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COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the American Ginseng in Canada

Update
COSEWIC Status Report
on the
American Ginseng
Panax quinquefolius
in Canada
1999

Introduction

Ginseng was designated as threatened in 1988 due to its decline at many sites and the continued threat posed by diggers who harvest the root for sale as a medicinal plant (White, 1988). Wild ginseng has been considered rare or threatened over much of its North American range for many years (White, 1988). Concerns over its declining populations led to the plant being declared an Appendix II species in 1973 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Appendix II species must be monitored to ensure that continued international trade does not threaten their existence. After the CITES agreement was signed, the Quebec government decided not to issue export permits for ginseng. The Ontario government issued export permits to comply with the CITES agreement but did not establish a formal monitoring program to determine the effect of the harvest on the population (White, 1988).

The 1988 status report documented 25 extant sites (several that consisted of two or three subpopulations) of ginseng in Ontario and stated there were an additional 80 sites in the province that had been located or reconfirmed by other field botanists since 1964. Many of these 80 sites, however, may have disappeared before 1988 (White, 1988). Gagnon and Charron (1987) document 15 extant sites for Quebec and list a further 13 sites that had been located or reconfirmed after 1964. Although the average size of the populations documented in the status report is about 100 plants, most populations found consist of only one or a few plants (White, 1988). When the status report was written, the main threats to ginseng were considered to be harvest, and habitat degradation from clearing, logging, and grazing cattle (White, 1988).

Since the status report was written, a considerable amount of information has been generated on different aspects of the biology of ginseng (Charron, 1989; Charron and Gagnon, 1991; Nantel, et al., 1996).  Extensive field studies have been undertaken in Quebec from 1994 to 1998 (Nault, et al., 1997) and in Ontario in 1997 (Nault, et al., 1998).  The cultivation of ginseng has also expanded tremendously (Clark and Kort, 1996). This report evaluates the status of the species in regards to the new information available and to the changes observed.