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Ethnobotanical uses of Biofencing Plants in Himachal Pradesh, Northwest Himalaya

Pankaj Sharma and Usha Devi
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The aim of this study is to document the traditional knowledge on the utilization of Biofencing plants of Himachal Pradesh, Northwest Himalaya. The study was imperative because of dearth in the data pertaining to Biofencing plants in the study areas. The whole study area was stratified into three zones and a widespread field survey and random sampling method was adopted to assess the live fencing diversity of the region. The region occupies total 61 species. 10 (trees), 45 (shrubs), 4 (herbs) and 2 were climbers. These belong to the 25 families. Rosaceae, Fabaceae, Berberidaceae, Elaeagnaceae and Euphorbiaceae are dominant families. Among genera, Berberis and Rosa are dominant. Of the total, 55 species are medicinally important and among these 20% are used for stomach disorders; 17% (skin complaints), 14% (asthma), 11% (fever and joint pains), 3% (aphrodisiac and snake bite), 1% (anticancerous and nerve disorders). Ethnobotanical assessment showed that 33 of the recorded species are used as fuel, 20 (edible), 8 (fodder) and 4 (fiber and ornamental). This traditional knowledge of Biofencing plants contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and provides resource of economic and ecological interest and also decreasing the pressure on forests. So there is need to encourage the practice of using plant species for fencing in this region.

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Pankaj Sharma and Usha Devi, 2013. Ethnobotanical uses of Biofencing Plants in Himachal Pradesh, Northwest Himalaya. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, 16: 1957-1963.

DOI: 10.3923/pjbs.2013.1957.1963

Received: May 14, 2013; Accepted: May 30, 2013; Published: September 16, 2013


Indian Himalaya, identified as one of the mega biodiversity hotspots of the world (Zeeshan Hasan et al., 2009) includes 18,440 species of plants (Singh and Hajra, 1996; Samant et al., 1998). Its diverse habitats are rich repositories of plant diversity and are used for variety of purposes e.g., food, fiber, medicine, fodder, spices, etc. As the cultures developed, people started agriculture and with the passage of time the need of protecting the crops from cattle was felt. As reduction in community pasture lands along with the loss of forest cover is pushing domestic animals and wildlife to forage over agricultural farms (Mishra et al., 2011). For overcoming these problems the rural people developed unique fencing methods.

The natural means for protection were first to be opted for. People started making permanent or temporary boundaries around their field or courtyard using different plants called as ‘Biofencing plants’.

It is the way of establishing a boundary by planting a line of trees, shrubs or herbs at relatively close spacing that provide protection against cattle and wildlife. The indigenous people have revealed various uses of natural resources around them, which is based on their necessities, observation and experience (Jain, 2004; Borkataki et al., 2008). So, a variety of species were checked to discover suitability of plants for use as fencing. Furthermore plant species having spines, thorns, unpalatable leaves or frequent branching are mostly preferred over others because they provide effective protection against cattle or wild animals (Bhattarai et al., 2007). The information of such plants is mainly collected by the populace in the form of traditions and experiences and is inherited over the centuries to the future generations. Hence it is tremendously imperative to save this conventional knowledge of biological heritage and explore new resources.

In Himachal Pradesh, suitable plant species are planted live or cut and used as dead fence around agricultural fields to protect the crops from livestock and wild animals. As the state is mostly rural in character (more than 90% people live in the villages) and major portion of the income comes from horticulture and agriculture sector, need for the protection of the farm and fields become imperative. Suitable live plant species are closely planted around the fields as hedgerows.

The literature studies showed that there are very few studies on these plants in general (Punjani, 1998; Choudhury et al., 2005; Chhetri, 2005; Otero and Onaindia, 2006; Bhattarai et al., 2007; Reddy, 2008; Subrahmanya and Raveendran, 2010; Mishra et al., 2011; Kumar et al., 2103) and no mention of any learning from this part of Himalaya so far. However many ethnobotanical works have been conducted in the field of medicinal plants (Samant et al., 1998, 2001; Kandari et al., 2012; Sharma, 2013) from this region. A profound awareness of the traditional knowledge of plants belonging to fencing categories, combined with initiatives for sustainable development, could form the means of better biodiversity conservation. The main aim of the study is to document the traditional knowledge on the utilization of BF resource of Himachal Pradesh.


