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Documentation of nearly 1,400 species might rewrite Assam�s medicinal plants history

By SIVASISH THAKUR
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GUWAHATI, Dec 13 - Assam�s wealth of medicinal plants � many hitherto unknown to science � has been documented in two large volumes by Jatindra Sarma, an Indian Forest Service officer of the State.

It is a development that should interest the scientist and the layman alike, the painstaking effort by Sarma over a period of 13 years has resulted in the documentation of 1,336 medicinal plants and 60 wild mushroom species that include species new to science as well as others that have been recorded in the country or in the Northeast for the first time.

�Sarma�s research into the traditional usage of plants by the local cultures has yielded a wealth of ethno-botanic information of long-term importance and consequence. Each species is documented with the plant family, habit, ecology, usage by plant part, and vernacular name in Hindi and Sanskrit (when available) and colour photos. The result is a beautifully illustrated text,� John D Mood, eminent ethno-botanist from the USA said.

According to Mood, the documentation in the two volumes titled Medicinal Plants and Mushrooms of India forms a much-needed reference to assist the activities of scientists, students of botany, research scholars, ecologists, wildlife manager, plants-men and hobbyist alike. �The information will be particularly useful to foresters and agriculturalists whose job is to balance forest and field in light of increasing needs for human sustenance,� he added.

Several of the newly-discovered plant species have tremendous medicinal and economic value not yet tapped. Some can play a key role as sub-canopy species in the lowlands and wet evergreen forests, and can be used effectively in forest restoration programmes in degraded lands. The species can also be used in community-based forestry management programmes as also management of buffer zones of reserved forests (RFs).

Sarma said that his primary intention was to get the plant identified through the pictorial mode and to appreciate its medicinal importance by the frontline workers in the department as they are basically involved in the propagation works.

�Because of their ignorance and lack of knowledge on these plants, many of the herbs, climbers and shrubs are treated as weeds and removed during the process of regeneration and plantation works. Many of the plants are removed, destroyed in the name of weed removal as I noted with concern during the process of my work visiting different areas, particularly in Assam,� he said.

According to Sarma, the region�s herbs and medicinal plants are mindboggling and with more exploration, more discoveries can be made while their scientific assessment and application can lead to path-breaking outcomes.

�My study of plants has resulted in the discovery of two species that are new to the world, while many others have been recorded for the first time in Assam, or in the Northeast, or in the country. Garcinia Assamica, a species of Garcinia (Clusiaceae) from Assam, is a species new to science,� Sarma, who is currently posted as Divisional Forest Officer, Hamren, said.

�We found Garcinia Assamica in the semi-evergreen forests in and adjacent to Manas National Park � at elevations between 100 and 300 m,� Sarma said. Clerodendrum ch�nense var. hamrensis is another new variety discovered at Arting, Hamren, West Karbi Anglong in Assam, while Caesalpinia sappan Linnaeus (Caesalpiniaceae) is a new record for Assam as well as for the Northeast.

�Dioscorea daunea Prain & Burkill (Dioscoreaceae) is a new addition to the flora of India. Garcinia nervosa Miq, too, is another record from mainland India. Tacca chantrieri Andr� (Taccaceae) is a beautiful ornamental plant recorded as a new for India. Clerodendrum trichotomum Thunberg (Lamiaceae) is yet another new record to the flora of India from Assam. Aristolochia platanifolia (Klotz.) Duch. (Aristolochiaceae) is a new record for Assam,� Sarma added.

During his search for new plant varieties, Sarma also stumbled upon new distributional ranges for some species. �Garcinia dulcis (Roxburgh) Kurz (Clusiaceae) is a new distributional record for Assam. We have found two new varieties of Garcinia morella Desrousseaux (Clusiaceae),� he said.

The two volumes also contain information on many species of wild mushrooms. �Keeping in view their importance in the day-to-day life of the tribal communities and their dependence for livelihood security, I included the medicinal mushrooms as are found in the forests of Assam,� he said.

Mushrooms form a very important component of forestry and are a key indicator to the status of health of forests.

�l firmly believe that scientists will come out with appropriate local names for their easy identification and popularisation, bringing awareness to avert loss of lives due to consumption of deadly species,� he added.

