Cloning revives Himachal willows

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Lifeline  for willow forests<s (Credit: VIKAS VASUDEVA)willow trees are drying up in the Lahaul valley of Himachal Pradesh. The Himalayan Forest Research Institute (hfri), Shimla, says that in the past decade more than 3,000 trees have died from aphid attacks, monoculture plantations, old planting stocks, decrease in water flow, wrong choice of planting sites, rise in temperature, melting of glaciers and decrease in snowfall.

The Himachal forest department requested hfri to do the study. It recommended the introduction of fresh and superior plant stocks and genetic improvement of these trees by cloning. New germplasm has thus been imported to replace the genetically degraded clones and to widen the genetic base.

A pilot project -- Development of Ecologically Viable and Socio-Economically Acceptable Integrated Model for Arresting Willow Mortality in Lahaul Valley -- has been initiated by hfri to rejuvenate the willow forests. It is headed by hfri scientist K S Kapoor and financed with Rs 8 lakh by the Almora-based G B Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development. The project involves 'demonstration plantations' of the screened clones of willow (Salix genus) on forestland and in the farms of Lahaul valley. There are about 109 Salix species globally and 35 species in India. Twelve species in Lahaul and Spiti districts of Himachal have been attacked by pests and the project has so far been successful in reviving these.

"We have been raising quality planting stock of Salix in the model forest nursery at Sissoo in Lahaul. Field demonstration of screened clones has also been successfully done on around 0.4 ha of forestland here," says Kapoor. The Horticulture and Forestry University, Solan, got around 70 clones from seven different countries. Out of these, a few were used by hfri to raise the quality of planting stock in Sissoo.

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