In 2012 the International Union for Conservation of Nature designated 141 plant species in India as endangered and 60 as critically endangered. The IUCN defines critically endangered species as those that face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, while endangered species face a very high risk of extinction in the wild. According to the Red List database, dwindling species populations in India are most frequently caused by destruction of natural habitat, aggressive harvesting of wild plants, pollution and other human disturbance.
Many plants found in the rain-forests of India have medicinal properties. For example, the West Himalayan yew (Taxus contorta) is harvested for the production of a cancer-fighting drug called Taxol. The resinous sap of the Guggul tree (Commiphora wightii) has long been used in Ayurveda, a traditional Hindu system of medicine, to treat the vascular disease atherosclerosis, but has recently been marketed as an anti-cholesterol remedy. Wild plants of both of these species, as well as other medicinal plants, have been over-harvested to supply domestic and foreign pharmaceutical markets, leading to alarming reductions in native populations.
Plants that have commercial value as building materials or raw ingredients for manufacturing have also been placed in the endangered category. The evergreen Payinipasa tree (Vatica chinensis), valued for its timber and clear yellow resin, which is used in the manufacture of varnish, has been so heavily harvested it is classified as critically endangered. The deciduous red sandlewood, or red Saunders, tree (Pterocarpus santalinus) has been over-exploited for timber, and the production of dyes and medicines. Exports of red sandlewood lumber are now strictly controlled and commercial plantations have been established to help bring this tree out of endangered status.
Plants with limited or ecologically sensitive habitats are at high risk of extinction when that habitat changes. For example, two members of the nutmeg family, Syzygium travancoricum and Myristica malabarica Lam., small trees that prefer to grow in swampy wetlands, are currently threatened by extensive draining of swampland for use as rice paddy fields. Habitat destruction caused by logging, farming and pollution is responsible for the endangered status of many plant species in India.
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Search
- Regional Plant Resource Center: Rare, Endangered and Threatened Species
- IUCN: India’s Wild Medicinal Plants Threatened by Over-Exploitation
- India's Endangered: 132 species of Plants and Animals Critically Endangered in India
- India's Endangered: Tree that Helps Treat Cancer Pushed Towards Extinction
- Conservation Evidence: Conservation of Commiphora Wightii
- Photo Credit Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images
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