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Research Communication

Sci. & Cult. 76 (11­12) 531­533 (2010)

Status and Distribution Range of Guggal: A Critically Endangered Medicinal Plant from the Indian Thar Desert

uggal (Commiphora wightii), a member of family Burseraceae, is a large pan-tropical family forming an important element of the flora of both rain forest and arid areas. It grows on the foothills of the Aravalli ranges and also in arid or semi-arid lands including desert areas. The genus Commiphora is widely distributed in tropical region of Africa, Madagascar and Asia. The distribution further extends to Australia and Pacific Island. The taxonomic ambiguity of species on the basis of branching pattern and petiole anatomy, respectively in the localities of Africa1, 2. Previously known as Commiphora mukul (Hook. ex. Stock) Engl. Or Balsamodendron mukul Hook. ex. Stocks (1849), this plant was renamed C. roxburghii by Santapau in 1962. Later Bhandari3 reported that the specific name wightii was published in 1839 that is prior to roxburghii in 1948; hence, Commiphora wightii (Arnott) Bhandari is the correct and valid Latin name. The plant is known as `Indian bdellium' in English, as Mahisaksha, Guggulu, Amish, Pilanksha and Per in Sanskrit and as Guggal or Guggul in most of the Indian languages. Taxonomy : It is a perennial much-branched shrub/ small medium-sized tree upto 1.5-3.0 m in height as shown in Fig. 1. Stem pubescent, glandular, bark peeling off in flakes at old regions; branches crooked knotty, aromatic, end in sharp spines. Leaves sessile to sub-sessile, alternate or fascicled, 1-3 foliate; leaflets glabrous, rhomboid to ovate, terminal ones the largest; margin irregular toothed. Flowers sessile, reddish-pink, terminal or axillary, single or groups of 2-4; calyx four lobed, campanulate, triangular, acute at the tip, 1.8-2 mm long; corolla brownish red, linear, lobes four, 3.8-4.0 mm long; stamens 8 in one whorl, joined at the base of gynoecium, length of 4 long and 4 short stalked stamens are 0.8-1.0 and 0.5-0.6 mm, respectively, which are alternately with each other; ovary two-loculed (Fig. 2), oblong, attenuated into style, ovules two in each locule, axillary; style slender; stigma bifid, yellowish. Fruits

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ovoid, single or 2-3 in a bunch, bright red when ripe, 6-7 mm in diameter, marked with two longitudinal lines or grooves; epicarp dehiscing from the base upwards, when ripe it splits into two; mesocarp yellow, rarely orange, four lined and fused at the base. Seeds ovoid, bilobed, sometimes trilobed or rarely tetralobed, immature reddishbrown (Fig. 3A), while matured ones are yellowish whiteblack (Fig. 3B) and black (Fig. 3C). Structurally there are no significant differences in length, breadth and thickness in all above-mentioned three types of seeds. Yadav et al.4 reported that in C. wightii three forms exist, viz. male, female and polygamous (andromonoecious), having male and bisexual flowers both. Distribution : In Indian sub-continent six species occurs in India, Pakistan, Baluchistan, etc. Out of these, only three species, viz. C. wightii, C. agallocha and C. berryi have been found in India. C. wightii occurs in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka States; C. agallocha in Orissa; while C. berryi is grown as a hedge plant in south-west India and in Gwalior4. Phytosociology : In the present investigations various morphological parameters of fruits and seeds and phytosociology (vegetation dynamics) have been studied in detail at various natural habitats of western Indian Thar desert, starting from September 2007 till date. Mature fruits of this species were collected from plants growing in natural habitats at Kiradu (Barmer), Aakal Wood Fossil Park (Jaisalmer), Beriganga and Machia Park (Jodhpur) during January-February 2008. The seeds were stored in plastic containers with BHC powder/parad tablets to protect them from insects. The length, breadth & thickness of mature fruits and seeds were 1.157, 0.877 & 0.720 cm and 0.535, 0.525 & 0.350 cm, respectively. Two types of seeds, viz. black (with embryo) and white (without embryo) were observed in mature fruits. In field collections, the percentage of black and white seeds was 38.0 and 62.0, respectively. Black seeds collected from natural habitats showed 60.0% viability and 40.0% germination under nursery conditions. Prakash5 reported 80.0% germination in black seeds under nursery conditions when they were


