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47 herbs face extinction

Shimla, In the first-ever exercise carried out in accordance with the protocol laid down by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for threat assessment, the forest department has placed 47 medicinal plant species on the red list out of 1,300 species found in the state.

While environmentalists have been expressing concern over the dwindling herbal reserves of the hill state considered to be the storehouse of medicinal plants, no scientific assessment of threatened species was ever carried out.

Based on the IUCN criteria, 42 field botanists, plant taxonomists and foresters from reputed institutes of the country evaluated 57 selected species for the Comprehensive Assessment and Management Prioritisation and categorised 11 species as critically endangered, 19 endangered and 17 vulnerable. They also finalised a five-year action plan for their “in-situ” (in the natural habitat) and “ex-situ” (outside habitat with scientific interventions) conservation and cultivation as per threat assessment.

The main factors responsible for the decline included unscientific and over exploitation, a loss of habitat due to increasing biotic interference and climate change.

The group of experts shortlisted 23 important species for conservation, propagation and cultivation in the first phase. It included 11 species, forming part of the “ashtavarga” group used in ayurvedic medicines and three tree species, taxus baccata, bhojpatra and tejpatta, for “in-situ” conservation.

These herbs are consumed in bulk by the pharmaceutical industry for preparing life-saving ayurvedic and allopathic formulations and boosting vigour, vitality and strength to help improve the resistance of the body to a host of diseases. For instance, taxol extracted from taxus baccata is used for making anti-cancer drugs and patish (aconitum heterophyllum) for treating lever -related ailments and fever. It is for the first time that a comprehensive plan has been drawn up for conservation of the critically endangered species in the wild”, points out GS Goraya, chief conservator of forests in charge of floral diversity, non-timber forest produce and research, who took the initiative.

The original germ-plasm of the critically endangered species will be collected from the wild for the preservation by the national bureau of plant genetic resources.

As far as the tree species are concerned, conservation reserves will be established in Daranghati for taxus baccata, bhojpatra in Chitkul and tejpatta in Jogindernagar. Besides four species, kala zira, patish, kadu and chirayata will be taken up for large-scale cultivation by farmers keeping in view their commercial viability.

A field survey and research will be conducted to develop a model for the conservation and propagation of other species like mohra, bankakri, salam panja, kutki and brhma kamal, the cultivation of which is not commercially viable. The conservation of critically endangered species is vital as the state has accounted for over 50 per cent of the global population of these species.

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Author: ih

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