Divya Gandhi

They are funded by the National Medicinal Plants Board

Eighty acres have been earmarked for plantation of Ashoka

A sum of Rs. 5.6 crore has been sanctioned for the projects

Bangalore: The Ashoka tree (Saraca asoca) and nine other medicinal plants, many of them endangered, will be the focus of a special five-year conservation programme of the Forest Department, which will launch three projects in Karnataka to protect and develop them.

The Kudremukh National Park, one of the natural habitats of Saraca asoca, has been chosen for plantation of the species, as have areas around Karwar, Dandeli and Sirsi, according to Ravi Ralph, Chief Conservator of Forests, Headquarters.

“In all, an area of 80 acres have been earmarked for plantation of Ashoka. The Forest Department has begun preparing the field and nurseries, and planting will start in June,” he said.

The projects are funded by the National Medicinal Plants Board (NMPB), which is part of the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

A sum of Rs. 5.6 crore has been sanctioned for the projects, which were approved by NMPB in March, according to B.S. Sajwan, chief executive officer of NMPB.

The species were chosen for their importance to the Indian system of medicine, their demand in trade and their conservation status, Mr. Sajwan said.

The Ashoka tree — not the poplar-like trees commonly known by the same name, but the glorious flowering tree abundantly found in the Western Ghats is under threat, as are hundreds of medicinal plants, because they are over-exploited, according to Mr. Ralph.

“This is because more than 90 per cent of herbs used in traditional medicine are extracted from forest areas rather than cultivated,” Mr. Ralph said.

Conservation

Conserving and developing the medicinal plants were important not only to preserve biodiversity, but also to ensure that traditional medicine did not resort to the use of substitutes and adulterants, Mr. Sajwan said.

“The use of substitutes, for instance in the preparation of the Ayurvedic ‘ashoka rishtam’, is both illegal and inefficacious,” he added.

The Forest Department will also undertake a conservation project to protect existing Saraca asoca trees in their natural habitat.

Study

“We are now preparing inventories of the areas in the Western Ghats to study its ecology and associated species in order to develop a conservation strategy,” he said. This project will also involve the conservation of two other species, Vateria indica and Coscinium fenestratum — a woody climber which is known for its anti-microbial properties.

A third project, which involves community based resource augmentation in forest and non-forest government land in Karnataka will focus on Litsea glutinosa, Premna integrifolia, Stereospermum suaveolens, Boswellia serrata Semecarpus anacardium, Pterocarpus marsupium and Pterocarpus santalinus, besides the Ashoka tree, Mr. Ralph said.

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