Floral Diversity in Meghalaya
The floral diversity of Meghalaya is well reputed for its richness and has been a centre of attraction for many botanists. The presence of a large number of primitive flowering plants has prompted Takhtajan (1969) to call it the Cradle of Flowering Plants’. Meghalaya harbours about 3,128 species of flowering plants and contributes about 18% of the total flora of the country, including 1,237 endemic species (Khan et al 1997). A wide variety of wild cultivable plants, edible fruits, leafy vegetables and orchids are found in the natural forests of Meghalaya. However due to overexploitation, deforestation and habitat destruction many endemic and threatened species are now mainly confined to the protected areas and sacred groves.
The region is a habitat for many botanical curiosities and botanical rarities. Among insectivorous plants Nepenthes khasiana Hk. f. and two species of Drosera i.e, Drosera peltata Sm. and D. burmanii Vahl. are important. Nepenthes khasiana is endemic to Meghalaya and listed in Appendix I of CITES and placed in Schedule VI of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Khasi and Jaintia hills are considered to be the centre of diversity for several primitive families such as Elaeocarpaceae, Elaeagnaceae, Anonaceae, Ranunculaceae, Piperraceae, Menispermaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Lauraceae, Myricaceae, Lazarbiaceae and primitive genera like Sarcandra, Corylopis, Myrica, Magnolia and Michelia.
According to Champion & Seth (1968), major forest types in the state of Meghalaya are:-
- Assam Sub-tropical Hill Savanna
- Khasi Sub-tropical Hill Forests
- Assam Sub-tropical Pine Forests
- Assam Sub-tropical Pine Savannah
Haridasan & Rao (1985-87) recognized the following major categories of vegetation in Meghalaya based on altitude, rainfall and dominant species composition:
- Tropical Evergreen Forests
- Tropical Semi-Evergreen Forests
- Tropical Moist and Dry Deciduous Forests
- Grasslands and Savannas
- Temperate Forests
- Sub-tropical Pine Forests
- Tropical Evergreen Forests: This forest type spreads over the lower reaches of Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills up to 1200m and usually occurs in high rainfall areas as well as near catchment areas. The dominant tree species include Castanopsis indica, C. Tribuloides, Dysoxylum sp, Elaeocarpus sp, Engelhardtia spicata, Syzygium spp., Tetrameles nudiflora etc. which are densely interwoven by lianas. The ground flora of under shrubs and herbs include Dracaena elliptica, Leea edgeworthia, Phlogacanthus sp., and other species belonging to the family Acanthaceae, Rubiaceae, Balsaminaceae and Asteraceae. The tree trunk and branches are covered with epiphytes belonging to Ferns, Orchids, Gesneriads, Piper, mosses and many others. Lianas and climbers like Rhaphidophora spp. are also abundant.
- Tropical Semi Evergreen Forests: This forest type occupy the north and north-eastern slopes of the state up to an elevation of 1200m and with an annual rainfall of 1500-2000mm. However there are deciduous elements along with evergreen types. Careya arborea, Dillenia pentagyna, Callicarpa arborea, Tetrameles spp, etc are some of the deciduous species. Other dominant species are Elaeocarpus floribundus, Dillenia indica, Symplocos paniculata, Sapindus rarak etc. The ground flora is also much seasonal with greater representation from the Zingiberaceae family.
Tropical Moist and Dry Deciduous Forest: This is a very prominent vegetation of Meghalaya covering a large part of East and West Garo Hills,
Ri-bhoi districts etc, in areas of annual rainfall less than 1500mm and high temperature. These forests are characterised by seasonal leaf shedding
and profuse flowering. The dominant tree species which are valued economically are Shorea robusta, Tectona grandis, Terminalia myriocarpa,
Gmelina arborea, Artocarpus chapsala, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Maorus laevigata etc. Other associated species are Schima wallichii, Toona ciliata,
Albizzia lebbeck, Dillenia pentagyna, etc. The epiphytic flora in less but orchids, ferns, Asclepidaiceae members are often seen.
Bamboo forests are not natural but occur in patches sporadically in jhum fallows. The common bamboo species are Dendrocalamus hamiltonii and Melocanna bambusoides. Some other species less frequently found are Bambusa pallida, Bambusa tulda, Chimonobambusa khasiana, etc.
- Grasslands and Savannahs: Grasslands in Meghalaya are secondary in nature and are prevalent in higher altitudes and are a result of removal of pristine forests, the relics of which could be seen amidst these grasslands as sacred groves. The dominant grass genera in the grasslands are Panicum, Paspalum, Imperata, Axonopus, Neyraudia, Sporobolus, Saccharum, Chrysopogon, Oplisminus and others along with sedges.
- Temperate Forests: The temperate forests occupy the higher elevations (>1000m) with very high rainfalls (2000-5000 mm) along the Southern slopes of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The sacred groves largely fall under this category and are the relic type evolved through millions of years. The common trees are Lithocarpus fenestratus, Castanopsis kurzii, Quercus griffithii, Q. semiserrata, Schima khasiana, Myrica esculenta, Symplocos glomerata, Photinia arguta, Ficus nemoralis, Manglietia caveana, Acer spp., Exbucklandia populnea, Engelhardtia spicata, Betula alnoides, Rhododendron arboretum, etc. Shrubs include Mahonia pycnophylla, Daphne papyraceae, Polygala arillata, Camellia caduca, Rubus spp., etc. These forest are exceptionally rich in epiphytic flora comprising Ferns, Lichens, Mosses, Orchids, Zingibers, etc.
