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8. Under-utilised Plant Resources - Bhag Mal and Vandana Joshi

Wealth of less Known plants
Life support species
National coordinated programme
Conservation of minor crop plants
Future considerations


The interest in under-utilised plants is derived from a variety of human concerns, themes and perspectives. Some of these are ethical or humanitarian; others relate to self sufficiency, economic gains, resource management, agricultural diversification, germplasm conservation or augmentation, nutrition and energy independence (Bates, 1985). Conceptually, the themes that tend to be associated with under-utilised plants are appealing both for their simplicity and poignancy.

With the ever increasing population pressure and fast depletion of natural resources, it has now become necessary that required attention is paid to explore the possibilities of exploiting new plant resources in order to meet the growing needs of the human society, which incidentally has depended only on a small fraction of plant wealth comprising less than 30 crops (Anon., 1975). Accordingly, in this chapter, an attempt has been made to assess the potential of under-utilised plants and their possible role in improving Indian agriculture in diversified agro-ecological niches, largely reflecting the work carried out under the All India Co-ordinated Programme and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi. Many of these plants have great potential for exploitation in view of the value of their economic products for use as food, fodder, medicine, energy and industrial purposes, and useful information on these aspects is given.

Wealth of less Known plants

A well documented information is available on genetic resources of less known cultivated food plants (Arora, 1985; Paroda and Bhag Mal, 1989). The genetic diversity in the under-utilised and under-exploited food plants is represented by native species as well as naturalised alien species, viz. 15 species for seed/nut crops, 21 for vegetable crops, 10 for roots and tubers, 25 for fruit crops, and 10 species for other useful plants. These are listed below.

Seed/nut crops: The important species that need to be paid attention are Amaranthus spp., Borassus flabellifer, Chenopodium spp., Coix lacryma-jobi, Digitaria cruciata var. esculenta, Echinochloa colonum, Euryale ferox, Mucuna capitata, Panicum sumatrense, Parkia javanica and Paspalum scorbiculatum.

Pulses: The important under-utilised pulse crops include Dolichos uniflorus, Psophocarpus tetragonolobus, Vigna aconitifolia, V. angularis, V. umbellata and V. trilobata.

Oil seeds: The important species which need to be paid attention are Amoora rohituka, Azadirachta indica, Aesandra butyracea, Calophyllum inophyllum, Juglans regia, Madhuca latifolia, Pongamia pinnata, Prinsepia utilis, Salvadora oleoides, Schleichera oleosa, Shorea robusta and Terminalia catappa.

Vegetable crops: Amongst these crops, there are two distinct categories: (i) plants whose leaves/young shoots are eaten cooked or used in making soups and (ii) plants whose tender fruits/pods are consumed as vegetable after cooking. The important species are Amaranthus polygonoides, Bambusa tulda, B. spinosa, B. vulgaris, Canavalia polystachya, Corchorus capsularis, Crambe cordifolia, Dendrocalamus asper, Emilia sagittata, Houttuynia cordata, Lactuca indica, Moringa oleifera, Mucuna cochin-chinensis, M. utilis, Nasturtium indicum var. apetala and Wolfia arrhiza.

Root and tuber crops: Most of these are consumed after boiling-the tubers are usually eaten after cooking and occassionally consumed raw. The useful species are Allium tuberosum, Alocasia cucullata, Asparagus sarmentosus, Coleus forskohlii, Colocasia esculenta, Curcuma angustifolia, Eleocharis tuberosa, Moghania vestita, Nelumbo nucifera and Pachyrrhizus erosus.

Fruit crops: The important less known cultivated fruit species identified are Aegle marmelos, Artocarpus lakoocha, Carissa congesta, Citrus species, Elaeocarpus floribundus, Emblica officinalis, Garcinia pedunculata, G. tinctoria, Grewia asiatica, Limonia acidissima, Malpighia coccigera, Morus alba, Pereskia grandifolia, Phoenix sylvestris, Phyllanthus distichus, Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, Rubus albescens, R. ellipticus, Syzygium cuminii and Zizyphus mauritiana.

