Researchers have added a sweet large yellow fruit (Njaaval in local parlance) to the fruit bowl of Kerala.
The fruits of the tree, christened Syzygium sasidharanii, was identified from Agasthyamala hills of Western Ghats. A sizable population of the new species exists in the camel hump region of Agasthyamala, from Pongalappara to Chemmungi, said P. Sujanapal, taxonomist of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, who led a team of researchers.
The research team that discovered the new species includes A. J. Robi, P.S. Udayan and K. J. Dantus of the Institute. The tree was named after noted taxonomist N. Sasidharan in recognition for his scientific contributions. Tribal people call the species mala njaaval indicating the location in which they are usually found.
Incidentally, around 300 species of fruit trees have been reported from the State. During the earlier days, edible fruits were identified through trial and error methods. Later, new ones were added to the list through scientific assessments for assessing its nutrient content and chemical composition, Dr. Sujanapal said.
The newly discovered fruit would grow to the size of a small lemon. The spongy tissues of the fruit are sweet and edible and have one hard seed inside. This would be the largest edible fruit from any indigenous Syzgium species found in Kerala. The tree has reddish-brown coloured tender leaves and clusters of large yellow fruits.
“It has been located from the high altitude stunted evergreen forest in the windward side of the Agasthyamala phytogeographical region of southern Western Ghats,” said a scientific paper on the tree published in the International Journal of Advanced Research.
According to the publication, “fairly good populations with normal flowering and fruiting were observed in three locations in the mountain such as Druryi rock, Pongalappara and Pandimotta.” The flowering and fruiting season of the species was from October to March.
Listing the threats faced by the species, the researchers noted that “all the habitats of the new species are interspersed with grassy patches in rocky areas” and hence the populations were prone to forest fire.
The pilgrimage to Agasthyarkoodam seemed to have taken its toll on the vegetation at Pongalappara. Researchers observed that the trees had low rate of regeneration. Western Ghats, especially the evergreen forests in the high ranges of southern Western Ghats, is a potential centre of Syzygium in India. Researchers had identified 35 varieties of Syzygium from the Kerala part of the Ghats. Of this, 16 were facing various levels of risks and placed under the threat categories of International Union for Conservation of Nature, the paper said.