Molecular identification to curb the illegal trade in orchid tubers in Asia Minor

All orchids are CITES listed, but tubers of terrestrial orchids in the genera Orchis, Anacamptis, Dactylorhiza and Himantoglossum are collected in large quantities to make Salep. Using high-throughput sequencing we can analyze anything from tubers through Salep powder to Salep icecream to accurate determine all orchid species present in these processed products.

All orchids are Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II listed, but tubers of terrestrial orchids in the genera Orchis, Anacamptis, Dactylorhiza, Ophrys and Himantoglossum are collected in large quantities from the wild in Greece, Turkey and Iran. These orchid tubers are traded illegally for the production of a beverage and traditional ice cream called Salep. Orchid harvesting in Iran has escalated in recent years through increased international demand, especially from Turkey, where authentic Salep is a valued product. Orchid harvesting is destructive as orchids are uprooted, detubered and discarded, and threatens wild populations throughout their ranges.

Our group has been working since 2014 on understanding the current status of orchid harvest and trade in this region, focusing mainly on Iran as a hotspot of harvesting activity. The broad objective of the project is to identify those orchids that are most affected by this trade, as well as those to whom this trade poses the greatest threat to survival. As orchid tubers lack distinctive morphology we have developed DNA barcoding-based molecular identification system that allows us to identify tubers along the supply chain. Our molecular identification system enables prioritizing areas for conservation, and monitoring and control of international illegal trade. Using high-throughput sequencing we can analyze anything from tubers through Salep powder to Salep icecream to accurate determine all orchid species present in these processed products, but identify adulterants in Salep powder that may present a health risk for consumers. Furthermore, identifying Salep from incorrectly or incompletely labeled cross-border freight can assist customs and revenue services in the countries of origin and destination to stop illegal trade and enforce CITES.

Involved people

Hugo de Boer

Abdolbaset Ghorbani

Sugir Selliah

Sarawut Ounjai

Barbara Gravendeel

Shahin Zarré

Published: Jan. 12, 2016
By: Hugo de Boer , Abdolbaset Ghorbani , Sugir Selliah
Tags: Orchidaceae , DNA barcoding , Metabarcoding , Molecular identification , Salep , Orchids , Anacamptis , Ophrys , Himantoglossum , Dactylorhiza , CITES , TRAFFIC