Dr. Lisa Castle receives 2014 Medicinal Plant Conservation Award in recognition of her work in launching the United Plant Savers “At Risk” Assessment Tool


Dr. Lisa Castle was formally recognized as the recipient of United Plant Savers 2014 Medicinal Plant Conservation Award at our Planting the Future Conference in Lawrence, Kansas. We are indebted to her and eternally grateful for her work and her critical role in the publication and launching of United Plant Savers ‘At-Risk’ Assessment Tool.


From Left to Right: Dr. Kelly Kindscher of the University of Kansas, Dr. Lisa Castle 2014 MPCA Award Winner, Dr. Susan Leopold, Executive Director, United Plant Savers

Lisa Castle, a plant ecologist, currently teaches biology at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. A lifelong lover of plants, her official interest in medicinal plants started in fifth grade when she wrote a school research paper on “Medicinal Uses of Herbs in Colonial America” at about the same time she planted an perennial herb garden in her parents’ backyard. Her work with the United Plant Savers began in 2000 when she started working with Dr. Kelly Kindscher at the University of Kansas to develop an assessment tool used to compare medicinal plants based on their vulnerability to overharvest. Over the next fourteen years, she worked with herbalists, herb growers, the UPS board, biology students and other ecologists to create, test, refine, and publicize the tool.

The tool, now called the UpS At-Risk Assessment Tool, is a way of “comparing echinacea to dandelions” with a numerical score indicating how vulnerable a species is to overharvest. Scores are based on answers to questions about a plant species’ life history traits, reaction to harvest, population size and distribution, habitat, and demand. The United Plant Savers will use species’ scores to update the “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists. The tool is transparent; making it easy to learn why a plant is vulnerable and make appropriate conservation measures (e.g. a species with an unusually high demand will require different strategies than one with a particularly imperiled habitat). The tool is adaptable and scores can be modified as conditions change or new information is learned. Other users can use the tool to assess local vulnerability or to model how a species score might change if demand, habitat, or land use changes. Working with scientists from the University of Kansas and the United Plant Savers, Lisa Castle authored the paper describing the tool, reporting the scores of the first forty plants scored, and describing case studies of plant scores, published in May 2014 in Ethnobiology Letters. We encourage you to view and download the free PDF of the publication and visit the interactive tool and documents at: www.goldensealsanctuary.org

Beyond helping UpS and other conservation organizations set priorities, Castle sees great value in using the tool to raise awareness about medicinal plants and plant conservation and as a teaching aid. Over 60 undergraduate students in her Botany and Plant Taxonomy classes at Glenville State College and Southwestern Oklahoma State University have individually scored plants using the tool. They’ve reported being surprised at how many plants are used medicinally, about how little is known about basic population biology of many plants, and about how much craziness they can find on the internet. The students have gone on to create scientific posters presented at West Virginia Academy of Sciences, Oklahoma Research Day, Society of Ethnobiology Annual Conference. Lisa has presented about using to tool to teach botany at meetings of Society for Economic Botany, Society of Ethnobiology, Planting the Future: Prairie Medicine and Botany 2014. Some of the education posters continue to circulate, having been seen at American Council for Medicinally Active Plants Meeting and at the11th International Herb Symposium,as well as the walls of the Kansas Biological Survey and webpage of the United Plant Savers.

Outside of the tool, Lisa Castle’s interest in plant conservation is both academic and personal. She has studied population dynamics of prairie turnips, a native edible legume, in order to determine a sustainable level of harvest. She’s helped count Echinacea angustifolia following harvest and has introduced students to the under-studied world of plant populations as they monitor populations of invasive trees and native vines with medicinal potential. She spent four summers on the Crow Reservation in Southern Montana helping Crow Healer Alma Hogan Snell write her plant use book, A Taste of Heritage. Castle believes strongly that increased awareness will lead to better information and knowledge which can lead to better decision making that helps both plants and people.

United Plant Savers is honored by the commitment to medicinal plant conservation as demonstrated by Lisa Castle and her work on the ‘At-Risk’ Assessment Tool and we are grateful for her citizenship to the community of medicinal plant conservationists.