*NEWS*BATTLE TO SAVE HIMALAYAN PLANTS

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*NEWS*BATTLE TO SAVE HIMALAYAN PLANTS

 user 2005-11-15 at 11:30:00 am Views: 41
  • #13277

    Battle to save Himalayan plants
    Botanists
    trying to save critically endangered plants in the eastern Himalayas
    for more than two decades say tissue cultures have finally brought them
    success in reviving some species.
    The eastern Himalayas, covering
    India’s north-eastern states and some of Burma, Bhutan and Sikkim, have
    been identified as one of the world’s 25 bio-diversity hotspots.
    India has around 49,000 plant species – around 12% of the world’s known species.
    Twenty
    percent of these are under threat of extinction. Nearly 70 of them
    listed as critically endangered by the Botanical Survey of India are
    found in the country’s north-east.
    “More than two decades ago, we
    set out to save these plant species which were on the verge of
    extinction. Only a few plants of these species were left,” says Pramod
    Tandon, now vice-chancellor of the North-eastern Hill University and
    one of the country’s leading botanists.
    “We struggled to save them and then multiply them through tissue culture and now we can say we have saved many.”
    ‘Dancing girl’
    The
    Species Recovery Programme in north-east India has slowly expanded to
    cover most endangered plant species in the Eastern Himalayas.
    “Ours
    is a story of mixed success. We have successfully developed protocols
    for more than 20 critically endangered plants, mostly orchid varieties,
    and transferred them from lab to land in sufficient numbers to ensure
    assured multiplication,” says Mr Tandon.
    He is particularly pleased to have saved the “dancing girl” in the north-east state of Mizoram.
    “When
    we started to save this one, we could locate only five to seven plants.
    Just one of them was in good shape,” Mr Tandon told the BBC.
    “Now we have developed nearly 1,000 of these orchids and successfully reintroduced them in their natural habitat in Mizoram.”
    “This
    flower is considered so important by the Mizos that I got calls from
    the state’s governor to do something to save it from extinction. Now we
    can say with some certainty that there will be enough dancing girls,”
    says Mr Tandon.
    But he is quick to point out the relative lack of
    success in saving the Nepenthes khasiana, a pitcher plant, and Nymphaea
    tetragona, a lotus variety which is now almost extinct.
    “This lotus
    variety is a hydrophyte, a water flower infested with microbes and it
    is so difficult to multiply them through tissue culture,” says AA Mao
    of the Botanical Survey of India.
    Germination of the pitcher plant is also very difficult.
    Many of these plants have medicinal properties.
    The
    Mantisia spathulata is used by locals for curing broken bones and
    dysentery. Another plant, ‘Naga guerrillas’, was used to treat a finger
    that this correspondent fractured on the way to a rebel base in 1987.
    Random destruction
    The
    north-east’s leading cardiac surgeon, Dhaniram Baruah, says he has
    developed miracle compounds from two such plants he says can free
    arterial blockages within a few weeks and render bypass surgeries
    redundant.
    CR Deb of Nagaland University’s botany department says
    that while researchers are increasingly using bio-technological
    techniques they also favour more traditional conservation methods.
    The
    Botanical Survey’s Dr Mao says: “These traditional methods involve
    protection of genetic resources in the natural environment through
    protection of the environment itself.
    It is an ideal and dynamic
    approach that allows the plants to interact and co-evolve with other
    components of the ecosystem including insects, animals and microbes.”
    Random
    destruction of their natural habitats, the pressure of commercial
    exploitation and specific reproductive problems that some plant species
    suffer have been identified as the main causes for these plants being
    driven to the verge of extinction.
    “We are doing their DNA finger-printing and molecular characterisation,” says Mr Tandon.
    The
    botanists say that some of these “saved” plants will be multiplied for
    commercial purposes and that could augment incomes of poor villages in
    remote areas of India’s troubled north-east.
    “But their habitats must be properly managed and random exploitation should not be allowed,” says Mr Tandon
    .