The snow lotus is popular in Asia for curing "women's diseases." The taller the plant, the better.
However, Missouri researchers are making a case that heavy picking of the plant in China and Tibet over the past century has actually meddled with the plant's DNA, causing it to become significantly shorter over time.
Missouri Botanical Garden ethnobotany curator Jan Salick describes this as evidence of "unconscious human selection" in the evolutionary development of plants. Studies of snow lotus samples collected over the past 125 years demonstrate that compared with protected sacred sites where the plant was not picked, plants in heavily picked areas became significantly smaller.
The Botanical Garden is working with the Nature Conservancy and the Chinese government to preserve the snow lotus, which is becoming increasingly popular with tourists and grows only at altitudes of 13,000 feet or higher.
"Ironically, the exact traits people are selecting for are becoming rarer because of natural selection" influenced by humans, Salick said.