The hope for many cures for cancer and many other diseases that humanity struggles with, might well be dying with those very plants that are being destroyed. In Tom's collection there are some wonderful examples of medicinal plants that have been important in medicine in the past. The first is a plant out of China called camptotheca. Camptotheca has a compound in it, camptothecin that has a property that is being using to fight ovarian cancer in China. It's native to Tibet and China only. Another example of a plant they have grown here, not doing it now, it didn't survive here is the pacific yew. It had a drug called taxol. Taxol is very promising in the treatment of breast cancer. Now they've synthesized it and are no longer using the bark from that tree because the tree was becoming extinct. Now they're using a synthetic form. But if these plants were not kept then the compounds found in these plants would not be available. Native people used plants like these for centuries. Another example is witch hazel, which is in no danger of being extinct but witch hazel is one of those old plants that's got an interesting history. It's a native plant in the southeastern United States. Witch hazel is used as an astringent. Back when Tom was a kid, you would go to a barber shop and that's what they put on your face. It's used on sores and various other things. Another plant that has a very interesting history is a southeastern native called pinkneya pubens, Georgia Fever Bark. It's a tree that grows along the coastal part of the U.S. It's very rarely seen, not that many out there, but it was used during the civil war as a quinine substitute for malaria and yellow fever. It has quinine properties in it, it has a pretty unusual poinsettia like bloom. Those are some of the plants, there are many more here that have interesting compounds. And who knows what's out here that hasn't yet been discovered. And that underscores this whole point and why we need to preserve all of these plants because when they're gone, they're gone and with them the compounds that may actually end up curing a disease, the next disease.
By Justin Hancock, Monrovia Horticultural Craftsman
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia
Labor Day may represent summer’s unofficial close but now is a perfect opportunity to add late-summer perennials that will continue to beautify your landcare until fall arrives. click here for an article that identifies 9 perennials for late summer.
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