The state’s rich botanical heritage is facing threats from climate change, degrading landscapes, habitat loss and development activities
The Uttarakhand forest department opened a biodiversity park in Haldwani to encourage conservation of flora, especially medicinal plants.
The hill state has been rich in them, but is losing them due to climate change, degrading landscapes, fragmentation of habitat and increased development work.
Food products from India’s hills and mountains are gaining popularity across the globe. Many of them are labelled as ‘super foods’ and have an established market. But with little effort to conserve local wild food varieties, their existence is threatened.
The park in Haldwani, opened June 5, 2020 — World Environment Day — has 40 thematic sections. They include of wild edible plant species, fruits as well as plants of medicinal and commercial importance with cultural, religious and historical significance.
Wild berries like kaphal (Myrica esculenta), hisalu (Rubus ellipticus), ghingharu (Pyracantha crenulata) and kilmora (Berberis asiatica) grow wild in the state. They grow naturally in the forests and are not planted.
Earlier, these berries were consumed by the locals living close to the forests. But now, they have a market. People, primarily women and children collect them from the forests and sell them for a living.
The berries are laden with nutrition and have numerous medicinal properties. In recent times, forest fires, climate change and over-exploitation have threatened their survival.
Moreover, the younger generation, most of them who have spent their childhood in cities and urban area, have little knowledge about them.
“We have therefore, created a section for wild edible plants of the state to educate the young about the state’s rich food biodiversity,” Sanjiv Chaturvedi, chief conservator, forest research wing, said.
The park also houses a collection of lesser-known condiments that grow in the wild. For example, ‘jakhiya’ or wild mustard (Cleome viscosa) and ‘faran’ (Allium stracheyi) are used extensively for tempering culinary dishes that have found an international market.
The park also has a section on wild edible mushrooms. “We have tried to grow some wild varieties in a controlled environment but mushrooms like the pricey ‘guchhi’ (Morchella sp.) have been kept in dried form. Each of these varieties are labelled for people to learn about their habitat and nutritional values,” Chaturvedi said.
Display boards placed in the interpretation centre. Photo: Bhupesh Koetalia, Uttarakhand Forest Department, Haldwani
There are thematic gardens, a soil museum, species of plants, lichens, mosses and algae from the Jurassic era, a vermicompost unit, an interpretation centre, and a state-of-the-art weather station. The park also has a weather station.
“We cannot conserve unless people, the real stakeholders, understand why it is important to save the environment, a species or the biodiverse landscape. To educate and inform the young, this park has been thoughtfully designed so that it offers information in an artistic manner,” Chaturvedi said.
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