Rhubarb Identity
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Greg Whitten
Posted on: August 31, 2005

Some 10 or 12 years ago I purchased some Rheum palmatum seed from you which appears instead to be another species of Rheum as it lacks the characteristic palmate leaf of R. palamatum. It looks very much like what you are now selling as Rheum sp. aff. officinale "GANSU strain". Are you able to tell me what species of Rheum this actually was - I need to confirm identification before harvesting and marketing it.

Ten to twelve years ago seeds from China were impossible to obtain in commercial quantities so we relied on European sources for Rheum palmatum seeds. As we now know, the European material turned out not to be correctly identified. We still do not know the true identity of the European material, however we strongly suspect that it is a hybrid involving Rheum rhabarbarum and one or more Chinese species, possibly R. palmatum, R. officinale or R. tanguticum. We no longer have any of that material in our collection so we cannot do a retrospect identification.

As you may know, the origin of the medicinal rhubarbs from China and Tibet were a closely guarded secret for centuries. There were more than one serious effort to obtain plants and grow rhubarb in Europe. However, efforts to grow rhubarb in Europe failed ultimately, possibly because the Europeans never found quite the right variety.

As for our "Gansu strain" we are very confident that it is the preferred medicinal species, Rheum palmatum. The pictures in the 2005 catalogue are of juvenile plants and the leaves had not yet fully matured. However, as the above photo shows, the leaves develop into the characteristic deeply incised palmate shape of R. palmatum. Our seeds come from one of the leading commercial herb farms in Gansu, China, through a special contact we have nurtured over the past few years. We are very excited to have finally sourced this material. i might add that we cannot be sure of how long that we will have this material. if you have an interest in it, I strongly suggest that you get some before our source disappears.

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