Malabar Botanical Garden to sport lichen conservatory in Thiruvananthapuram


Thiruvananthapuram: The Malabar Botanical Garden in Kozhikode has taken up a project to set up a lichen conservatory to preserve and showcase the diversity of the plant that is widely used for many purposes, yet poorly understood by researchers.

A composite organism that emerges from a biological association of algae and fungus, lichens grow on rocks, trees and soil. As many as 2,450 species of lichen have been recorded in India, out of which about 1,000 are in the Western Ghats. Edible species are used by traditional communities for food and flavouring while many others are known to possess antibiotic, anti viral and anti cancer properties. A large number of lichens are found in high altitude forests.

R. Prakashkumar, Director, MBG, said the live lichen garden was envisaged as a facility to create better awareness about the species among students and researchers. The garden will seek to simulate the microclimatic conditions and natural habitat in which lichens survive in the wild. “It is a laborious and time- consuming process. For example, a lichen that grows on rock will have to be transplanted in the garden along with the same substrate”, he says.

Lichens are the least studied group among plants, says Stephen Sequeira, Assistant Professor in Botany, Government College, Chittoor. He points out that deforestation, habitat loss and unsustainable extraction as well as pollution and climate change were threatening wild populations of lichen.

In Attapady, tribals use lichen as food as well as to treat skin diseases and promote hair growth. Research laboratories across the world are studying the potential of lichen as a pharmaceutical and cosmetic agent. Pollutants like sulphur dioxide are known to damage lichens and inhibit their growth, making them natural indicators of pollution.

“In hill stations and tourist locations like Munnar, Wayanad, Ootty and Kodaikanal, unsustainable extraction from the wild has whittled down the number of lichens, threatening to wipe them out”, observes Mr.Sequeira. “The species is characterised by slow growth, sometimes only upto 2 mm per year, and hence regeneration fails to match the extraction rate”. Reintroduction of lichen prepared from tissue culture has not been successful.

Dr.Prakashkumar said the live garden would also focus on conservation of rare and endangered lichen species and bioprospecting to identify lichens with commercial value. Eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan handed over the first lichen material for the garden at a function held in Kozhikode on December 10.


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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 6:27:57 AM |

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