Club of America, botanists Gary Kauffman of the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests (U.S. Forest Service) and Pat Ford of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Mary Maruca (FWS), Edward Fletcher and Trish Flaster commerce representatives, and Joe-Ann McCoy from Clemson University met on August 27 and 28, 2001 in Asheville, North Carolina. The group collected population and harvest data for two species of Actaea, A. racemosa L (black cohosh [Cimicifuga racemosa N.]) and A. podocarpa L. (yellow cohosh [Cimicifuga americana Michx.]) on the Pisgah National Forest. All of the participants found common interest and mutual benefit in the study, and advanced the group’s collective objective of quantifying the occurrence of these important medicinal herbs in the wild.
Black cohosh (A. racemosa) was selected because of the continued increase in the demand, both international and domestic for this species in the medicinal herb market. In 1998, black cohosh was identified as one of the fastest growing herbal products with an annual increase of over 511 percent from sales in 1997 (Breevort, 1998). Last year an amount estimated between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds (dry) were wild-collected (NatureServe 2001). Black cohosh is used exclusively in parts of Europe and Australia. It is currently used in 29 Canadian drug products, with the supply coming mostly from the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Appalachian chain (Small & Catling 1999).
Although, there is no direct information regarding the harvest of yellow cohosh (A. podocarpa) from wild populations, it seems to be facing incidental collection and subsequent decline due to its resemblance to the widely collected A. racemosa (Natureserve 2001). Because of the sympatric nature of these two species, both were included in this years study. Although, the roots of A. podocarpa are distinctively yellow (left in photo), hence the common name yellow cohosh, the roots lose their color as they are dried.
Both black and yellow cohosh are long-lived perennial understory herbs found in eastern deciduous forests in the United States. Both species reproduce primarily by seed, which, like American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.), requires a 1-½ year dormancy period. The roots of the plant emerge from the lower surface of the rhizome (underground stem). Technically, the desirable part of black cohosh for the medicinal market is the rhizome and not the root. For this reason we have used both terms in our study.
Black cohosh occurs in twenty-five states and two Canadian provinces (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Colombia, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Ontario, and Quebec). Yellow cohosh has a smaller geographic range occurring in ten states (Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia), and is speculated to be declining (Natureserve 2001). Both species are currently ranked as secure (G4) throughout their ranges (Natureserve 2001).
There is little demographic information on the abundance and distribution of these two species throughout their ranges, and sustainable harvest levels are unknown. An increase in the demand for wild roots of black cohosh may affect the occurrence and distribution of both species and potentially threaten the viability of these species. An example of the decline of wild black cohosh has occurred in the state of Illinois; which has resulted in ranking populations within the state as critically imperiled (Natural Heritage Network, 2000).
Black and yellow cohosh occur in rich forest habitats identified as cove communities. A typical southern Appalachian cove can be 5-10 acres in size, and is identified as a mixed mesophytic forest type. Black cohosh can account for five to 10 percent of the understory vegetative cover within the cove. For the last twenty years a diversity of forest community types have been sampled on public and private land across the southern Appalachians. Result of this extensive vegetation study determined 343 plots sampled had black cohosh. Of these, 73% had black cohosh cover estimates less than 5%; only 12 of the plots had a cover density greater than 25% and half of the plots averaged 2% cover. In comparison, yellow cohosh was only located in only 77 plots. Of these, only one plot had a cover estimate greater than 25%. Both Actaea species were primarily located in mesic ecological types, however there does appear to be a elevation separation between the two species. Yellow cohosh tends to occur in higher elevation forests, northern hardwood and boulder fields, in comparison to black cohosh (G. Kauffman).
The specific objectives of this study were to census both species within a designated cove. Within selected plots the roots/rhizomes of both species were randomly harvested according to predetermined harvest levels of 33 percent (a light harvest) and 66 percent (a heavy harvest). Eight control plots received no harvest were also designated within the study. Gary Kauffman designed the randomized sampling procedure consisting of 21 10x10 meter plots, which started at the lower-mid-section of the cove and approached the upper section of the cove. Within each plot, both species, Actaea racemosa and A. podocarpa, were counted if present, plant height and width were recorded to group plants into distinct age classes. The presence of inflorescence, seeds, and/or foliage damage was recorded. Dominant understory species were also recorded. All collected roots/rhizomes were weighed the same day as harvest.
