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

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High in the Himalayas, thousands of species of medicinal plants have been growing and thriving for centuries. In the Indian Himalayan region, one of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 1,748 species of medicinal plants have been identified. But with increasing commercial harvesting, unmonitored trade, habitat loss and unsustainable harvesting, 112 plant species are now threatened, the first large study found in the Indian Himalayan states. And of these, there are conservation plans for only five.
“There is very little data on the status of the medicinal plant population. The extraction of high value medicinal plants has not always been well managed. Furthermore, local and indigenous communities depend on the ecosystem for medicines, fuel and fodder”, Dr. K Chandra Sekar, a scientist at the GB Pant National Himalayan Environment Institute and corresponding author of the study, told TOI.
Therefore, they set out to document all threatened medicinal plant species in 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 square kilometers of mountainous 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 of the threatened medicinal plants were found in Jammu and Kashmir (64), followed by Himachal Pradesh (60) and Sikkim (50). The highest risk species were found in Himachal Pradesh (11), followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand (nine each).
“But suitable conservation approaches have been assigned to only five species,” the study says. That includes Coptis teeta (an endangered plant in 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 appropriate conservation approaches, otherwise they are likely to become extinct in the near future.” In fact, even the population of four species that are now classified as “Least Concern” has been declining due to habitat destruction. “These species are likely to be endangered … (and) need specific conservation efforts.”
Prior to their study, there was no extensive documentation on threatened medicinal plants in the Himalayas. “Some information was available through IUCN; updates the nine categories of threatened plants each year based on the information gathered from the published literature ”.
At the global level, the conservation of medicinal and aromatic plants has been prioritized mainly due to their commercial value. The market price for parts of these medicinal plants ranges from Rs 20 to 12,000 per kilogram. But collection practices remain a contested space. Regulated channels go through a long chain of intermediaries: collectors, farmers, wholesalers, industries. Indigenous communities living in and around the forests where these species are found may not pass through these channels, they depend on ancestral practices but do not always pay attention to sustainability. An example, Sekar said, is Aconitum chasmanthum, which is critically endangered. “It is one of several species of aconite in the Himalayas that are largely traded for medicinal use in India … During harvesting, the entire plant is uprooted … The unsustainable practice has continued and more than 80% of the wild population in the Himalayan region has rejected “.
The biggest challenge, Sekar explained, is that these plants need very specific conditions to grow and retain their medicinal properties. Currently, 7% of threatened medicinal plants are conserved ex situ or outside their habitat. But while conservation measures that move plants, such as gene banks, seed banks, or seed herbaria, are important, area-specific measures can be urgent. Sekar said: “The location of a plant defines the habitats in which it lives, which are unique, especially for high-altitude plants that live in extreme conditions. These plants could not survive in a strange environment, so location is a major factor in how threatened a plant is. ”

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