Overview of Changes to the At-Risk Lists

By Helen Metzman

This update is the first major revision of the UpS “At-Risk” List since it was first developed by United Plant Savers over two decades ago. In recent years United Plant Savers has added Hawaiian Sandalwood to the at-risk list and ramps to the “To-Watch” list. As a board, we have had an ongoing committee that has worked to gather information and navigate how best to advocate for native medicinal plants. This list is dynamic, and we encourage members to participate and share thoughts. We are working hard to figure out ways to gather information, conduct research and network with our membership and partner organizations. We have now reworked the categories from “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” to “Critical”, “At-Risk” and “In Review.”


Rosemary Gladstar founded United Plant Savers over 25 years ago to raise awareness about the necessity to conserve native medicinal plants. She observed that many of her beloved plants were overharvested for commerce or imperiled by habitat destruction, leaving their populations too small to sustain themselves. Rosemary, along with others at United Plant Savers, created “At-Risk” and “To-Watch” lists that highlighted the species of most concern. Monographs (now called “plant profiles”) were written by prominent herbalists and plant people of the time and compiled into the book, “Planting the Future,” (Healing Arts Press, 2000)

These UpS At-Risk lists were developed to serve as a standard for those seeking information and guidance on the conservation of medicinal plants. The latest revisions reflect the current state of the environment, industry, and personal use, with the intention of revisiting their status on a yearly time frame. The uncertainty of ecological conditions and popular use makes it imperative that we stay up to date on the status of each species so that we may foster hope for their survival far into the future.

A generation has passed since Rosemary was first summoned to become an activist for at-risk native medicinal plants, and we tasked ourselves with revisiting and updating the lists. Our responsibility remains to the plants to ensure their populations remain viable and steady for many generations to come.


In our updated lists, we have moved some of the most vulnerable plants into a new “Critical” category. These species have been evaluated by the Board of Directors of UpS, which carefully reserves this category for species that are federally or state-protected and/or are at a very high risk of extinction. United Plant Savers recommends these plants should not be wild-harvested or purchased under any circumstance except for research that directly supports the health of the population and sustainable use by Indigenous societies that have a traditional history of connection with these plants.

Plants on the “Critical List” include: Elephant Tree, (Bursera microphylla), Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium acaule), Peyote (Lophophora williamsii), Sandalwood (Santalum spp.), Sundew (Drosera spp.), Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula), Beth Root (Trillium spp.), and False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum).

The majority of plants from the original list have remained in the “At-Risk” category.

The United Plant Savers recommends that “At-Risk” plants should be used in cultivated forms whenever possible. Because of pressures facing these plant populations and significant variability in abundance, wild harvesting should be very limited and carefully monitored. Any wild harvest of these plants should align with rules established by federal, state and local governments.

The new “In Review” list has replaced the “To-Watch” list and are native plants that have significant known medicinal, edible, and/or ornamental uses that have been recommended through our membership or the UpS Board. We will review and, if necessary, evaluate these plants for consideration for the “At-Risk” or “Critical” listings. We advise caution and careful consideration when using these plants for either personal or commercial use.

Our lists are ever-evolving and subject to the vicissitudes of the herbal industry, environmental impact and popularity. Plant profiles on our website discuss the conservation aspects of the plants and provide additional resources to delve deeper into ethnobotanical and geographical links.

United Plant Savers created a “Species At-Risk Assessment Tool” for those experienced in the herbal industry to score and rank the plants’ status. The scores give a barometer as to how each specific plant fits into the spectrum of our “Critical,” “At-Risk,” and “In Review’’ lists. For instance, the higher score of 75 for Sandalwood indicates the species is more vulnerable compared to the lower score of 34 for Mayapple.

Take a look at the lists, read the profiles, and please feel free to provide any feedback. We hope these lists help to ensure the plants’ populations remain stable not only for future herbalists, botanists, wild-crafters, medicine makers, and farmers but most importantly for the survival of the species and their ecosystems.