Spices, condiments and beverage plants: The more important species are Amomum aromaticum, A. xanthioides, Anethum sowa, Areca triandra, Caryota urens, Euterpe edulis, Kaempferia galanga, Madhuca indica, Osmanthus fragrans and Piper longum.

Rich genetic diversity also exists in minor fodder plants in India, particularly in fodder-cum-fuel tree species. This includes: Agrostis alba, Albizia lebbek, Desmodium parvifolium, Gliricidia sepium, Hardwickia binata, Indigofera heterantha, Kochia indica, Leptochloa fusca, Polygonum tortuosum, Potentilla fruticosa, Prosopis cineraria, Rhyncosia minima, Rivea hypocrateriformis, Salvadora persica and Zizyphus nummularia. Also, the native plant wealth embraces several species that could be used for industrial purposes. These are grouped in use-based categories and listed below.

Dye yielding plants: Butea monosperma, Kochia indica, Wrightia tinctoria, Morinda citrifolia and Anogeissus pendula.

Tannin yielding plants: Acacia nilotica and Cassia auriculata.

Plants used as detergents: Roots and leaves of Euphorbia thomsoniana, Lychnis indica and Silene griffthii.

Gum, wax and resin plants: Acacia Senegal, A. nilotica, Butea monosperma, Commiphora wightii, Prosopis juliflora, P. cineraria, Moringa oleifera and Salvadora oleoides.

Timber and fuel plants: Acacia jacquemontii, A. nilotica, A. Senegal, Calligonum polygonoides, Capparis decidua, Dalbergia sissoo, Azadirachta indica, Cordia dichotoma, C. gheraf, Moringa oleifera, Tecomella undulata and Boswellia serrata.

Fibre plants: Leptadenia pyrotechnica, Crotalaria burhia, Saccharum munja, S. bengalense, Calotropis procera, C. gigantea, Cordia dichotoma, Acacia leucophloea, Butea monosperma, Sida cordifolia, S. carpinifolia and S. rhombifolia.

Life support species

There are a number of indigenous potential plant species which support life in more extreme environmental situations as species of emergency utility. The information on these little known plant species used as famine foods in the Indian hot desert has been well documented (Gupta and Kanodia, 1968; Bhandari, 1974; Saxena, 1979; Shankarnarayan and Saxena, 1988; Shankar, 1988). The life support species used for food, fodder, medicine, fibre, fuel-wood and other purposes under extreme hot and cold climates, semi-arid situations, saline areas, marshy land and flood areas have also been dealt with in considerable detail (Singh and Gupta, 1988; Bhag Mal et al, 1988; Bhag Mal and Paroda, 1988).

At the International Workshop on Maintenance and Evaluation of Life Support Species in Asia and the Pacific Region held at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi in April 1987, a number of species were identified as priority species for further research in view of their economic potential. The important among these are Chenopodium album, Fagopyrum tataricum, Moghania vestita, Digitaria cruciata, Bambusa tulda, Capparis decidua, Zizyphus nummularia, Prosopis cineraria, Citrullus colocynthis, Indigofera cordifolia, Tecomella undulata and Salvadora species (Paroda et al., 1988).

National coordinated programme

Food plants
Fodder plants
Energy plantation crops
Hydrocarbon and industrial plants
Other potential plants