sown during March in 1:1:1 soil mixture ratio of sand: clay: FYM. According to Prakash et al.6 in C. wightii, a seed produces more than one seedling due to its polyembryonic nature. They further stated that out of the total germinated seeds, nearly 58.6% seeds produced one seedling per seed, 27.6% produced two seedlings per seed, 10.3% produced three seedlings per seed and 3.4% produced four seedlings per seed. Phytosociological studies at different localities of the Indian Thar desert revealed that Euphorbia caducifolia, Salvadora oleoides, Ziziphus nummularia, Grewia tenax, Capparis decidua, Acacia senegal, Maytenus emarginata, Asparagus racemosus, Aristolochia bracteolata, Prosopis cineraria, Solanum torum, Rhynchosia minima, etc. are some of the species which are associated with it in natural habitats. Data further showed that E. caducifolia is abundant with this species in natural population except at Aakal Wood Fossil Park research site, where A. senegal and S. oleoides were dominated. The maximum Important Value Index (IVI; %) values of C. wightii and E. caducifolia were 72.49 and 38.54, respectively at various research sites. In Indian arid zone, edaphic factors play the most important part and the plant associations are in relation to the habitat, though some plants have the potentiality of growing in a limited range of environmental conditions7. Utility and Conservation Status : Guggal-gum is traditionally used by ethnic tribes as well as in Ayurveda system of medicines for centuries in the treatment of obesity, arthritis, hyperlipidemia, thrombosis, inflammatory, antimicrobial, etc. The gum resin is a complex mixture of steroids, diterpenoides, aliphatic esters, carbohydrates and variety of inorganic ions, which are present in `Balsam canal' in the phloem of larger veins of the leaf and the soft bast of stem. The price of guggal gum over last 10-15 years have increased from Rs. 100-400 kg-1 indicating many fold increase in its use as well as decrease in natural plant stand and is considered as a threatened one in India and included in the Red Data Book of IUCN8. Presently, in the different localities of the Indian Thar desert, this species show declining populations as well as in gum production level in natural habitats every year. Kasera and Prakash9 reported that due to changes in climatic conditions, soil erosion, low rainfall, termite infestation, over-grazing by domestic animals and mining activities have created an increased pressure on the environment and existing natural populations of this species. So, the mass destruction of population and poor regeneration in changed situations has reduced the vegetation cover. Further, non-survival of

Figures: Commiphora wightii plant growing in natural habitat (1), T.S. of ovary showing three rudimentary and one developed ovules (2), and variability in seed colour: A - reddish-brown, B black & white, & C - black (3).



the plants after tapping and gum extraction is a major set back to plant stands in natural habitats. Now, UNDP have listed this species as a `Critically Endangered' and its conservation status is CR A2cd, 4cd10. Future Needs : During our field observations we found that this species is under higher risk for survival in natural habitats with prevailing changing environment scenario. The basic and most important tasks to conserve and develop techniques for cultivation of this species are: (i) survey, germplasm collection and evaluation from different ecological habitats and systematic verification, (ii) refinement in tapping techniques of gum collection at optimum commercial production level without harming the plants for future gum production and extraction, and (iii) to develop agro techniques for large scale plantation, so that the growing demand for gum-resin by user industries is fulfilled in near future. Acknowledgements The first author is thankful to the UGC, New Delhi (No. F. 17-78/98(SA-I) dated 15.2.2008) for financial assistance in the form of NET-JRF. Thanks to the Professor & Head, Department of Botany, J.N.V. University, Jodhpur for providing facilities.


Laboratory of Plant Ecology, Department of Botany Jai Narain Vyas University, Jodhpur 342 033, India *Corresponding author E-mail: [email protected] Received : 14 August, 2009 Revised :


16 June, 2010 119: 207-

M. Thomasson, Bull. de Ia Societe Botanique de, 213 (1972).


J. J. A. Van der Walt and H. P. Van der Schijff, Kirika, 9: 95108 (1973). M. M. Bhandari, Bull. Bot. Surv. India, 6: 327-328 (1964). B.B.L. Yadav, K.V. Billore, T.G. Joseph and D.D. Chatturvedi, Cultivation of Guggulu, CCRAS, New Delhi, pp. 94. J. Prakash, Ph.D. Thesis, JN Vyas University, Jodhpur (2001). J. Prakash, P. K. Kasera and D. D. Chawan, Curr. Sci., 78: 1185-1187 (2000). D.N. Sen, Trop. Ecol. 7: 136-152 (1966). S. Natesh and H. Y. Mohan Ram, J. Indian bot. Soc., 78: 1323 (1999). P.K. Kasera and J. Prakash, in: Recent Progress in Medicinal Plants: Plant Bioactives in Traditional Medicine, (eds Majumdar, D. K., Govil, J.N., Singh, V. K. and Sharma, R.K.), Vol. 9, pp. 403-423 (2005) (Studium Press LLC, USA). UNDP, Rajasthan Red Listed Medicinal Plants, 2008, pp. 2223, http://www.

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