Home > News > 112 medicinal plants in Himalayas ‘threatened’, but conservation plans in place for just 5 | India News

112 medicinal plants in Himalayas ‘threatened’, but conservation plans in place for just 5 | India News


High in the Himalayas, thousands of medicinal plant species have been growing and thriving for centuries. In the Indian Himalayan region, one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 1,748 medicinal plant species have been identified. But with increased commercial collection, unmonitored trade, habitat loss and unsustainable harvesting, 112 plant species are now threatened, the first extensive study across Indian Himalayan states has found. And of these, conservation plans are in place for just five.
“There is very little data about the population status of medicinal plants. The extraction of high-value medicinal plants has not always been managed well. Besides, local and indigenous communities depend on the ecosystem for medicines, fuel and fodder,” Dr K Chandra Sekar, scientist at the GB Pant National Institute of Himalayan Environment and corresponding author of the study, told TOI.
So, they set out documenting every single threatened medicinal plant species across 12 Himalayan states — Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and parts of Assam and West Bengal — covering 5.3 lakh sq km of hilly forest area.
They found 112 such plants — seven critically endangered, seven endangered, five vulnerable, one near threatened and four data deficient. The remaining 88 were threatened, but of ‘least concern’. Most threatened medicinal plants were found in Jammu and Kashmir (64), followed by Himachal Pradesh (60) and Sikkim (50). The most high-risk species were found in Himachal Pradesh (11), followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand (nine each).
“But proper conservation approaches have been assigned to only five species,” the study says. That includes Coptis teeta (an endangered plant from the buttercup family), Gymnocladus assamicus (a 17m tall deciduous tree), Illicium griffithii (a flowering plant), Lilium polyphyllum (White Lily) and Nardostachys jatamansi (a small perennial rhizomatous herb). “The remaining 14 species need immediate and proper conservation approaches, otherwise these are likely to be extinct in the near future.” In fact, even the population of four species that are now classified under “least concern” has been declining because of habitat destruction. “These species are likely to be endangered … (and) need specific conservation efforts.”
Prior to their study, there had been no extensive documentation of threatened medicinal plants in the Himalayas. “Some information was available through IUCN — it updates the nine categories of threatened plants every year on the basis of information gathered from published literature.”
Globally, medicinal and aromatic plants have been prioritised for conservation primarily because of their trade value. The market price of parts of these medicinal plants ranges from Rs 20 to Rs 12,000 a kilogram. But collection practices remain a contested space. Regulated channels go through a long chain of intermediaries — collectors, farmers, wholesalers, industries. Indigenous communities who live in and around forests where these species are found may not go through these channels, rely on age-old practices but not always pay attention to sustainability. An example, Sekar said, is the critically endangered Aconitum chasmanthum. “It is one of several Aconite species in the Himalayas that are highly traded for medicinal use in India … During collection, the whole plant is uprooted … The unsustainable practice has been continuing and more than 80% of the wild population in the Himalayan region has declined.”
The major challenge, Sekar explained, is that these plants need very specific conditions to grow and retain their medicinal properties. As of now, 7% of threatened medicinal plants are being conserved ex situ, or outside their habitat. But while conservation measures that translocate plants — like gene banks, seed banks or seed herbaria — are important, area-specific measures may be urgent. Sekar said, “The location of a plant defines the habitat in which it lives, which are unique especially for the high-altitude plants living in extreme conditions. These plants could not survive in an alien environment, making location an important factor in the level of threat a plant is under.”

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