Recognising the overall potential of less known plant species, the work on their collection, introduction and utilisation was initiated in 1960's at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi. This activity was later extended to other research centres in the country. In order to further strengthen research in this direction, an All India Coordinated Research Project on Under-utilised and Under-exploited Plants was initiated in 1982 with its headquarters at the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi with 15 main centres and 10 voluntary centres in different agro-climatic zones. The concepts and future perspective of Under-utilised Plants Programme in India have been outlined (Bhag Mal, 1988). The Project embraces research work on selected food plants (winged bean, rice bean, amaranth, buckwheat, chenopods), fodder plants (Leucaena leucocephala, Albizia amara, A. procera, Cassia sturtii, Hardwickia binnata, Dichrostachys nutans, Colophospermum mopane), energy plants (bamboo, sugarcane, sweet potato), and hydrocarbon and industrial plants (guayule, jojoba, Jatropha curcas and Euphorbia species). Recently, a few more plants, viz. bambara groundnut, Cuphea, tumba (Citrullus colocynthis), faba bean, adzuki bean and Simarouba glauca have been included. The germplasm assembled and evaluated in important under-utilised species is given in Table 1. The salient research achievements made during the last 5 years are highlighted below (Paroda and Bhag Mal, 1989).

Table 1. Germplasm assembled and evaluated in important under-utilised food and industrial crops


No. of accessions

Source country of introduced accessions


(Amaranthus spp.)


India, Nepal, Malawi, Zambia, Poland, Taiwan, USA

South America

(Chenopodium spp.)


India, Poland, USA, Italy, Hungary, USSR

South America

(Fagopyrum spp.)


India, USSR, USA, Hungary, Nigeria, Japan

Central Asia Near Eastern Region

Winged bean
(Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)


India, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Indonesia, Philippines, USA, Thailand, Sri Lanka

Papua New Guinea

Rice bean
(Vigna umbellata)


Nepal, China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Colombia, Costa Rica

Indo-Burma/SE Asia

Faba bean
(Vicia faba)


USA, Italy, Germany, Israel, Spain, Syria

Southwest Asia, Near East, Mediterranean

Bambara groundnut
(Vigna subterranea)


Nigeria, India, Australia, UK

Western Africa

Jerusalem artichoke
(Helianthus tuberosus)


France, USA, Canada, Netherland

North America

(Parthenium argentatum)


USA, Mexico

South-west America, Mexico

(Simmondsia chinensis)


USA, Israel, UK, Mexico

South-west America, Mexico

Euphorbia spp.


USSR, USA, Philippines

South America

Jatropha spp.


India, Brazil

Tropical America

(Citrullus colocynthis)


USA, USSR, Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Korea, Holland Australia

Africa, India

Cuphea spp.



South America Brazil to Argentina

Food plants

Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus)

Winged bean, rich in protein and oil, offers good promise as a multipurpose crop. Its grains/seeds and roots are edible and the plant is used as fodder. Sizeable germplasm has been assembled from within the country and exotic sources. A wide range of genetic variation was observed for plant height, days to flowering and maturity, leaf size, pod size, seed size and colour, number of seeds per pod, number of pods per plant, pod yield, seed yield, and tuber yield. The information on different aspects is well documented (Thomas, 1983; Chandel et al., 1984). A sizeable germplasm has also been built up at the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, Bangalore and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. A promising dwarf type has been developed at UAS, Bangalore. Based on multilocational testing, three selections, namely, EC 38821, EC 38955 and IIHR 13 were identified promising and were recommended for pre-release multiplication. AKWB-1 (EC 114273 B) was recommend for release during the VIIth Workshop of All India Coordinated Research Project on Under-utilised Plants held in 1990. Amongst the new introductions, high yielding accessions included Blue Course (EC 27884), Blue Fine (EC 28864) both from Ghana, Molk (EC 38855 ex Papua New Guinea), EC 116886 and EC 121818 (ex Nigeria). Promising early maturing, high grain yielding types were EC 121296 (Ex Nigeria), Makura (EC 387755 A), EC 38823 A, EC 27886 A and EC 38825 (all from Papua New Guinea).

Staking, non-synchronous pod ripening and longer crop duration are the major problems which restrict the use of winged bean by the small farmer. Research efforts are underway to develop short duration varieties with bushy growth habit and synchronous maturity.

