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God’s own flowers in Barak Valley

SILCHAR, Sept 13: Nature has a wonderful gallery of exuberant gifts and one of its magnificent creations are the orchids. The orchids are epiphytic in nature but different from parasites. They exhibit a wide range of diversity in form, size, colour, textile and fragrance. Sparkling in charm and elegance, the orchidaceae in one of the largest families of flowering plants, encompassing 600-800 genera and 25,000 species in the humid parts of the world. Almost 925 species and 144 genera are estimated to grow in India.
Barak Valley in South Asom has identical climate composition that of Asom in general, marked with heavy rains. The region is hot and humid. It is surrounded by North Cachar Hills, Bhuban Hills and Lusai Hills. The climatic condition in South Asom provides ample scope for a wide variety of orchids to grow on the host plants like Mango, Jack fruit, Siris etc.
It is a matter of concern that due to the ever-increasing demand for timber and fuel wood, the forest areas in South Asom are continuously being plundered of its valuable resources. The ethnic groups traditionally live close to nature. They are dependent on forests and utilize the wild plants for varied purposes, such as food and vegetables, medicines, dyes etc. A single tree species can take away with it 10-30 dependent species. The Assam Environment Report 2004, said, 22 plants besides orchids have been strongly affected by bio-piracy. The report states, “Many of the plant species are being collected every year from the region, although no data is available on the quantity of collection”.
Thus, the orchid flora which has been so rich in the number of species and individuals are getting depleted. The orchids resources are dwindling everyday due to over exploitation and habitat destruction and most of them are now under the threatened and endangered status. According to a survey work carried out by the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Assam University, Silchar, it was found that most of the orchid species in the Reserve Forest areas of Barak Valley were affected due to large-scale felling of trees and also due to the Jhum cultivation.
The department also carried out research on the 16 reserve forests in the Barak Valley. The study reveals that Katakhal Reserve Forest under Cachar and Hailakandi district are rich in orchid diversity, compared to the other reserve forests of the area. The Bhuban Range under Sonai Reserve Forest and Borail Reserve Forest of Cachar district also have some rare and endangered species. The tea-estates situated on the foot hills on North Cachar Hills district are also found to be have a rich orchid bio-diversity.
In the study, 54 orchid species have been identified so far. Out of these some are rare and endangered, such as, Arundina graminifolia, Acanthephippium sylhetense and Paphiopedilum spicerianum, Bulbophyllum caryeanum, Coelogyne suaveolens, D densiflorium etc. Also many species are widely distributed in the Barak Valley like Acampe papillose, Cymbidium aloifolium, Aerides multiform, Aerides odorata etc.
Generally, orchids have ornamental and medicinal values. For cut-flower business, orchid growth can be ideal, since there is a demand for it in hotels, households, public functions etc. Orchids can be used as flavouring agent and so therefore has usage in the perfume industry too. Some indigenous tribes in Asom employ a variant of orchid as sex-stimulant (Bulbophyllum caryanum), though sufficient research works need to be done to prove its efficacy.
Orchids have great importance to the market world wide and particularly hybrids of Indian origin are of great demand internationally. But over-exploitation may lead to extinction, as in the case with some consumer countries in Asia. The scientists in India are of the opinion that commercial exploitation of the orchids should not be encouraged. However, for sustainable growth, orchids can be grown through tissue-culture method in laboratories in large numbers and later introduced to their natural habitats for subsequent regeneration.
A large number of orchid-rich pockets exist in the Barak Valley. To tap the resources, forest reservoirs and sanctuaries should be established in the area. In addition, to take up the task of protection, conservation and the management of plant resources in the region, effective communication has to be made with the local people, forest departments and research institutions. Such a move is expected to encourage people to come forward to protect and conserve this beautiful gift of nature. (Source - The Sentinel)

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