Shillong: Meghalaya, which is home to one third of 1,331 orchid species in India, should consider declaring at least 20 forests as "biotype sanctuaries" if it has to protect and conserve the exotic flowering plant species which are facing habitat loss and human exploitation, biologists and orchid experts have pointed out.
Many of the orchid species are present in Nokrek Biosphere Reserve in the Garo Hills, four Wildlife sanctuaries, reserved forests and over 125 sacred groves all over the state. However, there is an urgent need to expand the protected area network as these plants fail to withstand habitat destruction pressures because of their habitat specificity and slow growth.
"Areas which have comparatively undisturbed rich forests may be declared as bio-type sanctuaries or bench mark sites to prevent further habitat loss and human exploitation," Dr C S Rao told PTI. He says that there are at least 11 such orchid-rich forests in East Khasi Hills district alone including Upper Shillong, Mawphlang and Sohra.
Jowai, Jarain, Tuber, Mukhaialong, Narpuh, and Raliang in East and West Jaintia Hills hills districts and Tura peak, Nokrek, Baghmara and Rongrenggre in the Garo Hills were some of such undisturbed areas providing habitat for wild Orchids, he said.
Dr Rao, a lecturer in a renowned college here, had also listed the endangered orchid species in his recently published pictorial guide book, which he co-authored with Dr S K Singh, a scientist at the city-based Botanical Survey of India.
Meghalaya Diversity Board secretary D Sathiyan said the forest department of the state had already taken up protection and preservation of some of the endemic species like the carnivorous pitcher plant. Even as there is no such plan to develop and conserve orchid-rich forests, Sathiyan says the board is likely to take into consideration other diverse life forms in these forests.
In his 17 years of research, Rao said one of the major threats to orchid appeared to be large-scale human exploitation for their ornamental value.
"The most prevalent commercial activity related with them is making and selling of hybrids which have high demand among developed society of the world. The wild species served as root stock for making these high valued hybrids," he said.
However, in Meghalaya, Singh said the orchid flora was vulnerable and facing serious threat due to increased biotic influence, socio-economic development and uncontrolled commercial exploitation of forests wealth.
"These exotic flowering plants fail to withstand habitat destruction pressures because of their habitat specificity and slow growth," he said.
According to orchid experts, establishment of botanical gardens in different regions of the state might be appropriate given the vulnerability of these plant species.
Maintaining a gene bank and cryo-preservation of important and all the endemic species would strengthen their conservation, Rao said. Micro-propagation of rare species through tissue culture and their rehabilitation in the wild might also be considered, he felt.