The Western Ghats (WG), also known by the name 'Sahyadri', constitute a 1600km long, about 45-65 million years old, mountain chain along the west coast of India, originating from south of Tapti River (near the border of Gujarat and Maharashtra), and extending up to Kanyakumari, at the southernmost tip of the Indian peninsula. Covering a total area of 1, 60,000 sq. km, the Ghats is spread over six states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The northern hills with an average elevation of 1, 220m are generally lower and gentler than the southern hills, the taller parts of the hill ranges. The massive mountain chain is divided by a few by passes, the most prominent one being the Palghat (Palakkad) gap, at the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. The Palghat gap is spread over 32 km, with no forests. It is such a plain area, that even public transportation is allowed to traverse this area. The break in the Ghats is strange phenomenon. One reason attributed to this is that the sea spread across between the Deccan Plateau and North India. The land developed and moved in such a manner as to push the sea away. The land constituting the Deccan plateau and the land constituting Northern India fused to form a single India. For this reason there is a gap of 32 km. The southern part of the Western Ghats covers the Nilgiri Hills (the word Nilgiri meaning "Blue Mountains") which is the meeting point of the Western Ghats with the Eastern Ghats. The hills of Western Ghats are embedded in a landscape that has much drier climatic conditions and are in isolation from other moist areas. The Western Ghats ecosystem is the only undisturbed evergreen forest ecosystem, at least in part.
The Western Ghats, an area of rich biological wealth and also exhibiting high degree of endemism, comprises the major portion of the Western Ghats, one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots for conservation identified by the Conservation International. The forests of the Western Ghats are some of the best representatives of non-equatorial tropical evergreen forests in the world. The Western Ghats have evolved into one of the richest centers of endemism owing to their isolation from other moist areas. The hills of the Western Ghats are embedded in a landscape that has much drier climatic conditions (Ramesh et al. 1997). South of Kodagu district in Karnataka, elevation increases. The majority of the area under moist forest types falls within the southern states of Kerala and Karnataka. Together they account for 80 percent of the evergreen forest and 66 percent of the moist deciduous forests in the Western Ghats. Biodiversity that can be seen here is not available in any part of the world. Some beings are born, develop and thrive only here and nowhere else. For example, recently 100 new varieties of frogs were identified in the Western Ghats, over a period of four, five years. The discovery meant that almost every month a new variety of frog leaped up in the air. Bushy forests ranging up to a region of about 4000- 5000 feet in height it is an evergreen forest, with water bodies and rivers, and this makes it a cradle of biodiversity.
Vegetation in Western Ghats
It is estimated that there are four thousand species of flowering plants known from the Western Ghats and 1,500 (nearly 38 percent) of these are endemic (Nair and Daniel 1986). Approximately 63 percent of India's woody evergreen is endemic to the Western Ghats (Johnsingh 2001). Of the nearly 650 tree species found in the Western Ghats, 352 (54 percent) are endemic (Daniels, 2001). The tree genera endemic to the Western Ghats include Blepharistemma, Erinocarpus, Meteromyrtus, Otenophelium, Poeciloneuron, and Pseudoglochidion. Other plant genera endemic to the Western Ghats include Adenoon, Griffithella, Willisia, Meineckia, Baeolepis, Nanothamnus, Wagatea, Campbellia, and Calacanthus (Nair 1991). The grass family Gramineae (Poaceae) has the highest number of endemic genera and the genus Nilgirianthus has the maximum number of endemic species (20) across all genera in this family (Nair 1991).
