Researchers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) in Kerala have rediscovered an endangered tree species 184 years after its first collection in the Western Ghats. A tree from the species has been identified in front of Koonayil Ayiravilli Siva temple at Paravur in Kollam district.
Madhuca diplostemon, a species of flowering plant from Sapotaceae family, has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
JNTBGRI director Dr Prakashkumar and his colleagues Shailajakumari, Santhosh Kumar, Sreekala A K and Parthipan B have written about the rediscovery of the species in the latest issue of RHEEDEA, a journal published by the Indian Association for Angiosperm Taxonomy.
Prakashkumar said that this tree is the only known individual from the species. It is believed that the species was a highly local endemic with a few individuals in the past, which were inadvertently removed for temple expansion in recent years. “We observed a name board on this tree denoted as Madhuca neriifolia during our initial surveys. This indicated that the temple authorities might have overlooked this endangered species as being from the common Attilippa (adhuca neriifolia) and cleared the rest of the individuals for the temple expansion. Since the species is represented by a single mature individual in a single locality, it is assessed here as critically endangered, as per IUCN criteria.’’
This species was first described by Robert Wight, a surgeon-botanist of the East India Company, based on his collection from Kollam in 1835 which comprises three specimens with immature flower buds.
This tree is about 4-metre high, its bark fissured and leaves spirally arranged and crowded towards the branch tips. The tree’s flowering and fruiting happen from January to March. “Since its original collection, individuals of Madhuca diplostemon were never collected again, neither from its locality nor elsewhere, and botanical explorations in Eastern and Western Ghats have failed to find the species. Moreover, it has not been enlisted in any of the recent treatises of southern India. The present collection hence forms a rediscovery of this species after a hiatus of 184 years since its first collection,’’ said the JNTBRI director.
The institute is now planning to undertake off-site conservation activities for this species through its species recovery programme.
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