Unlike our assessment last year, Actaea racemosa and A. podocarpa were both abundant in the cove sampled this year, in addition to other associate species typical of mixed mesophytic forest coves found throughout the southern Appalachians. Mixed mesophytic forest coves are indicative of habitat for many native medicinal herbs which may become affected if harvest trends are not regulated. Dominant overstory trees occurring within the cove included sugar maple (Acer saccharum), tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), and linden (Tilia americana). Herbaceous associates included false goatsbeard (Astilbe biternata), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), Jack in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), violet (Viola canadensis), false lily of the valley (Maianthemum racemosum), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).
Preliminary Results of the monitoring study.
For black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) 130 roots/rhizomes were harvested. Roots/rhizomes were collected from seven of the lightly harvested plots (33% of total) and from six of the heavily harvested plots (66% of total). Individual root weight varied considerably from 3 grams to 305 grams; the average was 67 grams. Due to the variation in the age of the plants, we estimate approximately 15 to 20 plants equal one pound of dried roots/rhizomes.
For yellow cohosh (Actaea podocarpa) 182 roots/rhizomes were harvested. The same plots that black cohosh was collected in also had yellow cohosh harvested. Individual root weight varied considerably from 1 gram to 170 grams; the average was 41 grams. Yellow cohosh roots were typically smaller than black cohosh; we estimate approximately 28 to 35 plants equal one pound of dried roots/rhizomes.
Most of the harvested roots/rhizomes harvested were given to Yellow Creek Botanical Institute, a nonprofit organization, located in Robbinsville, North Carolina. The institution is devoted to cultivation and promotion of native Appalachian plant species. The roots/rhizomes were planted in various treatment plots at the institution where they will be monitored for foliage growth and rhizome production. A smaller portion of roots/rhizomes were sent to University of Mississippi, where the chemical compounds of the rhizomes will be extracted and analyzed.
We will continue to census and appraise sustainable harvest levels for wild-collected rhizomes of black cohosh in 2002. Additionally, we will start to monitor the medicinal herb bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.). This spring flowering herb is commonly found in mixed mesophytic forest coves with Actaea racemosa.
Pat Ford, USFWS Botanist, 2001
Garden Clubs of America Summary of Pisgah, North Carolina Project
On August 27-28, 2001, a Partners For Plants Project with threatened or endangered medicinal plants was carried out in Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, NC. The goal of this project was to inventory specific plant populations and then to test for the sustainability of those populations when picked by gatherers. The tasks included counting, measuring, and scientific gathering of varying amounts of black and yellow Cohosh plants in twenty one 10 X 10 meter plots in a cove which was incredibly diverse with many plant species, but also rich in Cohosh. These plots will be revisited in two or three years to see how much of the population has regenerated. Black and yellow Cohosh are principally used in the herbal medicine trade for menopausal remedies and has become increasingly popular for gatherers in recent years, to the point of being threatened or endangered in some states. In National Forests gatherers may legally collect plants when granted a permit to do so. The Forest Service can limit the collection of threatened plants, or if endangered, can prohibit collections. The "Partners For Plants" volunteers are helping the USES gather the data they need before issuing permits. Botanist in charge was Gary Kauffman, USES.
The Fish and Wildlife Agency is the federal coordinator for this and other medicinal plant projects. Also involved is the Medicinal Plant Working Group which is a committee of the Plant Conservation Initiative. Jane Henley was coordinator for GCA.
Seven botanists or plant specialists were on site representing the above partners. Twenty Garden Club of America volunteers were involved, including the Partners For Plants Horticulture Comm co-Chair Susan Weeks, GCA President Ann Frier son, a large contingency from the Knoxville GC, and volunteers from nine other garden clubs from zones 7, 8, 9. We are fortunate to have many GCA members with summer homes in western North Carolina who supply a pool of enthusiastic volunteers.
Funds were available to support the professional representatives from outside the government agencies through a grant from the Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This Foundation has a matching fund which is soliciting donations for current and future projects for conservation of medicinal plants. The GCA budget for this project includes costs of the lunches of all 27 persons on the project on Monday, Aug. 27, and a donation to the Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the continuance of this project. Cost of the box lunches was $324 at $12 per person.
All other expenses of the project by volunteers were donated. This includes collectively 220 hours on site, travel time of 112 hours, car and plane costs at $1000, lodging costs $1080, meals $1400(not including lunch). These are conservative figures.
The project was one and a half days in length, with arrival of all ladies Sunday night either in Asheville or in nearby homes. The group met at 8:30 AM at the Forest Service office for orientation, then drove to the site in the forest, working on site from about 10 to 5 PM, returning to hotel and to a dinner provided by Nancy Swain at her home. The following day the group worked from 9 to 1 at the site, then left for home. Only 10 volunteers could work on Tuesday.
