DEHRADUN: To combat 'plant blindness' in the society, in one of the biggest conservation programmes in the country, Uttarakhand state forest department released an annual report listing total 1576 plant species in the hill state on the eve of World Environment Day.
2002 batch Indian Forest Services officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, who heads the research wing of the state forest department, told The New Indian Express, "Our aim is to generate awareness among people as we collectively suffer from 'Plant Blindness', to promote conservation of plant species among general public and germplasm conservation. Generally, most of the conservation efforts, public attention and funds are diverted into conservation of mega fauna species like tiger, elephant and others leaving behind the which plays much more important ecological role in sustaining life on our planet."
"In present times, the plant kingdom along with the fauna is facing serious threats such as climate change, global warming, smuggling/illegal extractions, biotic interferences, deforestation, habitat destruction, unplanned construction, grazing, fire which have escalated extinction rate of plant species upto 5-10 species per year as per various estimates. This will have adverse consequences for future survival," added the Magsaysay Awardee IFS officer.
The term was coined by US botanist Elisabeth Schussler and James Wandersee in 1998 because plants play more important role in sustaining human life in terms of carbon sequestration, supply of oxygen, air purification, for food security in terms of gene pool of wild species and providing valuable biochemical in preparation of various medicines.
The 264 page report includes 415 tree species, 130 shrub species, 87 orchid species, 96 fern species, 88 grass species, 30 moss species and 87 lichens.
This report will be updated annually in April starting from now onwards.
Out of these, 73 are threatened ones including 15 species declared threatened by Uttarakhand biodiversity board and rest in red list of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Around 53 species endemic to Uttarakhand and Himalayan region-means found only here in the entire world. Endemic species are the ones which are unique to a specific geographical area of the planet including a mountain range, a lake, a landscape or a river valley.
Last year, first such report was released listing 1147 species which is now upgraded to annual exercise.
The officer further added that species conserved have widest possible diversity because plain areas of Uttarakhand fall in tropical zone, middle Himalayan areas are in temperate zone and higher Himalayas are in alpine zone and accordingly the conserved species include from Sal tree in plain areas to Brahmkamal in alpine areas.
The annual report stayed that increased urbanisation and time spent with devices means that 'Plant blindness' is on the rise.
As Schussler has explained, “humans can only recognise (visually) what they already know”. The challenge is magnified for plants.
"For example, in 2011 plants made up 57 per cent of the federal endangered species list in the US, but they received less than 4 per cent of federal endangered species funding. One key to reduce plant blindness is to increase the frequency and variety of ways we see plants. This should start early. It is important to get hildren involved with plants early, such as on nature walks," says the report.
The report contains exhaustive, detailed information of each species on nine parameters – family name, scientific name, local name, conservation status, number and location at research establishment, endemism, uses and thumbnail size photograph; conservation sites spread over 8 Research ranges across the State - Haldwani, Lalkuan, Pithoragarh, Ranikhet, Nainital, Gopeshwar, Dehradun, Uttarkashi.
Out of these plant species, a total of 500 species conserved, have medicinal properties such as Ashwagandha’, ‘Giloy’, ‘Kalmegh’ and ‘Chitrak’, which are presently part of scientists' research to find a possible cure to coronavirus.
Interestingly, 90 per cent of these species are conserved ex-situ (out of their natural habitat) and only 10% are conserved in-situ (inside their natural habitat).
The exercise took more than three years of research, field visits, camping, sampling and locating these species along with identifying their characteristics, habitat etc.