The plant, Fritillaria delavayi, grows on the rocky alpine slopes of China’s Hengduan Mountains, and for more than 2,000 years its dried bulbs have been used to treat heart and lung ailments. Historically, the plant was not hard to find—a bright sprig of green amid a sea of gray scree—but demand for the powder made from its bulbs has made it rarer and more expensive. A kilogram of the powder now costs $480 ($218 per pound), and requires harvesting more than 3,500 individual plants, which only begin to flower in their fifth season, according to Science News.
But just as many animals have evolved camouflage to better evade predators, human harvesting behaviors have spurred many Fritillaria plants to shift from loud greens to the muted grays and browns of the rocks they grow between, the researchers report in a study published this week in the journal Current Biology.Alex Fox, “Medicinal Plant May Have Evolved Camouflage to Evade Humans” at Smithsonian Magazine
Paper. (open access)
But what about the possibility that the dull reddish color variant was always present—in small numbers—and simply became more common because the ones less likely to show it or pass it on were picked off. Plants often vary in color like that. So, a question: If humans stopped picking them, would the green ones just start becoming more numerous again?