THESSALONIKI – A research firm from the US is taking a close look at a local variety of box plant (Buxus sempervirens, known in Greek as pyxari), which is considered to have stimulating properties potentially similar to those of Viagra, the male potency drug. After special processing (the plant itself is toxic), its components have been shown to help blood circulation. Representatives of the research firm have been in contact with the Balkan Botanic Garden at Kroussia, Kilkis, where the genetic material of a large sector of Greek fauna is stored. Pyxari is an evergreen shrub with tough leaves and tiny yellow flowers and is found in the mountains of Greece. It has also found its way on to the market as a decorative plant. The Americans are not the only ones interested in native Greek plants. This week, Eleni Maloupa, the head of the National Foundation for Agricultural Research (ETHIAGE) horticultural laboratory, announced that two European universities, Bonn and Vienna, had asked for reproductive material from an orchid that grows only in Crete in order to study it for its medicinal value. Private firms have used the essential oils of medicinal plants to produce cosmetics. In Kilkis there is a small unit producing oregano oil for export to Britain for use in the production of antibiotics for cattle. Nevertheless, the commercial exploitation of aromatic and medicinal plants in Greece is still in its early stages, despite the 5,700 species that grow here (49 percent of all those in Europe), while about two in 10 plant species found in Greece are endemic. As a result, there has been no shortage of foreigners coming to Greece to collect plants. One botanical garden in Germany has an abundance of native Greek plants, which account for some 70 percent of its space. Representatives of botanical gardens in 25 countries are to meet in Thessaloniki on June 12 in order to establish an international network for the exchange of genetic material, something that would restrict illegal trafficking in rare plant species. These European botanical gardens are members of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which includes over 500 botanic gardens in 112 countries working to conserve biodiversity.