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Potpourri as a Sustainable Plant Product: Identity, Origin, and Conservation Status1

Potpourri as a Sustainable Plant Product: Identity, Origin, and Conservation Status. While displays of decorative dried plant material are popular in homes in Europe and North America, knowledge regarding potpourri ingredients is limited. This study examined the identity, diversity, origin, economic sources, and sustainability of such ingredients used in the United Kingdom (UK). Research at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, commencing in 1990 and involving 1,000 samples of individual potpourri ingredients from 12 UK manufacturers and traders, revealed 546 different ingredients, representing up to 455 species, 289 genera, and over 100 families. Despite the wide taxonomic spread, several distinct plant part–family groups contributed the most potpourri ingredients: i.e., fruits from Arecaceae, Fabaceae, Malvaceae, Pinaceae, Poaceae, and Rutaceae; seeds from Fabaceae; leaves from Arecaceae, Fabaceae, and Poaceae; inflorescences from Asteraceae; as well as stems from cane, pith, timber, and pole wood. The vast majority of ingredients imported from Asia, especially India, were byproducts from crops and wild harvested species used by the Indian herbal healthcare industry. Global conservation assessments are lacking for 80% of wild collected Indian potpourri species, and those that have assessments are mainly abundant and widespread in ruderal or wetland habitats and of Least Concern (IUCN 2013), except Pterocarpus marsupium and P. indicus (Fabaceae), which are vulnerable globally, and Calamus andamanicus (Arecaceae) and Oroxylum indicum (Bignoniaceae), which are vulnerable nationally within India. A further eight, primarily medicinally traded species, are regarded as threatened within individual Indian states. Additional unique potpourri ingredients were sourced from Thailand, but only about one-tenth of study samples were from Africa, Middle East, Europe, America, and Australia. Temporal studies of potpourri ingredients could reflect changes in the use and abundance of species in other trades such as medicines, food, and materials.

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Sasha Barrow, Laura Hastings, James Morley, Georgina Pearman, Helen Sanderson, and Jill Turner worked on potpourri identifications and reports. Identifications were provided by Susyn Andrews, Bill Baker, Sally Bidgood, Nicola Biggs, Diane Bridson, Martin Cheek, Tom Cope, Aaron Davis, Rogier de Kok, John Dransfield, Peter Edwards, Aljos Farjon, David Goyder, Peter Green, Nicholas Hind, Gwilym Lewis, Eve Lucas, Eimar Nic Lughadha, Terry Pennington, Alan Radcliffe-Smith, Lulu Rico-Arce, Peter Roberts, David Simpson, Melanie Thomas, Bernard Verdcourt, Kai Volleson, Dr Wadhwa, Paul Wilkin, Martin Xanthos, and Daniella Zappi (Kew herbarium), Sandra Knapp and Jenny Bryant (Natural History Museum), Arthur O. Tucker (Claude E. Philips herbarium), and Peter Gasson and Paula Rudall (plant anatomy, Kew). Monique Simmonds made invaluable suggestions regarding the text. Thanks are also extended to the companies who commissioned Kew to review the identity, sustainability, and safety of their products.

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Correspondence to Frances E. M. Cook.

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1Received 8 April 2014; accepted 28 October 2015.

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Cook, F.E.M., Leon, C.J. & Nesbitt, M. Potpourri as a Sustainable Plant Product: Identity, Origin, and Conservation Status1 . Econ Bot 69, 330–344 (2015).

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Key Words

  • Non-timber forest products
  • United Kingdom
  • India
  • Thailand
  • plant families
  • plant parts
  • wild collected
  • crops
  • conservation status
  • Indian herbal healthcare industry
  • ethnobotany