Rice bean (Vigna umbellata)

This is an important pulse crop rich in protein, calcium, iron and phosphorus. Over 500 germplasm accessions from different countries were evaluated at the NBPGR, New Delhi for various growth characters. The germplasm exhibited wide variability for flowering and maturity period, plant growth habit, seed size and colour, seeds per pod and grain yield. Hybridization between an early variety from China, bold seeded variety from Mysore and yellow seeded variety from Nepal led to the development of several promising lines combining earliness and high yield. A promising selection C × M 12 P-3 capable of producing upto 25 q/ha grain yield under Shimla conditions holds good promise for cultivation in the hills. A variety RBL-1 has been developed at PAU, Ludhiana and released for Punjab state. Promising introductions which gave consistently superior performance under north Indian conditions included EC 93452, EC 101887, PI 247685 and PI 247693.

Grain amaranth (Amaranthus species)

Amaranth, a pseudo-cereal has good potential for use as a vegetable as well as a grain crop. The grains are rich in protein, fat and carbohydrate content and are comparable to wheat, rice and oats. These are milled into flour and used as a staple food in the entire Himalayan region. In north and south Indian plains, these are consumed in the form of sweet ball (ladoos). The information on various aspects, namely, origin, distribution, breeding, cultivation, pests and diseases is well documented (Singh and Thomas, 1978). Three domesticated species of grain amaranth, viz. A. hypochondriacus, A. cruentus and A. caudatus are important for cultivation, the former one being more popularly grown.

An extensive collection of over 3,000 accessions has been built up from different sources and the germplasm suitable for hill regions and the plains are being maintained at NBPGR Regional Stations at Shimla and Akola, respectively. A wide range of genetic variation was observed for days to flowering, days to maturity, plant height, inflorescence length, spikelet number, 1000 seed weight and seed yield. Based on multi-locational trials involving promising entries, selection IC 42258 - 1 was identified as the best and was released as "Annapurna". This variety is capable of producing 20-25 q/ha grain yield with about 15 percent protein and possesses drought tolerance and wider adaptability. Two other accessions, IC 5564 and an exotic introduction of A. edulis from Taiwan, were also observed to be the most promising. Also, a selection from S.K. Nagar capable of producing up to 25 q/ha grain yield has recently been recommended for release for the plains, particularly for Gujarat and Maharashtra states. However, in view of the increased use of crop, there is a need to develop high yielding varieties for the plains.

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum species)

In India, buckwheat is grown entirely in the temperate part of Himalayan range and in South Indian hills. Both F. esculentum and F. tataricum are cultivated. The species can withstand poor unfertile and acidic soils. Buckwheat is a potential pseudocereal with varied uses as a food grain crop and as a leafy vegetable. The flowers produce nectar which is used in the preparation of honey. It is also used as a medicinal plant due to the presence of a glucoside named "rutin". The origin, distribution, breeding, cultivation, uses, pest and disease aspects have been reviewed (Singh and Thomas, 1978). Germplasm comprising over 300 accessions have been built up at the NBPGR Regional Station, Shimla and evaluated for different characters. Based on multi-locational testing of selected accessions under the All India Coordinated Programme, IC 13374 has been found to be the most promising in grain yield and stability. This variety has recently been recommended for release. Efforts are underway at the NBPGR Regional Stations at Shimla and Bhowali to collect diverse germplasm and develop lodging resistant, non-shattering and fertilizer responsive cultivars. Adaptive trials are also being conducted in non-traditional areas so as to extend its cultivation.

Chenopods (Chenopodium album)

Out of the four domesticated species, C. album is the most widely distributed species and is grown in the Himalayan region. It is an important crop for the hill region and is generally consumed mixed with other cereals. In addition to serving as food source, the grains are also used extensively in local alcoholic preparations (Partap and Kapoor, 1985) and, in times of scarcity, the dried stem is used by the natives as fuel. Agronomically, the crop is most suited to the mixed farming system, particularly the multiple cropping pattern (Partap and Kapoor, 1987). The germplasm collection efforts had been rather meagre and 84 accessions were evaluated at Shimla, and are being maintained. The evaluation studies revealed good variability in plant height, flowering and maturity period, leaf size, inflorescence size and grain yield. The promising types are being evaluated in multi-location trials at Shimla, Delhi, Bangalore and Bhubaneshwar. The accession NC 58613 was identified as the most promising. Chenopodium quinoa, an exotic introduction, has shown promise.

Bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea)

It is an important legume crop with underground pods and is consumed in various ways. It contains high amounts of carbohydrate and is particularly rich in lysine, one of the most limiting amino acids. It can thrive well under dry arid situations. So far, 192 accessions have been introduced from Nigeria and other African countries and evaluated for different traits. Adaptability tests under the Coordinated programme are under way to know the best area for its cultivation. More rigorous efforts are needed to introduce the exotic germplasm in order to isolate/develop high yielding types.

Fodder plants

Leucaena leucocephala

It is a fast growing multi-purpose tree with a very high coppicing ability, producing green forage (during the lean periods), fire wood and small timber. It has tolerance to drought, pests and diseases. In India, it assumes special significance in agro-forestry. Over 500 germplasm accessions have been obtained from diverse sources and evaluated at different locations. Hybridization work involving types from Hawaii, El Salvador and Peru as well as L. pulverulenta is in progress at the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi for developing fast growing, high yielding varieties with low mimosine content. K-8 (EC 124343 ex Philippines) and El Salva (EC 123866 ex Australia) proved superior for fodder and fuel in Gujarat and Kerala states. Silvi-4 and K-28 were observed to be the best in above ground biomass yield under Jhansi conditions. Adaptability studies are under progress at Jodhpur, Bangalore, Trichur and Hisar.

Other fodder trees

A few potential fodder tree species, viz. Hardwickia binnata, Albizia amara, A. procera, Cassia sturtii, Dichrostachys nutans and Colophospermum mopane have been included in the coordinated programme and feasibility trial has been planned to be conducted at Jodhpur, Jhansi, Hisar, Dantiwada, Hyderabad, Delhi and Almora locations.

Energy plantation crops

Bamboos (Bambusa/Dendrocalamus species)

Bamboos are fast growing trees with multiple uses and have got tremendous potential for use in cottage and paper industry as well as fuel-wood. Rich diversity exists in the north-eastern region and about 45 germplasm accessions belonging to 8 species, viz. Bambusa tulda, B. pallida, B. nutans, B. arundinacea, B. balcoa, B. multiplex, Dendrocalamus sikkimensis and D. giganteous have been established at Basar in Arunachal Pradesh and are being evaluated. More collecting of wild and cultivated types is planned.

Casuarina species

These are fast growing tree species having good potential for fuel wood. Over 20 accessions of Casuarina equisetifolia, C. cunninghumiana and C. cristata have been assembled at Mettupalayam (Tamil Nadu) and are being evaluated for different traits. An accession of C. equisetifolia from Philippines was observed to be very promising. The studies conducted at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal revealed that C. equisetifolia showed 90-95 percent survival both in surface planting and channel planting methods under high salinity levels (Tomer and Gupta, 1985).

Tuber crops

Exploratory studies for alcohol production from tuber crops are underway at Central Tuber Crops Research Institute, Trivandrum (Kerala). Evaluation of 100 accessions of Dioscorea rotundata revealed that starch content varied from 65-90 percent, the highest being recorded for Boki-9. Sweet potato and Dioscorea esculenta were observed to have higher amino acid content as compared to D. alata and D. rotundata. Cassava and sweet potato varieties have higher fibre content compared to Dioscorea species.

Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)

The work on sugarcane for energy production is in progress at the Indian Institute of Sugarcane Research, Lucknow. Sugarcane genotypes COLK 7001, COLK 8001 and Co 1148 were observed to be the best for bioenergy and ethanol production potential.

