The Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell has announced government funding to help preserve diverse plantlife in the Yuman province in south-west China through an exchange programme between Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens and a research unit there.
The agreement creates Britain's first joint scientific laboratory in China and will allow botanists from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to continue working with local Chinese to protect a huge variety of plants which would otherwise being in danger of extinction.
There are few places as rich in plantlife as the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (or Yulong Xue Shan), near the city of Lijiang where the joint project's research centre is located. China has 30,000 species of plants, or an eighth of the world's total, and 3000 of them grow on that mountain alone.
The exchange programme will allow local mountain dwellers to travel to Edinburgh for training in modern plant propagation techniques, which will help them preserve their wildlife.
The Scottish Executive will provide £20,000 each year over three years to support the Lijiang exchange programme. A further £15,000 will fund a joint expedition between the Royal Botanic Gardens Kunming Institute of Botany to collect plant material for a joint study.
The market for herbal remedies in North America and Europe has been expanding by about 10 per cent a year for the last decade and the world market is now thought to be worth at least £11 billion (€15.8bn). In some countries, up to 80 per cent of the population relies on this form of treatment.
But two-thirds of the 50,000 medicinal plants in use around the world are still harvested from the wild, and between 4000 and 10,000 of them may now be endangered, according to a report this year from UK charity Plantlife International. In Europe, around 90 per cent of the 1300 medicinal plants used commercially are collected from the wild.