In general the project went very well. Inventory and harvesting was accomplished on 21 sites, on a very steep terrain, and no sprained ankles reported. Volunteer time was maximized because Gary measured out many plots in advance, allowing everyone to get right to work. We could have used more volunteers the second day when most of the harvesting was undertaken. All volunteers seemed to enjoy the experience and to be enthralled with the rich diversity of plant materials in the forest. They left with a sense of accomplishment.
Continuing Projects in 2002:
Inventory bloodroot, Pisgah National Forest, late April: This will be a project of no more than 12 volunteers to inventory bloodroot when it is in bloom. It will be scientifically harvested in the fall to test for sustainability. Belinda McCoy, Knoxville GC, will be asked to coordinate.
Third annual cohosh project at Pisgah National Forest, early September or late August. On this one and a half day project, we will repeat the project protocol of 2001 at a new location and add harvesting bloodroot plots inventoried in the spring. Jane Henley will coordinate.
Monongehala National Forest project, West Virginia: June or September 2002. This will continue the project started in June 2001, following the Pisgah model with Calvert Armbrecht as coordinator and volunteers coming from Kanawha Garden Club or others nearby in Virginia or Pennsylvania.
Shenandoah National Park, headquartered in Luray, VA, for 2002 or 2003. This park which includes Skyline Drive extends from northern Virginia to Afton near Charlottesville, Virginia. Illegal poaching of plants for the commercial trade is a big problem for this park, and they need better inventory information to assist enforcement activities and budgets. Doug Morris, the Superintendent has expressed an interest in a Partners project. He has a botanist and an ecologist on staff. This would be a good project for clubs in the Piedmont and northern Virginia vicinity. Jocelyn Sladen, representing Conservation will be contacted to work with Polly Rowley of Horticulture committee to develop a project with Shenandoah NP and coordinate the volunteers.
George Washington National Forest, which is in Virginia but borders West Virginia east of Lexington, VA: Pat Ford and Mary Maruca of the Fish and Wildlife Service will pursue a project following the Pisgah model with the botanist and staff at George Washington National Forest. The GCA Coordinators will be Judy Terjon, seasoned Pisgah volunteer and former Zone 7 Conservation Rep., working with Kay Shifflett, current zone 7 Hort. Comm. Rep. They are both in the VA Beach GC. This forest is easily accessible to Mill Mt. GC in Roanoke, Clarke County GC, Augusta GC, Albemarle GC.
Susan Weeks, Partners co-chair for Horticulture, will keep track of all activities in the Appalachians. Jane Henley will continue to be the bridge between federal agencies and GCA medicinal plants projects and will help find local coordinators for future projects.
Jane Henley, 2001
Garden Clubs of America Project Summary, West Virginia
Ten volunteers surveyed 10 plots (10 X 10 meters) for black cohosh, and noted other significant plants in the plots, as well as details concerning overstory, understory, etc. Though these first-time volunteers were quick learners, measuring the plots proved time-consuming because they were larger than last year's plots and thus more cumbersome. Volunteers used the middle of the creek as the main transect, which also meant rough terrain.
Forest Service botanist Jan Garrett followed the protocol used in North Carolina. Volunteers did not inventory bloodroot because it was located in a different part of the cove. The cove did have cohosh, but it was spotty. There was a lot of blue cohosh, however. Later we traveled to a sunny part of the forest that had been logged. Cohosh was much more abundant and the plants larger. We observed but did not inventory.
Jan Garrett expressed a lot of concern for ginseng and goldenseal, which are not on the sensitive or threatened list for her region. Both are flagged in the southern forests of the Appalachian chain, but her region is headquartered in Minneapolis where there is less focus on these plants. I bring this to the attention of the MPWG. Jan would like not to issue permits for these two items, or to have power to restrict collecting in some way.
Suggestions for future projects: Bring stakes for the corners and possibly some tape or string so volunteers can see the plots better. With the larger plots it was difficult to see the perimeters after we had measured them.
We ended up working in two groups on either side of the creek. We had two long wind- up tapes, and a few metal ones. We could have used more wind-up tapes because they move easier in the woods.
Another suggestion. Select sites in advance and establish the initial100-meter transect up the cove, marking off the perpendicular starting places along it to speed the process for the volunteers. Also it would help to see a layout used for the plots in.
Jane Henley, GCA Coordinator, 2001