- Subtropical Pine forests: The pine forests are confined to the higher reaches (900m – 1500 m) of the Shillong plateau in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Pinus kesiya is the principal species which form pure stands. In certain places the pines are associated with a few broad leaved species like Schima wallichii, Myrica esculenta, Erythrina arborescence, Rhus javanica, Rhododendron arboretum, Quercus spp., etc. Shrubs include Rubus, Osbeckia, Spirea and Artemesia. During rainy season there is a profuse herbaceous undergrowth of Chrysanthemum, Aster, Hypochaeris, Prunella, Plectranthus, Desmodium, Ranunculus, Anemone, Potentilla, Clinopodium, Polygonum, Elsholtzia, etc.
Thus, it could be seen that though there is not much altitudinal variations as compared to the Himalayan states but there occurs a wide variety of vegetation types. This vegetation harbours one of the world’s richest flora and biodiversity.
Important Tree Species of Meghalaya
Download a list of Important Tree Species in Meghalaya
Rare, Endangered and Threatened Plant Species
A recent review of literature carried out Meghalaya Biodiversity Board reveals that a total of 436 Rare, Endangered and Threatened plant species have been recorded from Meghalaya representing 13.09% of the state’s flora. Gastrochilus calceolaris, Gymnocladus assamicus, Illichium griffithii, Pterocybium tinctorium, Saurauia punduana, Taxus baccata and Vatica lanceafolia are few of the Critically Endangered plant species of Meghalaya.
Download a list of Rare, Endangered and Threatened Plant Species in Meghalaya
Extinct Plant Species
Carex repanda, Cyclea debiliflora, Dendrobenthamia capitata, Hedychium hookeri, Homiorchis rhodorrhachis, Michelia lanuginose, Morinda villosa, Nymphaea pygmaea, Pleione lagenaria, Premna punduana, Schleichera trijuga, Sterculia khasiana and Talauma rabaniana are considered to have gone extinct in Meghalaya.
Endemic Plant Species:
They are species with restricted range of distribution. A recent review of literature carried out by Meghalaya Biodiversity Board reveals a total of 281 Endemic plant species have been recorded from Meghalaya representing 8.44% of the state’s flora. Of these, around 102 are listed under various Threat Categories and two in the Extinct Category. Ilex khasiana and Nepenthes khasiana are the Endemic and Critically Endangered species.
Some of the Endemic and Endangered species found in Meghalaya are Adinandra griffithii, Ceropegia arnottiana, Clematis apiculata, Elaeagnus conferta ssp. dendroidea, Eriocaulon barba-caprae, Goniothalamus simonsii, Ilex venulosa, Livistona jenkinsiana, Ophiorrhiza subcapitata and Trivalvaria kanjilalii.
Meghalaya is endowed with a rich and luxuriant orchid flora of nearly 352 species belonging to 98 genera representing 27.08% of the country’s orchid flora. For several centuries, orchids have been known for their attractive flowers and their medicinal properties. The majority of the orchids are epiphytes, however, lithophytes, terrestrials and saprophytes are also encountered. They are found to inhabit ranges from Sub-tropical evergreen to moist mixed deciduous types of forests. Aerides multiflorum, Coelogyne corymbosa, Cymbidium elegans, Dendrobium devonianum, Dendrobium longicornu, Paphiopedilum insigne, Rhynchostylis retusa, Phaius tankervilliae, Thunia marshalliana and Vanda coerulea are few of the exotic orchids of Meghalaya.
Download a list of Threatened and Endemic Orchid Species in Meghalaya
Bamboo and Canes:
The state harbours more than 37 species of Bamboos belonging to 14 genera. Some of the important genera are Arundinaria, Bambusa, Cephalostachyum, Chimonobambusa, Dendrocalamus, Dinochloa, Gigantochloa, Melocanna, Neohouzeoua, Oxytenanthera, Phyllostachys, Pseudostachyum, Schizostachyum, Teinostachyum and Thamnocalamus. Arundinaria hirsuta, A. manii, Bambusa jaintiana, B. mastersii, B. pseudopallida, Cephalostachyum pallidum, Chimonobambusa callosa, Chimonobambusa griffithiana, Chimonobambusa khasiana, Chimonobambusa polystachya, Dendrocalamus sikkimensis, Phyllostachys manii, Schizostachyum dulloa, Schizostachyum griffithi, Schizostachyum helferi, S. manii, S. pallidum, Schizostachyum polymorphum and Thamnocalamus prainii are endemic.
Cane (Calamus sp) is a woody climber and several species are known to occur in Meghalaya. It is usually found to inhabit warm and moist climate at lower elevations. Calamus erectus and C. floribundus are the endemic canes occurring in the state. Cane and Bamboo craft is a very important handicraft sector in Meghalaya.
Of the total 3,331 plant species recorded in the state around 834 (25.04%) are estimated to be employed in healthcare. These species are distributed in 548 genera and 166 families. The family with the highest number of medicinal plant species is Rubiaceae followed by Asteraceae and Fabaceae. These species are restricted mainly to sacred groves, community forests and reserved forests and some to grasslands, roadsides, cults and fields, etc.
Due to high level of exploitation and faulty harvesting techniques, many of the endemic species such as Acanthus leucostachys, Calamus erectus, C. aurantium, C. latipes, Curcuma montana, Daphniphyllum himalense, Eleaegnus conferta ssp. dendroidea, Goniothalamus simonsii, Hedera nepalensis, Hymenodictyon excelsum, Ilex embeloides, Mahonia pycnophylla, Munronia pinnata, Nepenthes khasiana, Ochna squarrosa, Ophiorrhiza sub-capitata, Paramignya micrantha, Piper peepuloides, Schima khasiana and Sophora accuminata have been rendered rare.
Download a detailed list of Important Medicinal Plant Species in Meghalaya