The southern flora of the Russian Far East is highly unique. It formed under the influence of global climate changes, specific impact of the nearby ocean and several marine transgressions. Noteworthy is the high diversity of species, among which we come across those common for North America and Southeast Asia. Besides, many rare, relict, endemic representatives and species occur on the range boundary, e.g. Panax ginseng, Nelumbo komarovii, Taxus cuspidata, Aristolochia manshuriensis, Kalopanax septemlobus, Rhododendron schlippenbachii, Microbiota decussata, Partenocissus rticuspidata, Sanguisorba magnifica, etc. At present, due to greater man-made press, many of the previously abundant plants of the area have already become rare and disappearing. And yet, these species are the components of specific communities, occasionally functionally important for local biota. In some cases, rare plants form a major support link in the ecosystem. According to G. E. Kurentsova (Relict Plants of Primorye, 1968), Aristolochia manshuriensis, a relict of Turgai flora, serves as the only source of nutrition for the butterfly Papilio alcinous. Numerous rare and protected species in the region are valuable as medicinal plants and are widely used both in conventional and folk medicine. A number of such species growing in Primorye have been used long ago by conventional medicine of East Asian countries, e.g. Panax ginseng, Schisandra chinensis, Scutellaria baicalensis, Paeconia obovata, Gastrodia elata, etc. Some rare species are being actively studied as promising medicinal plants. In recent years, the interest for various yew species, including Taxus cuspidata, has significantly grown owing to the presence therein of taxol, a compound used in treating tumors. Removal of rare and disappearing plants from natural habitats for utility purposes disturbs natural harmony to significantly impoverish biodiversity. Significantly, not only rare and disappearing, but still widespread species require protection; however, they are being actively destroyed due to their medicinal, nutritional and ornamental significance. An essential prerequisite in protecting the biodiversity of plant gene pool would be to introduce into culture rare and disappearing species to create alternative sources of medicinal raw materials, and also to reintroduce those species into disturbed natural ecosystems.

    At present, the Laboratory of Biotechnology, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, Far East Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, is investigating the biological specifics of rare and disappearing species of medicinal plants from Far Eastern flora to develop an individual system for estimating their vital strategy. The ecophysiological properties and biology of seed reproduction are being scrutinized. A study has been completed of the complex of functional and mesostructural characteristic of the photosynthetic apparatus and of the complex of the morphological and functional characteristics of the reproductive system of a number of rare and disappearing medicinal plant species. Factor analysis involving the main component methods was conducted for results of structural-functional studies of leaves and seeds to reveal clusters combining species for similarity of their ecological properties.
    A study of the biology of seed germination in rare and disappearing medicinal plant species of the Russian Far East is currently under way. At this point, we have studied the morphometric parameters of seeds, their morphological and anatomical structure, their germinating capacity in the laboratory and in soil, stimulation of seed germination, the temperature factor in seed germination, their viability in lengthy storage. We have also determined the morphometric characteristics of plantules and juvenile plants and scrutinized the properties of plant initial development. We have also worked out regimens for growing seedlings of some highly valuable and difficultly multiplied species (yew seedlings). Botanical Garden researchers S. V. Nesterova and A. N. Prilutsky, Cand. Sci. (Agriculture), took part in some works.
    As for other aspects of retaining and maintaining the diversity of rare plant species, the study of genetic processes in natural populations is particularly urgent. With this in view, in 1997 we started studying the biochemical polymorphism of Far Eastern Oxytropis species. The allozyme spectra of the rare O. chankaensis (shore of Lake Khanka, Primorye) have been studied. Tentative results of isoenzyme analysis showed that of the eighteen enzymes systems studied, eight (MDH, PGM, GPI, AAT. LAP, DIA, EST, FL-EST) to be polymorphous. Further use of certain polymorphous allozyme loci is probable as population markers to study population gene structure.
    With further accumulation of information, the database for analyzing the study of medicinal (including relict, rare and disappearing) plant species from the Russian Far East is being filled up. This is done with the aid of FoxPro SUDB; the database has a control, tracking and editing system, allows performing selective information sampling, and has permanent context assistance.  The database has several fields (nomenclature, biological characteristic, phenology, distribution, reproduction, chemical composition, medicinal properties and utilization in medicine) for recording information in the form of text fragments indicating references from the literature contained in database.
    A comprehensive estimate of the specifics of rare and disappearing species is a theoretical foundation for developing recommendations for introducing species into culture for their further utilization for medical purposes and for their reintroduction in natural habitats, and also to create a seed pool of rare and disappearing species. In the course of being filled up, the database would be a source for specialists in introducing plants and in the final result help scientifically resolve issues involving restoration of biodiversity.

   Used as illustrations were photographs by Y
u. B. Shibnev, L. N. Pshennikova, and Yu. T. Vaskovsky from the monograph Rare Species from the Soviet Far East and Their Protection, 1981  by S. S. Kharkevich and N. N. Kachura, and from the Red Book of the RSFSR. Plants., 1988.

 YU. ZHURAVLEV, Corr. Member, Russian Academy of Sciences, D. Sci. (Biology), Director, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

14 (Apt. 40) Chkalov Street,
Vladivostok 690068 , Russia.
Tel. (7-4232) 31-40-68.

 N. VORONKOVA, Cand. Sci. (Biology), Senior Researcher, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

18 (Apt. 13) Chkalov Street,
Vladivostok 690068, Russia.
Tel. (7-4232) 31-43-13.

O. BURUNDUKOVA, Cand. Sci.(Biology), Senior Researcher, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

 33 (Apt. 23) Nevskaya Street,
Vladivostok 690018, Russia.
Tel. (7-4232) 42-97-36.

A. KHOLINA, Researcher, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

 62 (Apt. 923) Kirov Street,
Vladivostok 690068, Russia.
Tel. (7-4232) 32-39-62.

A. VORONKOV, Leading Engineer-Programmer, Institute of Biology and Soil Science, F. E. Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences.

18 (Apt. 13) Chkalov Street,
Vladivostok 690068, Russia.
Tel. (7-4232) 31-43-13.