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Ex situ Conservation of Plant Biodiversity at Amritsar, India

Volume 2 Number 4 - December 1994
I.S. Grover, A.K. Thukral and G.S. Virk

In order to meet the academic requirements of the students graduating in botany, a botanic garden was established in the 1974 as a constituent part of the Department of Biology, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. Since 1990, the garden has been administered by the Department of Botanical Sciences.

Amritsar (31.37ºN, 74.55ºE, 234 m. asl) is in the state of Punjab in the north west of India. The mean maximum temperature is 18.6ºC in January and 38.9ºC in May and the mean minimum is 4.5ºC in January and 21.4ºC in May. The maximum recorded is 46.7ºC and minimum recorded is 2.8ºC. The mean annual rainfall is 649.1 mm.

Amritsar falls in the biogeographical province - Punjab plains of the semi arid zone. However, extensive irrigation has removed virtually all the true desert elements. Therefore, the state is placed in the semi-arid Indus drainage area.

The garden lies on the National Highway 1, Grand Trunk Road, running from Calcutta (India) to Peshawar (Pakistan).

The garden spreads over an area of 25 acres and is designed to exhibit the biodiversity of plants with slight modification according to Bentham and Hooker's System of Classification. It is divided into several sections such as Polypetalae, Gamopetalae, Monochlamydae, and Gymnosperms (see figure 1). In addition, a sector has been reserved for rare plants.

The main feature of the garden is the arboretum which occupies an area of over 6 acres and lies in the western side of the garden. It includes trees such as Dalbergia sisso, Tectona grandis, Terminalia bellerica, Butea monosperma and Acacia spp. It is planned to develop this section into a broad-leaved forest to provide ecological niches for several species to promote conservation. Therefore, extensive weeding of this area is avoided. This sector abuts the boundary wall of the university of the western side. To the inner side of the boundary wall, trees of Eucalyptus spp. are planted. Butea monosperma planted on the northern side of the garden gives a beautiful look in the flowering season, i.e. during the month of April. Several kinds of gymnosperm have been introduced in this sector which not only enhance the biodiversity but also fulfil an educational requirement of the students, since these species do not occur in the plains of north-western India. Ginkgo biloba is a pride possession of the garden. Besides this, specimens of Araucaria, Juniperus, Cupressus, Podocarpus, Thuja, Pinus and Cycas spp. punctuate the area. There are about 25 species of monocotyledon, in addition to common grasses and sedges. A subsector of bamboos, uncommon in plains, is a curiosity for the visitor. The important genera which are represented in this section are Arundo, Bambusa, Yucca, Livingstonia, Caryota etc.

The dicotyledons are spread over 3 main sectors as mentioned above. At present there are about 200 species of dicots in the garden. Every year new species are being added to the garden. In addition to these, the garden is adorned by a rockery which houses cacti, euphorbias and other succulents. Besides, more than 100 species of these plants are available in the conservatory of the Department. The garden is taversed by the undulating paths enabling the workers, teachers, students and visitors to view the garden.

Features Being Added

Lily pool

A kidney-shaped lily pool measuring about 2,000 sq.ft is under construction and likely to be completed by the end of September 1994. With the completion of this several species of aquatic plants will be introduced.

Glasshouse

A temperature controlled glasshouse (25 + 2ºC, 60' x 30') divided internally into 4 separate units of 15' x 30' will be ready by the end of November 1994. Two chambers will be provided with mist spray to have a controlled relative humidity so that orchids and other such plants can be introduced. One of the chambers will be developed to grow cacti etc. It is proposed to have one chamber with controlled light in addition to temperature so that experimental work can be taken up.

Education and Research

The botanic garden is meeting the basis needs of teaching and research. The students registered for Master of Science programme frequently visit the garden to acquaint themselves with the various aspects of biodiversity. Some teachers and scholars have planned their research projects utilizing the materials available in the garden. One such research project aims at the isolation of antimutagenic substances from medicinal plants e.g. Terminalia bellerica, Embelica officinalis, Aegle marmelos and other species etc growing in the garden. A project pertaining to micropropagation of some rare species is likely to be initiated shortly.

Besides the students of the campus, students enrolled for the Bachelor's programme in the colleges affiliated to Guru Nanak Dev University visit the garden at least once a year to educate themselves with biodiversity. The students of Ayurvedic (Indian System of medicine) College also visit for medicinal plants.

Repository of Endemic, Endangered and Rare Plants of the Indus Plains

The Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India has granted special assistance in our endeavour to make the botanic garden, Guru Nanak Dev University a repository of endemic, rare and endangered species of the plains. Considering the importance of the subject the university has also financed the project.