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Botanist raises garden of rare plants

After British plant collector Henry Collet collected about 134 plants species about 115 years ago, now, native botanist Dr Vineet Jishtu has done for Himachal in three years what no one has done before: He has raised a botanical garden and an arboretum, a living museum of 134 native rare or near extinct and threatened plant species at Potters Hill in the capital city, a first-of-its-kind in North India.

The Tourism Department is now set to market it as an eco-tourism spot and a locale for bird and butterflies watchers, tourists, Bollywood filmmakers, 'desi' album singers, eco-researchers and students.

It is no small effort. Dr Jishtu, the country's top botanist at the Himalayan Forest Research Institute (HFRI) here, scanned and surveyed inaccessible interiors of north-west Himalayas from the 19,000-ft-high Khardung La in Ladakh to desolate desert of Spiti before his dream came true at Potters Hill here three years ago.

Dr Jishtu has three odd labourers, who cleared all weeds and biological waste from the Potters Hill and raised this living museum that today grows more than 134 temperate native species of arboreal plants from various parts of the north-west Himalayan region, which otherwise are as good as rare or extinct.

"We are adding orchids and a fern house covering 2.5 sq km area in the hill," he said.

Dr Jishtu harvested rain water in tanks and check dams to water the garden. The native plant species line the hedges and fences that line the zigzag eco-trail in the garden, which has repositories of oak, rhododendron, orchids, medicinal plants, fir spruce, nuts and bamboos, including rare native plants of kharkis, fazas, khareiu and kharsu and the like.

Named as Western Himalayan Temperate Arboretum, this garden blooms into a fragrant living biosphere full of butterflies, humming bees and birds in summer time. Wildlife wing of the state Forest Department is funding the project.

"The idea is to preserve, conserve and propagate local species of flora, use it for horticultural and other research purpose and educate children so that our natural heritage does not vanish under the sun," said Dr Jishtu.

It has won accolades from scientists and researchers. "It is commendable work. Dr Jishtu has little guidance and meagre staff. He collected tree germplasm from the interiors, planted it in nursery beds and raised this garden that will propagate natural heritage for posterity," observed Dr GS Goraya, Deputy Director General (Research), Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun.

Director, HFRI, Dr VRR Singh said the botanical garden would emerge as a major repository for arboreal research efforts as it had come up successfully.

It is an invaluable asset for the state and more forest officers and conservationists must visit the garden to improve environment, observed Dr Sanjiva Pandey, additional principal chief conservator of forest.

The Tourism Department is including Potters Hill botanical garden in its trail. "If all goes as planned, we will add more species and a cafeteria for visitors," said Dr Jishtu.

Director, Tourism, Mohan Chauhan said they would tap the garden for eco-tourism.

The Tribune (07-02-2014)