Study area: The Himalaya, newest range of mountains and the greatest physical feature on earth is having landscapes of incomparable scenic grandeur and are perpetual source of wonder and veneration. Himachal Pradesh (abode of snow) very rich in phytodiversity is situated to the north of India and NW Himalaya. It lies between 30°22'44"to 33°12'40" ‘N latitude and 75°45'55" to 79°04'20"E longitude. Its height from sea level ranges from 350-6975 m (Dhiman, 1976). There is J and K in its north, Uttarakhand in S-E, Haryana in south and Punjab in the west. In the east it is bordered by Tibet (Fig. 1).

Methodology: A widespread field survey of the region carried out during 2010-2012. Rapid random sampling method was done to assess the live fencing diversity of the region. On spot identifications were done with the help of regional floras (Collett, 1902; Polunin and Stainton, 1984; Jain 1991; Dhaliwal and Sharma, 1999; Singh and Rawat, 2000). Doubtful plant species are carried to the NBPGR, Regional Station, Phagli, Shimla, identified and stored. The whole region was stratified into three zones based on geographical and political realms. Zone 1 includes; Una, Hamirpur, Bilaspur and Sirmaur districts located in the foothills of Himalaya (Shivalik range) and are adjoining to the states of Punjab and Haryana. Zone 2 includes; Kangra, Mandi, Kullu, Chamba and Lahaul-Spiti districts. These are the regions comprising mostly of Dauladhar and Pir-Panjal range except Mandi district which is lying in Shivalik Himalaya whereas Lahaul-Spiti covers the cold desert biosphere region. Zone 3 comprising of Solan, Shimla and Kinnaur districts. This zone comprises of subtropical, temperate to alpine zones and dry temperate area of Kinnaur. Learned local informants were selected between the age group of 35-74 years. Only those people were selected for information generation who were residing in their locality for more than 25 years.

Fig. 1: Map of the study area

People (nearly 30), were interviewed from zone 1; 28 from zone 2 and 33 from zone 3. The primary and secondary information gathered in structured and semi-structured questionnaires. All the plant specimens were arranged alphabetically along with their local names; family, habit, altitudinal range, role, type of fencing (living or dry) and ethnobotanical uses (Table 1).

Table 1: Inventory of Biofencing plants with local names, family, habit, altitudinal range, role, type of fence and ethnobotanical uses
Ap: Aerial parts, Bk: Bark, C: Climber, Fr: Fruits, Lf: Leaves, M: Medicinal, MB: Mechanical barrier, Rt: Roots, Sd: Seeds, SH: Stinging hairs, St: Stem, Th: Thorny, UP: Unpalatable, W: On walls, Wp: Whole plant


Phytosociology of Biofencing plants: There are 61 species which the inhabitants of the area use for BF either live or in dried state. Among these; 10 were trees, 45 (shrubs), 4 (herbs) and 2 were climbers. These belong to the 25 families. All species belong to the angiosperms and none was found to be of other taxonomic group. Among the angiosperm families, Rosaceae (14 spp.); Fabaceae (8 spp.); Berberidaceae; (5 spp.); Elaeagnaceae and Euphorbiaceae (4 spp. each); Verbenaceae (3 spp.); Agavaceae, Cuperaceae, Poaceae, Rutaceae, Salicaceae and Thymelaceae (2 spp. each) were dominant. Thirteen families were found to be monotypic. Among genera, Berberis (5 spp.); Rosa (4 spp.); Hippophae (3 spp.); Agave, Astragalus, Caragana, Cotoneaster, Euphorbia, Juniperus and Rubus (2 spp., each) were dominant genera.

There are 27 species like; Berberis lycium, Bombex ceiba, Bougainvillea glabra, Caragana versicolor, Duranta erecta, Elaeagnus conferta, Euphorbia royleana, Hippophae rhamnoides, Princepia utilis, Rosa moschata, Rubus ellipticus and Zanthoxylum armatum which are thorny or spinous. Among the total species, 17 are preferred due to their unpalatability to cattle. The notable among these are; Agave Americana, Cannabis sativa, Ipomoea carnea, Murraya koenigii, Opuntia stricta, Ricinus communis and Zanthoxylum armatum etc. Few species possess stinging hairs e.g., Girardinia diversifolia, Mucuna pruriens and Urtica dioica and help to prevent cattle or wildlife entry into fields.