Hydrocarbon and industrial plants

Guayule (Parthenium argentatum)

This desert shrub from north-central Mexico and south-western United States is drought hardy and can thrive well in arid lands with 250-300 mm rainfall. It is a good source of rubber. About 80 accessions have been introduced and evaluated at Jodhpur, Hisar, Mettupalayam, Dantiwada, Urlikanchan and Delhi. Promising accessions have been tested in multi-locational trials. The best performance was observed in case of Arizona-2 at Jodhpur, G-4 at Dantiwada and HG-8 and HG-9 at Hisar. The cultivar Arizona-2 (ex USA) with good quality latex and 6-8 percent rubber content was recommended for release in the Annual Workshop during 1986. Variety HG 8 has recently been recommended for release. Rubber estimation at Bio-centre, Ahmadabad revealed that EC 148913 had the maximum rubber content (10.3 percent) and resin content (9.1 percent). HG-9 produced 8.9 percent rubber.

Recently, 23 new accessions from United States and Mexico have been introduced and will be evaluated for growth and other characters. Efforts are also being made to hybridize guayule with other Parthenium species like P. incanum, P. tomentosum and P. stramonium at the Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar. The hybrids with P. tomentosum and P. stramonium showed considerable promise (Patel et al., 1986). A joint collaborative programme on guayule was initiated in 1985 under the auspices of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Department of Science and Technology for undertaking work on cultivation aspects and basic research.

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)

It is a hardy shrub, native to North Mexico and South-West United States and is valued for its seed oil which is a good substitute for sperm whale oil. The oil is used as a lubricant in high pressure machineries and when mixed with alcohol, it yields an excellent diesel fuel. It is a drought and salt tolerant species and can be grown economically on arid lands and coastal wastelands. The plant tolerates extreme desert temperatures and can thrive well on lands inhospitable for traditional agriculture. A well over 75 accessions have been introduced at the NBPGR, New Delhi. A wide variation has been observed for different traits amongst the cultivars studied. It has been tried in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. One variety EC 33198 (ex USA) has been identified as promising and recommended for large scale cultivation. Three accessions, viz. EC 124381, EC 99690 and EC 99691 were also observed promising. Breeding work done at NBPGR Regional Station, Jodhpur has revealed that early fruiting could be achieved. Agronomic studies to standardise the spacing are underway. Standardisation of technique for micro-propagation through the use of tissue culture is also in progress at the NBPGR, New Delhi.

Euphorbia species

Adaptability studies of different latex bearing species of Euphorbia have been conducted at different centres. The germplasm comprising 37 accessions of E. caducifolia were evaluated at Sardar Krushinagar (Gujarat) and the genotypes, Sabarmati-1, Vijapur, Keva-2 and Jesanpura were high dry matter producing types. Evaluation of 15 accessions of E. tirucalli both from indigenous and exotic sources evaluated at Sardar Krushinagar revealed that Chandisar-1 was the best in growth performance. E. antisyphlitica is a good source of candellila wax and has established well under Jodhpur conditions. Germplasm of E. lathyrus has been introduced from USA, USSR and France, and the evaluation studies are in progress. Other Euphorbia species growing widely on rocky soils which can be exploited for hydrocarbon are E. neriifolia, E. nivulea and E. trigona.

Purging nut (Jatropha curcas)

This species is adapted to marginal lands and can grow on gravel, sandy, clayey and eroded lands. It produces a semi-dried oil which can be used in fuel mixtures as an illuminant and for making soaps and candles. Ten local types collected from Banaskantha and Mehsana districts of North Gujarat were evaluated at Sardar Krushinagar. The plant is, however, poisonous.

Other potential plants

Simarouba glauca

This introduced tree species has a high potential for its edible oil. It has established well under Maharashtra conditions. Adaptability trials are planned to be conducted at Jodhpur, Rahuri, Mettupalayam, Ranchi and New Delhi.


