The treasure hunt

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

THE hunt for a commercially valuable wild plant in the Khasi and Jaintia hills of Meghalaya may virtually lead to their extinction. The fern-like creeper which is locally known as Tmain Ala (Lycopodium clavatum), is found in abundance in these hills.

The plant is used in fireworks, dusting powder, flashlight powders, homeopathic medicines and for stage lighting. Mylliem village near Shillong is one of the primary centres of its trade. Nearly three to four truckloads of the plant are transported out of the village once a week. The villagers have no use for the plant and they exchange it for money. But forest department officials are concerned about the quick disappearance of the creeper. Despite the department's efforts to contain the trade, the hills are being increasingly raided by smugglers for rare orchids and the medicinal bark of the Himalayan yew tree (Texas baccata) used to prepare the anti-cancer drug taxol. India and Brazil are the main contributors to the us $43 billion market for medicinal plants in the West.

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