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Documentation of nearly 1,400 species might rewrite Assam�s medicinal plants history

GUWAHATI, Dec 13 - Assam�s wealth of medicinal plants � many hitherto unknown to science � has been documented in two large volumes by Jatindra Sarma, an Indian Forest Service officer of the State.

It is a development that should interest the scientist and the layman alike, the painstaking effort by Sarma over a period of 13 years has resulted in the documentation of 1,336 medicinal plants and 60 wild mushroom species that include species new to science as well as others that have been recorded in the country or in the Northeast for the first time.

�Sarma�s research into the traditional usage of plants by the local cultures has yielded a wealth of ethno-botanic information of long-term importance and consequence. Each species is documented with the plant family, habit, ecology, usage by plant part, and vernacular name in Hindi and Sanskrit (when available) and colour photos. The result is a beautifully illustrated text,� John D Mood, eminent ethno-botanist from the USA said.

According to Mood, the documentation in the two volumes titled Medicinal Plants and Mushrooms of India forms a much-needed reference to assist the activities of scientists, students of botany, research scholars, ecologists, wildlife manager, plants-men and hobbyist alike. �The information will be particularly useful to foresters and agriculturalists whose job is to balance forest and field in light of increasing needs for human sustenance,� he added.

Several of the newly-discovered plant species have tremendous medicinal and economic value not yet tapped. Some can play a key role as sub-canopy species in the lowlands and wet evergreen forests, and can be used effectively in forest restoration programmes in degraded lands. The species can also be used in community-based forestry management programmes as also management of buffer zones of reserved forests (RFs).

Sarma said that his primary intention was to get the plant identified through the pictorial mode and to appreciate its medicinal importance by the frontline workers in the department as they are basically involved in the propagation works.

�Because of their ignorance and lack of knowledge on these plants, many of the herbs, climbers and shrubs are treated as weeds and removed during the process of regeneration and plantation works. Many of the plants are removed, destroyed in the name of weed removal as I noted with concern during the process of my work visiting different areas, particularly in Assam,� he said.

According to Sarma, the region�s herbs and medicinal plants are mindboggling and with more exploration, more discoveries can be made while their scientific assessment and application can lead to path-breaking outcomes.

�My study of plants has resulted in the discovery of two species that are new to the world, while many others have been recorded for the first time in Assam, or in the Northeast, or in the country. Garcinia Assamica, a species of Garcinia (Clusiaceae) from Assam, is a species new to science,� Sarma, who is currently posted as Divisional Forest Officer, Hamren, said.

�We found Garcinia Assamica in the semi-evergreen forests in and adjacent to Manas National Park � at elevations between 100 and 300 m,� Sarma said. Clerodendrum ch�nense var. hamrensis is another new variety discovered at Arting, Hamren, West Karbi Anglong in Assam, while Caesalpinia sappan Linnaeus (Caesalpiniaceae) is a new record for Assam as well as for the Northeast.

�Dioscorea daunea Prain & Burkill (Dioscoreaceae) is a new addition to the flora of India. Garcinia nervosa Miq, too, is another record from mainland India. Tacca chantrieri Andr� (Taccaceae) is a beautiful ornamental plant recorded as a new for India. Clerodendrum trichotomum Thunberg (Lamiaceae) is yet another new record to the flora of India from Assam. Aristolochia platanifolia (Klotz.) Duch. (Aristolochiaceae) is a new record for Assam,� Sarma added.

During his search for new plant varieties, Sarma also stumbled upon new distributional ranges for some species. �Garcinia dulcis (Roxburgh) Kurz (Clusiaceae) is a new distributional record for Assam. We have found two new varieties of Garcinia morella Desrousseaux (Clusiaceae),� he said.

The two volumes also contain information on many species of wild mushrooms. �Keeping in view their importance in the day-to-day life of the tribal communities and their dependence for livelihood security, I included the medicinal mushrooms as are found in the forests of Assam,� he said.

Mushrooms form a very important component of forestry and are a key indicator to the status of health of forests.

�l firmly believe that scientists will come out with appropriate local names for their easy identification and popularisation, bringing awareness to avert loss of lives due to consumption of deadly species,� he added.