Conservation Status of Medicinal Plants in Ladakh: Cold Arid Zone of Trans-Himalayas
G. Phani Kumar,
The study reveals that Ladakh is rich in medicinal flora and endemic diversity. The traditional knowledge on native plant species is highlights Amchi system of medicine and their traditional health-care system. The excessive extraction of medicinal plant resources for use in the pharmaceutical industry has resulted in ruthless destruction of natural populations of medicinal plants. Present study attempts to assess the current status of knowledge of medicinal plant resources and conservation status in Ladakh. An approach for prioritizing strategies for action is proposed which is a three step process, viz., technology development, technology dissemination, technology assessment and refinement. It also focuses on approach for prioritizing strategies for action is proposed.
February 25, 2011; Accepted: March 17, 2011;
Published: June 25, 2011
Many traditional healing herbs and their parts have been shown to have medicinal
value and can be used to prevent, alleviate or cure several human diseases (Dhar
et al., 1999). Consumption of herbal medicines is widespread and
increasing in recent years and approximately 80% of the people in developing
countries depend on traditional medicines for primary health care needs (Farnsworth
et al., 1985). The global market for the medicinal plants and herbal
medicine is estimated to be worth US$800 billion a year (Rajasekharan
and Ganeshan, 2002). India is one of the leading countries in Asia in terms
of the wealth of traditional knowledge systems related to herbal medicine and
employs a large number of plant species includes Ayurveda (2000 species), Siddha
(1121 species), Unani (751 species) and Tibetan (337 species).
The Himalayan region is a reservoir of a large number of medicinal and aromatic
plants (MAPs) and designated as one of the global biodiversity hotspots, where
ecological, phyto-geographical and evolutionary factors favour high species
diversity. The Indian trans-Himalayas span over 186,000 km2 above
natural tree line zone and is known for its sparsely distributed vegetation
and relatively low species diversity. This zone sustains more than 1000 plant
species, 225 avian species and many rare and endangered mammalian fauna, including
the snow leopard (Shiva, 1996). Ladakh region of Jammu
and Kashmir contributes the highest geographical area in the trans-Himalayan
region of India, followed by Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, northern part
of Sikkin and Uttaranchal. High-altitude Himalayan zone is full of fragile habitats
and decline in tree-species richness, however, rich in representative (native)
and endemic biodiversity elements (Kala and Manjrekar, 1999).
Keeping the above facts in view, the present article attempts to (1) identify medicinal plant resource base of Ladakh, (2) highlight the potential and role of medicinal plants in the Tibetan system of medicine, (3) assess the present state of knowledge on threatened medicinal plants of Ladakh, (4) cultivation and conservation implications and (5) suggest a coordinated plan for strengthening the medicinal plants sector in Ladakh. The results of the investigation will help in developing a strategy for conservation and utilization of the medicinal plants by promoting strong linkages among different types of institutions.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Extensive field surveys (Jain, 1991) were undertaken since
a decade to gather data on ethno-medico-botanical information on vegetation
of Ladakh and the traditional uses of medicinal plant species across various
localities in the Ladakh. Information was gathered using semi-structured questionnaires
about the types of ailments treated by the traditional use of medicinal plants
and the preparation of herbal medical formulations. The information related
to traditional system of medicine given in the text was gathered from traditional
healers living across the Ladakh (Changthang, Indus, Nubra, Suru and Zanskar
valleys). Specimens of each species identified were maintained at DIHAR herbarium.
Literature survey (Samant et al., 1998) was carried
out for the compilation of various traditional practices, beliefs, raw materials
used for curing different ailments, cultivation and conservation practices.
Rarity of species is determined by field study, visual estimation, literature
and herbaria. The criterion for categorization of threatened species is based
on the IUCN (Nayar and Sastry, 1987; IUCN,
2001; Ved and Tandon, 1998).
Study area: Ladakh, the land of high-rising passes, is located
in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India (32°15'-36° N; 75°15'-80°15'E).
It is bounded on the north and east by China and in the north-west by Gilgit
and Skardu (Pakistan). Siachen is the largest glacier located in the extreme
northwest of Ladakh. The barren mountain landscape of Ladakh is broken by a
series of rivers, notably the Indus and tributaries including Zanskar, Markha,
Shyok, Nubra and Suru. The high-altitude (8000 ft to 24000 ft), harsh natural
environment of Ladakh is characterized by extreme temperature (-30°C to
+30°C), high radiation, strong winds, low precipitation (<100 mm year-1),
low humidity; and desert-like extensive barren landscape, rugged topography,
steep and vertical glaciated slopes, minimal forest cover and few pasture lands
at high elevations (Kumar et al., 2009a,b,
2010). The Tibetan science of healing, Sowa rigpa (gSo-ba
Rig-pa), is an integrated system of health care contains elements of Ayurveda
and Chinese medicine. Since amchis are the practitioners of this system
it is also known as Amchi medical system (Namgyal and Phuntsog,
1990) 60% of the public health of Ladakh is looked after by this system
(Chaurasia and Singh, 1996; Kala, 2005).