The altitudinal distribution of the floristic diversity has been presented. Maximum number of species (50 spp.) was recorded in wide distribution range i.e., 1000 m followed by (11 spp.) in moderate range i.e., <1000 m. The representative species of altitudinal zone, <1000 m were; Berberis jaeschkeana, Betula utilis, Caragana brevifolia, Cotoneaster bacillaris and Girardinia diversifolia etc. People of the region use 39 species of plants as living hedges as compared to 44 as dried and 22 in both (living and dried also). The plants with thick foliage cause obstruction to sight of cattle, thereby prevent grazing and act as mechanical barrier e.g., Adhatoda zeylenica, Astragalus candolleanus, Astragalus strobiliferus, Bambusa bambos, Cotoneaster microphylla and Desmodium elegans etc.

Ethnomedicinal uses: Present study showed that 55 species of BF are medicinally important and used to care various ailments (Table 1). Different medicinally important plant part used are; whole plant (8 spp.), stem (38 spp.), bark (5 spp.), leaves (12 spp.), roots (23 spp.), seeds (6 spp.) and latex (4 spp.) (Table 1). Stem of Berberis umbellate, Betula utilis, Caragana versicolor, Cotoneaster bacillaris, Euphorbia antiquorum, Jatropha curcas, Rubia cordifolia, Sorbaria tomentosa, Zanthoxylum armatum; Leaves of Agave Americana, Cotoneaster bacillaris, Juniperus communis, Murraya koenigii, Prunus armeniaca, Ricinus communis; Bark of Acacia catechu, Bombex ceiba, Euonymus tingens, Hippophae salicifolia, Salix babylonica and latex of Euphorbia antiquorum, Ficus pumila, Ipomoea carnea and Jatropha curcas is used. For stomach disorders 20% of BF plants are used, like wise for others; skin complaints (17%), asthma (14%), fever and joint pains (11% each), eye disorder (6%), blood purifier (5%), jaundice and tooth problems (4% each), aphrodisiac and snake bite (3%), anticancerous and nerve disorders (1% each) (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Pie diagram showing percentage of BF plants used to cure various ailments, AC: Anticancerous, AP: Aphridisiac, AS: Asthma, BP: Blood purifier, ED: Eye disorder, FE: Fever, JA: Jaundice, JP: Joint pians, ND: Nervous disorders, SBL Snake bite, SE: Skin complaints, SD: Stomach disorders, TP: Tooth problems

Ethnobotanical uses: Of the recorded species, 33 are used as fuel. Among these notable are; Berberis aristata, Berberis lycium, Betula utilis, Astragalus strobiliferus, Caragana brevifolia, Desmodium elegans, Ephedra gerardiana, Hippophae tibetana and Populus ciliata etc. Nearly 20 species are edible, e.g., Elaeagnus conferta, Hippophae salicifolia, Prunus armeniaca, Punica granatum, Pyrus pashia, Rosa moschata, Rubus foliolosus etc. Among others include fodder (8 spp.), fiber and ornamental (4 spp. each), incense and agriculture tools (2 spp. each) (Table 1).

A live fence plant acts as soil filter preventing soil erosion and with time makes the terraced fields more stable. Fast growing species are effective and some of them can be used as fodder or fuel. They also help in storing some moisture (Samra et al., 1999) and have strong soil binding capacity and are efficient enough to strengthen the mud boundaries of crop fields and houses (Eyzaquirre and Linares, 2001; Ramakrishnan et al., 1996).

Documentation of BF plants to the control of human diseases has been gaining importance in recent times (Reddy, 2008). The BF plants reported from Himachal Pradesh in the present study are used by the inhabitants for their routine treatment practices. Biofencing and afforestation practices of some potential medicinal species like; Rubia cordifolia, Rubus ellipticus, Vitex negundo, Ricinus communis, Hippophae salicifolia, Prunus sp., Rosa sericea, Rosa macrophylla and Zanthoxylum armatum etc. should be made prevalent so that they would also provide nutrition to the local communities and help to conservation of these plant resources.


This traditional knowledge contributes to the conservation of biodiversity and provides resource of economic and ecological interest and decreasing the pressure on forests. It can also be a desirable substitute to wall fences in the region. In addition to this, many potential medicinal benefits and the number of locally developed systems of fencing are currently not well documented in the area. Further research on these may help in developing effective drugs for health care. Moreover knowledge can be gained from farmers and local folks who have been already using Biofencing in their farming systems and can help expanding this knowledge. In conclusion, there is need to encourage the practice of using plant species as Biofencing in this region of the world.

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