Economic Importance of Gymnosperms

Economic Importance of Gymnosperms

Although most of the gymnosperms have  become extinct. Some living ones are still of immense importance in forest ecosystem and man’s economy. The economic significance of these naked seed plants the gymnosperms is discussed have under the following heads-

Gymnosperms as Wood

Conifers are the most economically exploited as a source of wood among gymnosperms. The timber obtained from these plants constitutes the major forest wealth. They provide us a light coloured, straight grained and light weighted wood useful where strength and durability are not essential. Wood takes a good push and paints satisfactorily. These properties make the wood used extensively for cabinet and furniture making, interior decoration and joinery. The wood of some coniferous plant species is exceedingly important and is used for making railway sleepers and carriages.

  • Abies (A. pindrow, A. spectabilis, A. densa, A delavayi etc.) yields a light wood useful for making treated railway sleepers, cheap joinery, boxes packing cases and for slanting roofs in hill houses.
  • Cedrus deodara provides us the strongest Indian timbers. The heart wood is strongly scented and resistant to insect and fungus attacks. It is extensively used for making railway sleepers and carriage. In North India, it is mainly used in making window pans, doors, furniture, electric poles, for flooring in houses, building models, boats and storage vats.
  • Pinus ( P. geradiana, P. roxburghii, P. wallichiana, P. halepensis, P.rigra, P. sylvestris, P. lambertiana, P.insularis, P. armandii, P. merkusii etc.) yields a timber light in weight is used for making cheap furniture, packing cases, agricultural implements, fencing poles, crates, doors, frames toys, general mill work etc. The wood of P. palustris is useful for ship making, spars, masts, heavy construction work, lomy and railway wagon flooring etc.
  • Agathis austrilis is the largest (about 65 metres high) timber producing tree of Australlia. It bears hard, strong fine and even textured wood. It has a lustrous and silky surface and is commonly used for railway sleepers, posts, stakes boat making and transmission poles.
  • Callitris verrucosa of Queensland possesses olive brown wood which is used in making decorative furniture.
  • Juniperous virginiana possesses soft yellowish red wood ‘which is used in making high quality pencils.
  • Larix furnishes hard, heavy and strong wood which is used for railway sleepers, posts, stakes, boat making and transmission poles.
  • Phyllocladus yields a hard wood used for making mast, sleepers, mine timbers and small vessels.
  • Podocarpus produces the wood which is used in making plywood.
  • Pseudotsuga taxifolia provides a clean timber of large dimensions which is used for construction of laminated arches. Tanks for breweries, heavy construction work and for veneer and plywood.
  • Taxodium distichum gives dark coloured greasy, dense and durable wood. This timber is used in preparations where resistance to decay is required.
  • Chamaecyparis (C. piscifera, C. obtuse etc.) produces the wood which is used in Japan for all purposes where durability and strength are required.
  • Cryptomeria japonica yields a valuable light wood which is used for general construction.
  • Dacrydium produces a fine wood for general construction of work
  • Taxus baccate yields the wood which is perhaps the heaviest and most durable and is used as decorative, for turnery, poles and in making bows.
  • Thuja Plicata possesses the wood which is known for possessing certain antibiotics. It is resistant to wheathers and is widely used for commercial purposes.

Gymnosperms as Medicines

  • Mexicans use the decoction prepared from the seeds of Divonedule to cure neuralgia.
  • Resin obtained from Cycas rumphii is applied to ulcers.
  • The juice of the tender leaves of Cycas is used for flatulence and vomiting and the seeds and bark in the form of a paste are used as poltice for sores and swellings.
  • Cedrus deodara wood possesses diuretic and carminative properties and finds use in curing pulmonary disorders, piles and rheumatism.
  • The oil obtained from Cupressus semipervirens possesses vermifuge properties.
  • The resin obtained from the oleo-turpentine tapped from several species of Pinus is used for stomach and gonorrhea. It is also applied as plaster to buboes and abscess for suppuration.
  • Seeds of Pinus geradiana yield an oil which is appiied as dressing to wounds and ulcers.
  • The leaves of Taxus baccata are used in asthama, bronchitis, hiccough, epilepsy and for indigestion, and the seeds as sedative.
  • Ephedra (E. intermedia, E. nebrodensis and E. gerardiana) contains good quantilies of “Ephedrine” which is used against asthama, hay fever and bronchial troubles. The fruit juice of Ephedra is applied to cure respiratory troubles.

Gymnosperms as Essential Oils

Various kinds of essential oils are obtained from different species of coniferous plants.

  • Abies sachaliensis gives an essential oil “Japanese pine needle oil” which is used for making scented soaps. A similar oil obtained from Cedrus atlantica and C. deodara is also used in perfumery and in medicines to cure bronchitis, tuberculosis, skin diseases and gonorrhea. Picea glauca yields a similar essential oil which is used as a constituent of room sprays.
  • Turpentine oil is a very popular essential oil obtained from several species of Pinus. It has manifold uses as a solvent in making paints and varnishes, as a thinner as a chemical raw material as a pharmaceutical ingradient. Turpentine oil forms an important constituent of stains, enamels, inks, lubricants, stain removers, wool filter, liquid and paste polishes, waxes, crayons and insecticides. It is also used in floatation process in metallurgy for separating minerals from their ores. In textile industry it is used in dyeing cotton, wool, silk and rayon.
  • Thuja plicata also provides an essential oil which is used in perfumery. Tsuga Canadensis yields “oil of Hemlock” which is used as deodorant.
  • Species of Dacrydium, Cryptomeria, Cupressus and juniperous also furnish similar type of essential oils which are used variously.
  • (4) Fatty oils-
  • Fatty oils are extracted from various species of gymnospermous plants. Fleshy outer layer of the seeds of Macrozamia yields an oil which has properties similar to palm oil. Some species of Torreya (T. nucifera), Cephalotaxus (C. drupacea) and Pinus (P. cembra) yield fatty oil from their seeds which are used as food and for paints. Oil obtained from the seeds of Gnetum ula is used for illumination.

