An open-air fernery, housing 120 different types of ferns, was inaugurated by a renowned expert on Pteridophyte (ferns), Dr. Nilambar Kunetha, on Sunday at Uttarakhand’s Ranikhet.
The fernery is one of the largest ferneries of India, after Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) in Thiruvananthapuram. However, TBGRI has not entirely been developed in natural surroundings and uses poly-houses.
Developed by the research wing of Uttarakhand Forest Department over three years, under Central Government’s Compensatory Afforestation Fund Act (CAMPA scheme), Ranikhet fernery has been developed over 4 acres, at an altitude of 1800 meters. The fernery is in a shady area and has a seasonal stream of water passing through it to provide adequate moisture for ferns to grow and propagate.
The Chief Conservator of Forest (Research), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) Sanjiv Chaturvedi, said, “The main aim of the fernery is to conserve various fern species, and to create awareness about its ecological role among the general public while promoting further research.”
“The fernery has a mix of species from the western Himalayan region, the eastern Himalayan region, as well as from the Western Ghats. It houses many rare species, prominent among which is Tree Fern (Cyathea spinulosa), which has been declared threatened by the State Biodiversity Board of Uttarakhand. Only a few plants of this species have been left in the wild, and it is one of the most ancient species of fern. It is said that herbivore dinosaur used to feed on its trunk, which is rich in starch,” he added.
The fernery has around 30 species of tremendous medicinal importance, including Hansraj (Adiantum venustum). Hansraj is an important herb in Ayurveda and the Tibetan system of medicine and has been described as a remedy to several ailments.
The fernery also displays some prominent edible species of fern-like Lingura (Diplazium esculentum), a popular vegetable in the hills of Uttarakhand. It is considered to be nutritious.
Besides these, the fernery also displays species like epiphyte, aquatic ferns, and the more popular and interesting ferns like Vishkanya, Mayurshikha, Boston fern, Lady Fern, Rock Fern, Basket Fern, Ladder fern, Golden fern, and Horse-tail fern.
The fernery also displays interesting facts about ferns, like the reference of invisible seeds of ferns in William Shakespeare’s play Henry IV. The craze of ferns, known as ‘Pteredomania’ in the Victorian era in the 19th century, has also been mentioned.
The fernery also highlights various threats to fern species because of deforestation, habitat fragmentation, and climatic factors.
Ferns belong to one of the most ancient groups of plants that propagate through spores. They were the first plants with fully developed vascular systems.
Ferns are greatly prized for their ornamental values and several of their species are used for medicinal and edible purposes also. They are used to filter heavy metals from polluted waters and are also good nitrogen fixating agents.