It is an oil yielding plant with a high degree of drought resistance. It has a promise for cultivation in north-eastern hills. Seven exotic accessions were evaluated at the NBPGR Regional Station, Shimla. EC 133506 was observed to be the best yielder giving 5.6 q/ha seed yield.

Acacia albida

This leguminous tree species is known for high foliage and fruit production, particularly during the dry season. Its leaves and pods, relished by all kinds of livestock, are often the only fodder available at that time. This can be an excellent tree species for agro-forestry system. The cultivar EC 133772 (ex Senegal) is doing well at Jodhpur (Rajasthan).

Citrullus colocynthis

This arid zone plant has a great potential and occurs in abundance in Rajasthan (Paroda, 1979). The dried pulp of unripe but full grown fruit freed from rind constitutes the drug 'Colosynth'. The roots have purgative properties and are used in jaundice, rheumatism and urinary diseases. The seed has a brownish yellow oil which contains an alkaloid, a glucoside and a saponin (Anon., 1960). The germplasm collection comprising 20 entries is being evaluated at Jodhpur.

There is a wide spectrum of variability in several under-utilised plants in different countries. Introduction of such materials could be of great value for various products. Some of the important exotic species which have a good potential to be exploited are listed in Table 2.

Conservation of minor crop plants

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, New Delhi maintains the active collections of different under-utilised and under-exploited plants at the Headquarters as well as at its Regional Stations located in different agro-climatic zones of the country. In addition, the main centres of the All India Co-ordinated Research Project have also been entrusted with the responsibility of germplasm maintenance of particular plant species.

Future considerations

Undoubtedly, there is a need to broaden the range of plant species utilised by man. An untapped potential of species exists in the forests, grasslands, swamps, rivers, seas and even deserts of the world. This potential is, however, a diminishing resource, diminishing in the face of environmental degradation by human and livestock population pressures and the requirements for food and raw materials on which to survive. Consideration of factors, such as available diversity and its exploitation, cost of domesticating new species, environmental problems and likelihood of their incorporation in the farming systems tends to indicate the need for taking risks for the domestication of new species (Smith, 1988). There are a few people or organisations prepared to take risks of this nature and even fewer who also have the resources required to make the necessary investment. The farmer himself is unlikely to be able to take the lead in developing a new crop. In such a situation, the Governmental or established Public Sector agencies should take the lead in research and development related to this category of plants. The resources needed for this type of innovative work need to be critically assessed as new endeavours would demand.

Another serious concern relates to the fact that no proper data base is available pertaining to these crops. The International Centre for Under-utilised Crops at London (UK) may establish such a data base for information on under-utilised plants considered potential in different countries. Also the International Council for Under-Utilised Plants (ICUUP), USA could establish linkages with institutions engaged in research and development on these plants throughout the world for the wider benefit of the developing countries.

Table 2. Other exotic under-utilised plants of potential importance



Plant parts used

Utilisation process


Arachis glabrata


Leaves, stems

As fooder, hay, foliage and pasture

South America

Atriplex spp.



As foliage


Balanites aegyptiaca


Seeds, fruits

As edible oilseed, fruit edible, decotion of fruit used as purgative and vermifuge.

Tropical Africa (Mauritius to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia), Arab region

Brosimum alicastrum


Leaves, branch tips, fruit

As cattle fodder, fruit edible, milky latex like cow's milk.

