Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Botanic Gardens and Plant Conservation in India

Volume 2 Number 3 - May 1994


India has an estimated 16,000 vascular plants, 5,000 endemic species and 140 endemic genera according to the latest estimates, to be published in the forthcoming Guide to the Centres of Plant Diversity (S. Davis, pers. comm.).

Areas rich in endemism are north-eastern India, the southern parts of peninsular India, the Western Ghats and the north-western and eastern Himalaya. Most of India's natural vegetation has been greatly modified by agriculture, forestry and urbanization. Over 50% of the land area is cultivated and all forests, particularly moist forest types, are rapidly being degraded as a result of population pressure and shifting cultivation.

Under the Project on Study, Survey and Conservation of Endangered Species of Flora (POSSCEP), Red Data Books have been published (Nayar, M.P. and Sastry, A.R.K. (eds) 1897, 1988, 1990. Red Data Book of Indian Plants, Vols, 1, 2 and 3. Botanical Survey of India, Calcutta). The total number of threatened plant taxa in all categories is 1,331 which represents 8% of the flora (WCMC Plants database).

Protection of wildlife has a long tradition in India, with establishment of forest reserves and sanctuaries. In the 1980s new laws were enacted, such as the National Wildlife Action Plan in 1983 and the National Forest Policy in 1988.

According to this National Wildlife Action Plan, 1983, botanic gardens are in a good position:

  • to rehabilitate indigenous and threatened species and restore them to protected portions of their former habitats;
  • to exploit commercially those species which are plentiful;
  • to promote wildlife education to a broad range of target groups such as politicians, school and college students, and communities living in and around wildlife areas.

So far, several botanic gardens and other organizations in India are members of BGCI and have active conservation programmes. These are:

  • National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
  • Botanical Garden Guru Nanak Dev, Amritsar, Punjab
  • Institute of Forest Genetics & Tree Breeding. Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
  • Narayana Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, North Wynad, Kerala
  • Botanical Garden "Dr H.S. Gour Vishwavidyala". Sagar, Madya Pradesh
  • Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Pacha-Palode, Trivandrum, Kerala
  • Zoo Outreach Organisatioon/Captive Breeding Specialist Group (C.B.S.G.), Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
  • Magali Estates (P) Ltd., Padagiri, Kerala

BGCI also benefits from the substantial support of Williamson Magor and Co., a Gold Member of BGCI's corporate support group, The Plant Charter Group.

The National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow is one of the institutes of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), New Delhi and is described in this issue of BGCNews. In an earlier article in Botanic Gardens Conservation News (6: 16, 1990) Sharma and Goel from the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow discussed the need for ex situ conservation of endangered plants from tropical India.

As noted in the News section in this issue, the Botanic Garden Guru Nanak Dev, Amritsar, Punjab are developing collection of plants of arid lands and a seed bank.

The work of the Narayana Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, North Wynad and the Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Trivandrum, (TBGRI) both in the State of Kerala have been described in several issues of Botanic Gardens Conservation News as well as in this issue. The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary has a large orchid collection and actively collects endangerd plants for conservation such as the Golden Tongue (Chrysoglossum maculatum) which can be multiplied by division and by seed.

The Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute, Trivandrum have micropropagated the Blue Vanda (Vanda coerulea) and Paphiopedilum druryi and also rescued endangered species from areas such as the Agastyamalai Hills in southern Kerala, home to at least 150 endemics, and have collections of native plants as well as introduced species such as Ficus. The State of Kerala through the Committee on Science, Technology and Environment supports wildlife conservation and maintains TBGRI. Informal discussions towards initiating valuable new botanical garden cooperation have taken place between this garden and the last which is a valuable component in the implementation of The Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy. A useful book on micropropagation by the Indian author M.K. Razdan is reviewed below under Book Notices.

The Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) organised the first Indian National Conference and Workshop on Ethnopharmacology, discussed below, at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of Kerala State. The Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute is also offering an International Certificate Course in Practical Horticulture and Conservation of Tropical Plants. Details are given in this issue.

The BGCI has close links with the Zoo Outreach Organisation/Captive Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu which has as their Mission Statement: "to conserve and establish viable populations of threatened species through captive propagation programmes and through intensive protection and management of small and fragmented populations in the wild."

We have records of rare and threatened plants in cultivation in 18 gardens, in which members of the Palmae and Orchidaceae and native species are especially well represented.

There are 71 Indian botanic gardens on the BGCI database (BGCI-DATA). Apart from Government and University botanic gardens there are many gardens of public and academic interest in India.

The Botanical Survey of India, supported by the Department of the Environment, Government of India manages botanic gardens throughout India. The Directorate of the Survey is at the Indian Botanic Garden, Howrah, and there are nine Regional Circles/Field Stations in different parts of the country six of which have experimental gardens (Northern Circle (Dehra Dun), Central Circle (Allahabad), Eastern Circle (Shillong), Western Circle (Pune), Southern Circle (Coimbatore) and (Andaman and Nicobar Circle) Port Blair. The three other stations are the Arid Zone Circle (Jodhpur), Sikkim-Himalaya Circle (Gangtok), and the Arunachal Field Station (New Itnagar).

The Indian region is an important centre of origin and diversity for nearly 160 domesticated plant species of economic importance, more than 350 species of their wild relatives, and over 800 species of ethno-botanical interest. A National Gene Bank is being constructed at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi, India. It will have the capacity to house 600,000 seed samples under safe, long-term storage, in vitro conservation and cryopreservation. At present the NBPGR has collected 92,046 indigenous germplasm samples and has nearly 160,000 accessions of crop species in long-term storage. This programme links the 30 National Active Germplasm Sites responsible for different crops and other research institutions (Diversity (9(1&2):27-8).

The potential for extensive new biodiversity programmes in India is enormous. New initiatives to strengthen networks of botanic gardens in India are being established and we hope that their plans will move forward quickly and effectively.

We invite more botanic gardens in India to join with us in this work and become part of the world network of botanic gardens working for plant conservation through Botanic Gardens Conservation International.