Meghalaya is a state rich in endemic flora, unique to only the state. It is blessed with abundant indigenous plants that have potent medicinal uses.
In this article, we will focus on one unique plant species called the “pitcher plant” scientifically known as Nepenthes khasiana. This post is based on a study published in 2011. This post will also talk about the various anthropogenic disturbances such as limestone quarrying and coal mining, shifting cultivation, stone quarrying, over-grazing etc. that are affecting the growth and regeneration of Nepenthes khasiana in Nokrek National Park.
What is Nepenthes Khasiana?
Nepenthes khasiana is one of the endemic plants of India, belonging to the Nepenthaceae family. It comprises of 70 species in the world. This plant is mostly used for its medicinal properties.
Nepenthes khasiana is a prominent insectivorous scandent shrub species of this biosphere reserve and is an important source of medicine and basic ornamental uses for the local Garo folks. The inevitable pressure due to commercialization of the plant is leading to the destruction of the species and may create scarcity of the species soon. (source)
Nepenthes khasiana grows in the tropical and subtropical climatic regions, it is endemic to the state of Meghalaya and it grows in the eastern Himalayan tract, up to an altitude of 1,100 m in the northeast India.
In the Nokrek national park of Meghalaya, this plant is used intensively by the local inhabitants for medicinal purposes and as a source of income. They collect it from the forest areas and sell the seedling plants for ₹20-30. The plant is used for medicinal purposes. The dried roots of the plant are powdered and applied on the skin for curing skin diseases.
In India, the plant is used in treatment of urinary troubles when administered orally, and for redness and itching of the eye, cataract and night blindness if used as eye drops, and for treating stomach troubles, diabetes and cholera patients.
In many other parts of the region it was noted that the forests are managed by the villagers as ‘Sacred Groves’, locally called Kanggimin Bol-Waarangni Biap by the indigenous Garo tribes. These forests are relic patches of ancient forest, conserved by the tribal communities. They believed that the spirits of the dead rest in peace in the forests and, therefore, they are considered sacred and left undisturbed. Those forests have a higher density of floral components, compare to the non-managed forests areas, and that because of the proper care in the managed area, provided by the Garo villagers. (source)
N. khasiana was found abundantly in the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve. However, even though it is still found here, the ruthless exploitation of this plant, for medicines and by selling the saplings, has greatly reduced the abundance of this plant in the nearby forest areas. Thus, it is important to educate the locals on rehabilitating this plant and warning them of the possibility of bringing a scarcity through over use of the plant.
Also, seeing how significant the plant is to the local folks, a study was conducted to check the disturbances caused by anthropogenic activities on N. khasiana.
Methodology of The Study
This study reports that N. khasiana is found in the Nokrek national park located at 25˚15′ to 25˚29′ North Latitude and 90˚13′ to 90˚30′ East Longitude of the eastern Himalaya. The temperature of the study area varies from 9.5 to 37.3-degree C and the soil condition is mainly loamy. The area is drained by several perennial streams converge to form one major river system the ‘Brahmaputra’. This range falls under the Indo-Malaya eco-region with tropical forest and subtropical forest being its main vegetation. (source)
The anthropogenic disturbances in the forest of Nokrek Biosphere Reserve and adjacent areas cover factors such as coal mining, limestone extraction, stone quarrying, jhum cultivation, fire, over-exploitation of N. khasiana, grazing and browsing, loss of agroforestry resources, pollution, invasion of new species, road and building constructions in Garo hills.
Currently N. khasiana is only growing in undisturbed forest patches in the Nokrek valley and its adjacent areas. (source)
Results and Discussion
The study observed that the disturbances of N. khasiana in Nokrek National Park are mainly due to the following reasons:
- Shifting cultivation: This form of cultivation method is one of the primary occupational methods of the tribal folks of Meghalaya. It is mainly practiced in the buffer zone of the reserve, and they apply the slash-and-burn method for clearing up the forest areas. The extensive cutting and burning of the forest areas have greatly affected the flora of the forest, thus depleting N. khasiana directly.
- Forest fires: Controlled forest fire are practiced in Nokrek National park, but it has caused severe impact on the growth and regeneration of the forest. It may have removed a lot of unwanted material, but its intensity has caused damage to the plant species in the reserve. Forest fires, although controlled, has caused damage to the primary habitat of N. khasiana and other plant species.