Southern Mexico, Central America

Canarium commune



As edible oilseed, seeds also edible, consumed with rice in pastries

Indonesia, Malaysia

Caryocar nuciferum



As edible oilseed, wood for ship building

New Guinea, Brazil, West Indies

Cassia sturtii


Leaves, branch tips

As fooder

Southern Australia

Colophospermum mopane


Leaves, shoots

Used for fooder

South Rhodesia

Cucurbita foetidissima


Seed, nut

Seeds as food, ripe fruits substitute for soup, ground roots in cold water used as laxative

South west of United States and Mexico

Euphorbia antisyphilitica


Stem, branches

Source of candellila wax, used for polishes, creams, varnishes and electric insulating material

Mexico, South west of United States

Faidherbia albida (Acacia albida)


Leaves, shoots, pods, bark

Pods, leaves eaten by livestock, pods combined with hay for fooder, bark for tannin, stem source of gum arabic

Tropical and South Africa

Helianthus tuberosus



Tubers edible, eaten raw and made into vegetable


Prosopis chilensis


Leaves, branches

Foliage fed to livestock in fresh condition as well as hay

Chile, Peru, Mexico, Central America

Prosopis glandulosa


Pods, leaves, wood

As foliage, for firewood and gum exudate from trunks/branches


Prosopis tamurugo


Leaves, pods, seeds

For fodder

Atacama desert of North Chile

Vernonia galamensis



For manufacture of plastic formulations, protective coatings, other products

Senegal, Sierra Leone to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya

Zizania caduciflora


Leaves, swollen inter-nodes

Leaves as fooder, swollen part is stripped, sliced, boiled and spiced to prepare a delicious recipe

China, Thailand

Considering the above account, by and large, it is imperative that required thrust is given to the under-utilised plants in national context in the following directions for harnessing fruitful results in future:

1. Germplasm collecting efforts from indigenous and exotic sources of the prioritised species for food, fodder, energy, hydrocarbon and industrial plants need to be stepped up. Specific missions to collect genetic variability are required to be undertaken for specific crops on priority.

2. Many of these species though lesser known are economically important and hence must be given due attention for their popularisation. Also, appropriate research and development efforts are required to be made to improve further some of the selected species.

3. The adaptability studies need to be undertaken in order to find out the suitable agro-climatic situations for different species. Standardisation of package of practices for their efficient cultivation is also necessary.

4. Concerted efforts are required to examine the possibility of introduction of new crops into the existing cropping systems/land use systems. This would help in promoting these crops as supplementary crops only and not as substitute crops.

5. For the crops which produce raw materials for industry, simultaneous arrangements for setting up the required infrasturcture for processing these materials and the marketing of the products need to be made.

6. Concerted plant breeding efforts are also required to develop genetically superior strains of these economically important species for raising the level of productivity.

7. The available genetic diversity needs to be maintained by appropriate long-term conservation measures.

It may be further mentioned here that currently much global awareness prevails among not only the researchers but equally among the planners, policy makers, growers and users all over the world about the usefulness and economic potential of under-utilised and under-exploited plants. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), USA; the Commonwealth Science Council (CSC), UK and several regional and national programmes are quite concerned about this activity. Recently, the NAS has brought out a book 'Lost plants of the Incas'; its earlier contributions are well known in this field (Anon. 1975). The CSC has held several international workshops to assess the role of life support species and has jointly organised one workshop at the NBPGR, New Delhi in 1987 and its proceedings have been published (Paroda et al., 1988). Further, much stress and concern has been generated on this group of plants in the proceedings of the International Symposium on "New Crops for Food and Industry" held at the University of Southampton, UK, in September 1987 (Wickens et al., 1989).


Undoubtedly, there is a growing awareness of utilising the newer plant resources all over the world. Concerted efforts are required to speed up the work on identifying such useful species, develop better varieties and to standardise their agronomic practices. The progress made under the national coordinated research programme on under-utilised and under-exploited plants involving indigenous and exotic species of food, fodder and industrial value stresses for their priority attention. An analysis of such promising species has been presented. The current programme embraces research work on food plants - winged bean, rice bean, amaranth, buckwheat and chenopods; fodder plants - Leucaena; energy plants like the bamboo and Casuarina spp.; hydrocarbon and industrial plants such as guayule (Parthenium argentatum) and jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis); and several other potential plants i.e. Citrullus colocynthis, Simarouba glauca, Cuphea, bambara groundnut and Jatropha curcas.


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