Some of the Tibetan medicines were made up of purely plant species and
their parts. Gradually, Tibetan medicine has gained considerable momentum in
Western countries due to the growing awareness about the side effects of allopathic
medicines (Kala, 2002).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Vegetation and medicinal flora of Ladakh: Flora and vegetation at the
landscape level are an important component in the study of the diversity of
life forms and ecological patterns in spatial variability (Farina,
1998). The flora of Ladakh comes under alpine and high alpine zones and
differs significantly from the rest of the Himalayas due to prevailing unique
climatic conditions and physiography. Tree line is more or less absent in this
zone, however, annual and perennial herbs followed by stunted shrubs and bushes
dominate the flora which counts more than 750 plant species (Chaurasia
et al., 2007): 540 dicots, 65 monocots and two gymnosperms (Kachroo
et al., 1977). The dominant families of the study area are Asteraceae,
Brassicaceae, Fabaceae, Graminae, Ranunculaceae, Lamiaceae etc. and followed
more or less same sequence with North-west trans-Himalayan vegetation (Aswal
and Mehrotra, 1994) (Fig. 1). The distribution vegetation
is adhered to particular altitude range and sometimes to particular valleys.
Maximum number of plant species (429) were identified in between 11000-12000
ft asl and then decreased number of species with increased altitude (Fig.
2). Many of the high altitudinal plants have shown potent medicinal values
(Kumar et al., 2010, 2011).
Medicinal plants of Ladakh can open avenues of economic growth in the emerging
world market. Further, it has been realized that medicinal plants of the trans-Himalayan
region offer an advantage in having much greater possibilities of providing
novel bio-molecules in view of the environmental stress (Mani,
1994). In the present study medicinal plants of Ladakh are being grown under
three categories, alpine mesohytes, oasitic vegetation and desert vegetation.
The parts of Suru valley is characterized by high humidity, more rainfall and
shows the characteristic of alpine mesophytes. The common mesophytic medicinal
plant species are Podophyllum hexandrum, Lavetera kashmiriana,
Lotus corniculatus, Astragalus rhizanthus etc. The habitation
nearby river beds Zanskar, Indus, Nubra and Shyok represented by Oasitic vegetation.
The medicinal plants of this zone are Hippophae rhamnoides, Dactylorhiza
hatagirea, Allium przewalskianum, Peroveskiana, Mentha
longifolia, Potentilla cuneata, Sedum ewersii, etc. Desertic
flora found growing around high passes like Khardungla (18,380 ft), Changla
(17,342 ft) and Tanglangla (17,240 ft).
|| Comparison of dominant families of Ladakh and North-west
|| Distribution of plant species in different altitudes of Ladakh
The same vegetation also found in the barren lands of Indus and Changthang
valleys characterized by little rainfall, low humidity, extreme fluctuation
of diurnal temperature and high velocity winds etc. Many of the plant species
are distributed with altitude, latitude and longitude, spatial distribution
pattern of MAPs is given in Fig. 3. Some earlier researchers
were also found effect of altitudinal variations on physiological or morphological
parameters of the plant species (Gupta et al., 2011).
Rare, endangered and threatened (RET) species of ladakh: Threat is more
difficult to characterize since it may be a natural consequence of biological
or geological processes or be the result of past or present human activities
directly or indirectly influencing the plant populations or their environment.
The populations keep changing size and density over a period of time and such
changes may make plant species rare, endangered and threatened, eventually leading
in the extinction (Maikhuri et al., 1998; Bisht
and Badoni, 2009). During the study, it has been observed that the frequency
of some of important medicinal and aromatic plant of Ladakh with which it was
earlier abound, have considerably declined due to their unscientific exploitation,
natural calamities, road construction, uprooting for fuel, overgrazing and other
activities (Dar et al., 2006). This destruction
has rendered many species endangered and threatened. In recent years it was
also observed that the population size and number are decreasing in higher elevations.