Gymnosperms as Resins

Resins are plant exudates secreted in specialized ducts. These largely come from conifers as a result of tapping. They are insoluble in water and soluble in organic solvents and find extensive use in varnishes, paints, lacquers, medicines and in paper sizing. Various kinds of resins and their sources are given below:

  • Canada Balsom- Canada Balsom is obtained from Abies balsamea. Produced schizogenously in the bark of North American species, the resin does not crystallize or granulate on drying. It has a high refractive index as that of glass and is used as a mounting medium for microscopic objects and as a cement for lenses in optical work.
  • Rosin- Rosin (colophony) is obtained as a residue after the distillation of pine oleo-resin or turpentine. Indian turpentine is chiefly tapped from Pinus or burghii, P. wallichiana, P. insularis and P. merkusii. It is distilled to obtain rosin and turpentine oil. Rosin is used in paper sizing, varnish making enamels and in the preparation of plasters and ointments. Inferior grades of rosin are used in making yellow laundry soap, grease and oil sealing wax, oil cloth, plastics, adhesive, printing inks, insulators, insecticides, disinfectants shoe polish furniture and in several other commercial articles.
  • Copal- Copal is tapped from Agathis austrlis as a “green gum” or “candlegum”. A. alba also provides copal resin, the “East Indian or Manila copel” which is used in sprit varnishes, in making linoleum preparation of plastics, polishes and the articles for which rosins are used.
  • Sandare – Sandare is obtained from Australian species of Callitris and from Tetraclinis articulate (African species). Resin of Australian types exude naturally from various species of Callitris and is used as metal varnish giving good luster when applied in thin coats. It is also used as paper and leather varnish. In present day pharmaceuticals it is used as pill varnish. Cotton wool dipped in its alcoholic solution is used as temporary filling for teeth. In Arabian countries it is used as a remedy for diarrhoea. Resin of African type is obtained by tapping Tetraclinis articulate. It is pale yellow, orange and contains about 1% volatile oil.
  • Venice turpentine- Venice Turpentine is obtained from Larix decidua. It is used for making special type of varnish and veterinary medicines. Jura turpentine is obtained from Picea abies and is used in making specific paints and varnishes.

Gymnosperms as Food

  • The stem and the seeds of Cycas yield a starch “sago” or “arrowroot” which is used as food.
  • Inhabitants of Queensland were in practice to cook the underground tuberous stems of Bowenia spectabilis.
  • Kernels of Dioon edule are eaten after roasting and bread is made from the boiled seeds. The outer covering (sarcotesta) of the seeds of Dioon and Macrozamia is also eaten.
  • Seeds of Pinus gerardiana (“Chilgoza”) and other species of Pinus are edible and very nutritious. Seeds of Gnetum gnemon, G. latifolium and G. ula are also edible.
  • Young leaves and strobili of G. gnemon are cooked as vegetable.

Gymnosperms as Ornamentals

  • Several species of Cycas are extensively grown as garden plants and for decorative purposes.
  • Ginkgo, the “Maidenhair tree” is grown as an ornamental plant in the temples in China and Japan and is worshipped.
  • Thuja plicata, Bota orientalis and species of juniperous are cultivated as ornamental trees throughout India especially in the planes.
  • Species of Pinus and Aroucaria are also raised as ornamental plants in North India..
  • Several species of Agathis (A. alba), Cryptomeria (C. Japonica), Cupressus (C. semipervirens and C. funiberus) Pinus (P. wallichiana, P. insularis, P. merkusii etc.) Taxus (I. baccata) etc. are also grown for their beautiful texture in the gardens and places of botanical importance.
  • Some species of Gnetum and Ephedra are also grown as ornamentals.

Papers

  • Paper is made from wood pulp of some Indian species of coniferous plants (Picea smithiana, Pinus roxburghii, Abies pindrow, Cryptomaria Japonica etc.)
  • Various species of Pinus provide newsprint almost all over the world.
  • High grades of paper are made from the wood pulp of Abies balsamea and species of Picea and Tsuga.
  • Pulp obtained from beating stem fibres of Gnetum gnemon is- also used for making paper.

Fibres

  • Stuffing fibres are obtained from ramantal hairs removed from the leaf bases of Macrozamia.
  • Bark of Gnetum gnemon and G. tatifolium yields fibres of high tensile strength and are used for making ropes and fishing nets.

Other uses

  • Starch obtained from the seeds of Macrozamia is used for laundrying purposes.
  • Africans make hats, mats and baskets from the leaves of Cycas circinalis and species of Encephalartos.
  • Leaves of Cycas are extensively used in the floral decoratioin.
  • Central African natives prepare a beverage from the pith of Encephalartos. Gum obtained from the seeds of Encephalartos is eaten by the natives.
  • Species of Juniperus are usually burnt as incense in the temples.
  • The bark of Sequoia semipervirens, Phyllocladus, Araucaria, Picea and Dacrydium cupressianum contain good quality of tannin.

Harmful Aspects

  • Pollen grains of Cycas circinalis possess narcotic properties.
  • Leaves of Macrozamia are poisonous and may cause rickets if eaten continuously by animals.
  • Eating seeds of Ginkgo in larger quantities may prove fatal.
  • Taxus baccata is used as a fish poison on account of presence of an alkaloid ‘taxin’.
  • Gnetuo montanum is used as a fish poison.

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