India is home to a plethora of plant and animal species. The geographical and weather condition of the country is apt for the growth and development of a variety of species. The natural forest of Uttarakhand has been known to host some of these. From unique black-bellied coral snakes to cryptogamic species, the forest is a secret hub for flora and fauna.
In line with this, India’s largest open-air fernery was inaugurated today, September 12 in Uttarakhand’s Ranikhet. The fernery is home to a large number of fern species, some of which are endemic to the state, some hold medicinal value while some are threatened species that demand care and conservation.
“This center has been developed for conservation of fern species and also to create awareness about their ecological role and promote further research,” said Sanjiv Chaturvedi, CCF (Research Wing), Uttarakhand Forest Department to PBNS.
The Ranikhet fernery
The newly inaugurated fernery is one of the biggest ferneries in India. The fernery has the largest collection of fern species, second to only Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram. However, it is the country’s first open-air fernery in natural surroundings which is not under any poly-house/ shade house.
The Ranikhet fernery spreads over four acres of land at an altitude of 1,800 metres. A seasonal pahadi nala also passes through it, which provides adequate moisture as ferns require shade and moisture to grow and propagate. It provides an apt location for developing an open-air fernery.
It has been developed by the Research Wing of Uttarakhand Forest Department over a period of three years, under Central Government’s CAMPA scheme.
The CAMPA or Compensatory Afforestation Management Funds Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) was introduced in 2004 to accelerate activities for the preservation of natural forests, management of wildlife, infrastructure development in forests, and other allied works.
Fernery: Home to 120 species
The Ranikhet fernery has 120 different types of fern. The fernery has a mix of species from the western Himalayan region, the eastern Himalayan region, and the Western Ghats. It houses several rare species, including Tree Fern, a threatened species by the State Biodiversity Board of Uttarakhand.
It also houses around 30 species of medicinal ferns such as Hansraj, which has huge importance in Ayurveda as a remedy for ailments. Further, there are edible fern species like Lingura, a popular nutritious food item in Uttarakhand.
In addition to these, there are epiphyte, aquatic ferns, and other ornamental ferns. For instance, Vishkanya, Mayurshikha, Boston fern, Lady fern, Rock Fern, Basket Fern, Ladder fern, Golden fern, and Horsetail fern. Some of the species on the red list present at the fernery include Ophioglossum reticulatum, Pteris vittata among others.
What are ferns?
Ferns are non-flowering pteridophytes. They generally reproduce by producing spores. However, similar to flowering plants, ferns have roots, stems, and leaves. Ferns are the first plant with a fully developed vascular system.
About 9% of the world’s Pteridophytes occur in India or only in 2.5% landmass of the world. Ferns and Fern-allies are the second largest group of plants in Indian flora and are represented by 33 families 130 genera and 1,267 species. 70 species among these are endemic to India.
Ferns are important for the environment for their ornamental values. They have medicinal and edible purposes. Furthermore, the indicators of moisture, ferns, also clean the ecosystem and are good nitrogen fixating agents. They are also used to filter heavy metals from polluted waters and are a bioindicator for the health of an ecosystem.
Further, ferns provide microhabitats, as well as shelter and shade to small animals, are a source of food or medicine for animals, including people.
Recently, India’s first cryptogamic garden was inaugurated in July 2021 in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun district. The garden is a first of its kind and houses a plethora of cryptogams species.