Dehradun, Sep 12 (PTI) The country's largest open air fernery was inaugurated at Ranikhet in Uttarakhand's Almora district on Sunday by well-known expert on ferns Nilambar Kunetha, an official said.

The fernery has been developed by the research wing of Uttarakhand Forest Department over a period of three years under the Centre's compensatory afforestation scheme CAMPA.

It has a collection of 120 different types of fern with only Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI), Thiruvananthapuram having a larger number of fern species, Chief Conservator of Forest (Research) Sanjiv Chaturvedi said.

However, it is the country's largest open air fernery with completely natural surroundings, he said.

It has been developed over four acres with Ranikhet providing an ideal location for an open air fernery.

The fernery has been developed at an altitude of 1,800 metres in a shaded area with a seasonal pahadi nala passing through it, providing adequate moisture as ferns require shade and moisture to grow and propagate.

It has a mix of species from the western and eastern Himalayan regions as well as from Western Ghats. It houses many rare species, prominent among which are Tree Fern (Cyathea spinulosa) which has been declared as "threatened" by State Biodiversity Board of Uttarakhand.

Only a few plants of this species are left in the wild and is considered one of the most ancient species of fern. It is said that herbivore dinosaur used to feed on its trunk which is rich in starch.

The fernery has around 30 species which have tremendous medicinal importance. The species include Hansraj (Adiantum venustum) which has been given importance in Ayurveda as well as in the Tibetan system of medicine as a cure for many ailments.

The fernery also displays some prominent edible species of fern like Lingura (Diplazium esculentum), a popular food item in the hills of Uttarakhand which is considered highly nutritious.

Beside this the fernery also displays many epiphyte, aquatic ferns and  popular and interesting ferns like Vishkanya, Mayurshikha, Boston Fern, Lady Fern, Rock Fern, Basket Fern, Ladder Fern, Golden Fern and Horsetail Fern.

Besides boasting of various fern species, it also displays interesting facts about ferns like reference of invisible seeds of ferns in Shakesphere's play Henry IV and the craze of ferns known as 'Pteredomania' in the Victorian era.