- Coal mining: The unscientific and extensive method of coal mining in the buffer zone of the Biosphere reserve are some of the main causes that have resulted in patchiness of the existing forest and vegetation of the landscape. Coal mining is practiced in villages from the southern parts of Nokrek, which is a close core of the Biosphere Reserve. This is main causes of degradation, loss of vegetation cover, which ultimately results in the loss of N. khasiana, Goniothalamus sesquipedalis, Citrus indica, cane and rattan bamboo species etc.
- Stone quarrying: This is another source of income for the local tribal of Garo hills and it also practiced by the Khasi and Jaintia tribes of Meghalaya. There are a few stone grinding factories that are seen near Bandagre village, and in areas on the way to Williamnagar. These areas are part of the Nokrek National Park.
- Limestone mining: Extensive limestone mining iscarried out in the southern range of Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, in the Garo hills. There are also a few limestone quarries that are located near the boundary, thebuffer zone, of the reserve. Areas such as Chisingre and the way to Chokpot are sites that are rich in limestone
Many fossils like shale, starfish and primitive plant species are recorded during the field tours to the buffer area of the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve. (source)
- Over-exploitation of the plant species: The local folks of Nokrek National park are unaware of the floral diversity. This is also a reason why they are exploiting the vegetation according to their needs. They remove the crown of the shrubs and the trees for timber, fodder and other purposes. This results in the plant species to stop propagating thus, stopping any further growth of the forest. It worsens when the local folks practice Jhum cultivation! If the forest areas are out of their reach, the local folks resort to removing saplings and poles which further causes greater damage. The local folks also collect a huge amount of N. khasiana seedlings and sell it off in the local market to make money. Thus, regular extraction of this plant species may result in itsdisappearance
- Over grazing: The grazing of cattle and other animals is also another reason that has resulted in further reducing the growth of N. khasiana. These activities are high in the buffer zone of the biosphere reserve. Over-grazing of animal’s results in the removal of the newly planted saplings eventually affecting the regeneration process.
The local tribes and Nokmas of this reserve area believe that increasing pollution in Tura town is decreasing the natural growth of Nepenthes khasiana. (source)
- New invasive species: Changes in the environmental conditions around the forest areas, such as human habitation have greatly affected vegetation surrounding the forest. Invasive species such as Lantana camara, Eupatorium odoratum, E. adenophorum, Mikania micrantha, Euphorbia hirta, Parthenium sp., Clerodendrum specie and many other plant species are slowing colonizing the buffer zone of the forest reserve. These invasive species cause imbalance and instability in the demographics of the floral population in the forest reserve
The presence of Lantana camara shrub as dense shrubs below the trees disturbs the seedling of native tree species in the forest leading to differential depletion of native trees.
The local Garo villagers residing within the forest reserve area depend on traditional medicinal practices for their well-being. Most of the medicinal plants are harvested from the wild. This causes a serious impact of the rare and threatened plant and animal species of the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve. (source)
Conservation strategies that can be used for N. khasiana according to Study
- The practice of mining coal and limestone should be totally stopped specifically in transition zones of the forest reserve area. However, in the buffer zone, it can be practiced in a scientific manner, to reduce the pressure on the forest where wild N. khasiana is grown.
- There should also be proper awareness programmes for the local villagers, on the significance of N. khasiana. Locals should be made aware of the importance of conservation of the biological resources in that area.
- The local committee should implement some mutual rules and collaborate with the forest departments, for the protection and enrichment of the N. khasiana.
- Forest vegetation can be increased and spread by planting indigenous plant species, especially in coal mining areas and other wastelands. Such plants also require proper protection so that the regeneration process is easy.
- The wildlife representatives should also pay special attention to promote afforestation programmes that will benefit local tribes and restore lost forest areas.
- The traditional practice of Jhum cultivation should be practiced, but the standard of Jhum cycle must be kept up to 10-12 years. Thus, allowing the soil to regain its fertility.
From the study, we learn that anthropogenic disturbances are the main causes of reduction in the wild population of N. khasiana. However, we still have hope to increase the availability of this plant by implementing different conservational practices, as mentioned above. Such efforts can safeguard not only N. khasiana but also preserve the forest areas