The country's first lichen garden has been developed in Munsiyari, a picturesque hill station in Uttarakhand's Kumaun region, by the research wing of the state's forest department.
Surrounded by snowcapped peaks, Munsyari was chosen as the site for developing the garden as it is considered a hotspot for lichens also known locally as 'Jhula' or 'Patthar ke Phool', Chief Conservator of Forest (research wing) Sanjiv Chaturvedi under whose guidance the garden was developed told PTI on Sunday.
Spread over nearly two acres, the garden boasts of more than 80 species of lichen, used as a key ingredient in the famous Hyderabadi biryani to create its distinctive flavour and in indigenous perfumes for its aromatic properties, he said.
The garden was inaugurated and thrown open to the public on Saturday.
In view of the coronavirus pandemic the garden has been opened in a limited way for the public to avoid crowding but once the virus' upward surge stops, the facility will be opened in a full-fledged manner for people, Chaturvedi said.
"Lichen is a key spice in Hyderabadi biryani without which the flavour is incomplete. It is also used in the preparation of an indigenous perfume in Kannauj. Apart from being used as an essential component in different non-vegetarian dishes especially biryani, it is also used in sunscreen creams, dyes and medicines," the official said.
As lichen needs absolutely clean air to grow, it also serves as a significant bio indicator to determine the level of air pollution of a specific area. Lichen also has the ability to separate the minerals by eroding rocks, he said, adding that when lichens die and dissolve into the earth, they leave a mix of mineral and organic matter in the soil which help the growth of other plants.
The garden was to be developed in five years but due to the dedication of my team it was completed in just a year, the CCF said. Lichens are a symbiotic organism, usually composed of a fungal partner (mycobiont) and one or more photosynthetic partner (photobiont) which is most often either a green algae or cyanobacterium, Chgaturvedi explained.
They mainly grow on the barks of trees, walls, rocks, gravestones roofs and soil. More than 20,000 species of lichens are found around the world. India has around 2,714 species out of which Uttarakhand has 600 species found mainly in Munsiyari, Ashkot, Bageshwar, Pithoragarh, Ramnagar and Nainital, he said.