There are several centers of plant endemism and species richness within the Western Ghats. For instance, of the 280 woody endemic species found south of Karnataka, 70 species are endemic to the southernmost Travancore region (Nair 1991). Herbaceous species richness is the highest in the stretch of hills to the south of Kodagu district in Karnataka (Nair 1991). The Nilgiri Mountains are one of the most important centers of speciation for flowering plants in the Western Ghats, with 82 species restricted to this area alone (Daniels 2001). Scrub jungles located in areas 200-500 meters in elevation with 300-600 millimeters of annual rainfall. This vegetation type is dominated by short trees (15-20 meters high). The dominant genera are Actinodaphne, Elaeocarpus, Eunymus, Michelia, Rhodomyrtus, Schefflera and Symplocos, among others (Nair and Daniel 1986). Savannas located in areas 1,700-1,900 meters in elevation with medium to high rainfall. The dominant genera are Chrysopogon, Arundinella, Eulalia, and Heteropogon, among others (Nair and Daniels 1986). High rainfall savannas located in mountain areas. The vegetation consists of herbaceous to shrubby cover: Ligustrum, Rhododendron, Anaphalis, and Phlebophyllum, among others (Nair and Daniel 1986). Peat bogs located above 2,000 meters in high rainfall areas. Vegetation consists of grasses, sedges and mosses: Carex, Cyanotis, Cyperus, and Eriocaulon, among others (Nair and Daniel 1986). Myristica swamps, which are a unique vegetation type in the Western Ghats occurring from sea level to around 600 meters in elevation in areas with medium to high rainfall. The dominant genera are Myristica, Knema, Hydnocarpus, and Lophopetalum (Nair and Daniel 1986).
Acrostichum aureum Linn. (Pteridaceae) Rhizome paste is applied to heal the wounds and boils. It is also used as anthelmintic, vulnery, healing inveterate ulcers, and bladder complaints in China. Fertile fronds are used for syphilitic ulcers in Borneo. Fronds are used as an antifungal agent. Actinopteris radiata (Sw.) Link (Actinopteridaceae) Plant is bitter having the properties likes styptic, anthelmintic, astringent sweet, cooling, acrid and febrifuge. It is used in the treatment of severe conditions of kapha and pitta, diarrhea, dysentery, helminthiasis, haemopstysis and fever. Adiantum capillus vineries Linn. (Adiantaceae) It is used as stimulant, febrifuge, expectorant, purgative, demulcent, emollient tonic and hair tonic. It has anticancerous, hypoglycaemic, aphrodisiac, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.
Asplenium nidus Linn. (Aspleniaceae) Rootstock is considered good for fever and elephantiasis. Used as a moisturizer for cough and chest disease. Leaf is smoked to cure cold. Asplenium polydon G.Foster var bipinnatum (Sledge) Sledge. (Aspleniaceae) Plant is used to promote parturition, anticancerous. The fresh crosiers paste prepared on granite is applied to the tumors. There are numerous plant species still to be classified and studied. Most of the people around this area are dependents on the natural resource of Western Ghats, many of the treatments and medical purpose are passed on by generation.
The present study reveals that the local health care practices in this people is very important. It was also observed that local people used the identified medicinal plants mostly for curing several ailments like stomach problems, urinary complaints, rheumatism, leprosy, eye diseases, bronchitis, malaria, and Ethnobotany, diabetes, chicken pox, cough and cold, head ache, hair tonic, cuts and wounds, skin problems etc. Leaves were found to use heavily for medicinal preparation as compared with other parts. Another interesting to note more than one plant was used for treating single ailments. A total of 58 protected areas consisting of 14 National Parks (NP) and 44 Wildlife Sanctuaries (WLS) fall within the boundaries of the Western Ghats. The total area covered by these protected areas is 13,595 square kilometers representing 9.06 percent of the Western Ghats.
Suneeti K. Jog,Assistant Professor, Department of Biology,The University of Texas at Tyler, 3900 University Blvd. Tyler, TX 75799.
Ramesh, B.R., Pascal, J.P., Nouguier, C. 1997. Atlas of Endemics of the Western Ghats. Distribution of tree species in the evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. French Institute - Pondicherry.
Henry, A.N., V.B. Housagoudar and K. Ravikumar, 1996. Etno medico botany of the Southern Western Ghats of India. In: S.K. Jain, (Ed.), Ethnobiology in Human welfare. Deep Publication, New Delhi,
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