Many species found in Ladakh are considered critically endangered
and many more are endangered or vulnerable. The following
villages and areas are famous across Ladakh for their medicinal plant wealth
and diversity; Sapi, Kanji, Kardhungla, Changla, North Pullu, South Pullu, Hunder
and Summur etc. Many amchis from all over Ladakh travel to these hot spots to
collect MAPs and they are thus sites of intense collection. Many plant species
like Saussurea, Rheum, Artemisia, Thylacopsermum can see hanging along roadside
near Khardungla 18,380 ft. and other high motorable passes. The forest department
has also made extensive exercises to protect natural habitats and notified three
protected areas (Hemis National Park, Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary and Changtang
Wildlife Sanctuary), five wildlife reserves (Randum, Sabu-Chakur, Rizong basgo,
Gya-Miru and Kangri) and three game reserves (Boodh Karbu, Tongri and Lung lang)
in the region. The field observations on Rare, Endangered and Threatened (RET)
medicinal and aromatic plants have been made and compared (Samant
et al., 1998; Nayar and Sastry, 1987; IUCN,
2001) with are tabulated in Table 1. Overall situation
of medicinal plants in Ladakh is under pressures and many wild species are threatened.
Cultivation of medicinal plants: Consumption of herbal medicines is
widespread and increasing day by day. There is now wide recognition of the contributions
that medicinal and aromatic plants make to the global economy and human welfare
(WHO/IUCN/WWF, 1993). Many of the medicinal plants in developing
countries are extracted from the wild, it may the result of loss of genetic
diversity and has led to rapid depletion of a number of MAPs from their natural
habitats (Maikhuri et al., 1998; Singh,
2002). Domestication and cultivation of MAPs is one of the viable options
to meet the growing demands from the industries and to reduce the extraction
pressures in the natural habitats of MAPs. Several researchers were studied
on high altitudinal medicinal plants and observed that they were highly potent
and required cultivation (Sultan et al., 2006;
Hwang et al., 2009; Prakash
et al., 2011). In Ladakh, Defence Institute of High Altitude Research
(DIHAR) being conducted several workshops and field demonstrations on conservation
practices of MAP species. Some important medicinal plants cultivation
techniques for the region of Ladakh has presented in Table 2
which includes germination%, type of vegetative propagation, requirement of
seed and manure and approximate production ha-1. Recently, some NGOs
are showed their interest on encouraging medicinal plant cultivation in Nubra,
Indus and Zanskar valleys.
||Spatial distribution of MAP’s in different valleys of
Ladakh (altitude in feet asl)
|| List of threatened medicinal plants of Ladakh
|IUCN status abbreviations: CR EN: Critically endangered; EN:
Endangered, VU: Vulnerable; R: Rare; LR Nt: Low risk-near threatened; NL:
Not listed; NWH: North west Himalayas; JK: Jammu and Kashmir
||Conservation techniques of some important MAP’s for
|FYM: Farm yard manure
It is surprising that most of the local people do not know the economical importance (market value) of highly medicinal value plant species like Podophyllum, Hippophae, Dactylorhyza etc. Besides lack of knowledge, there is a certain lack of co-ordination among the villagers about the importance of several species in modern systems of medicine and so, they are not willing to cultivate these herbs. Therefore, these people need to be made aware of the importance and to receive information collectively, so that they can discuss themselves, accompanied by their knowledge of technology for cultivation. Cultivation of MAPs could provide an opportunity to enhance incomes of people residing in harsh environments, such as high elevation zones of the Ladakh.
Strategies for conservation: Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
states that the systematic approach of medicinal plant conservation plays a
vital role in environment management and development through traditional as
well as scientific practices (Uniyal et al., 2006).
Documentation and preservation of high altitudinal medicinal plant species of
Ladakh and their traditional knowledge system are the most important aspect
for the benefit of humankind, before it lost forever. This will require a systematic
approach contains technology development, technology dissemination, technology
assessment and refinement (Fig. 4). Its a three directional
process interlinked each step with other.
|| A model plan for Conservation and sustainable development
Research and development institutions are having the role in development of
suitable and sustainable technology; state govt and forest agencies have the
role to implement the technology into field level and entrepreneurs have the
role to make a sustainable market for the sector. However, no single institution/agency
can meet all the challenges involved in this sector. The problems can only be
overcome by building effective partnerships between farmers/ growers, extension
agents, private sector, NGOs/GOs, researchers, policy makers and, more importantly
by enhancing information exchange.
We thank all Amchies for sharing their traditional knowledge and also thankful to forest officials who co-operated in the extensive field surveys and all fellow colleagues at the DIHAR lab for help and support. We also thank the anonymous reviewer for valuable comments on the earlier version.
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