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Updated: March 21, 2012 11:02 IST

New plant stokes old worries

T. Nandakumar
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A specimen of Eriocaulon madayiparense.
A specimen of Eriocaulon madayiparense.

Discovery of plant brings to the fore the threat faced by Madayipara, a laterite hillock which harbours rare plants and animals.

A team of botanists from Malabar Botanical Garden and the Zamorin's Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode, have reported the discovery of a new species of plant from Kannur district. Named Eriocaulon madayiparense, the pipewort species was found at Madayipara, a laterite hillock located in the foothills of the Western Ghats, noted for its unique, fragile and threatened habitat.

The plant is characterised by hairy female flowers and the absence of stem and root stock. Confined to the seasonal pools or wet areas of the laterite hills, the ephemeral species flowers and fruits during the monsoon period from August to December.

The team comprising R. Prakashkumar and M.M. Swapna from the Malabar Botanical Garden and K.P. Rajesh and C.N. Manju from the Zamorin's Guruvayurappan College has published the discovery in ‘Phytokeys,' an open access journal dedicated to biodiversity research.

The newly discovered plant belongs to the Eriocaulon genus with over 80 endemic species in India. The Madayipara area itself harbours five species. As many as eight species find place in the collection at the Malabar Botanical Garden.

In their published paper, the scientists highlight the threats to the ecology of the Madayipara region. They feel that the discovery of new species has increased the conservation potential of the laterite hillocks with their unique ecology of aquatic and semi aquatic plants and animals. More than 500 species of plants have been recorded from the area. A barren land in summer, the hillocks are marked by vibrant plant carpets in blue, pink, and white when the rocky land turns into shallow pools during the monsoons. The seasonal vegetation is formed mainly by pipeworts and insectivorous plants such as bladderworts and sundews. The rich plant growth attracts birds, butterflies and other insects.

“The flat-topped hills are a treasure trove of unique plants, yet one of the most threatened habitats on earth, facing severe pressure from population growth,” says Dr. Rajesh. “The laterite areas are being destroyed or converted into building sites and mining and dumping grounds. Uncontrolled tourism also poses a threat to the fragile ecosystem”.

The Malabar Botanical Garden which has created experimental gardens to conserve unique plants from the Western Ghats is finding it difficult to replicate the exact conditions of the laterite pools. “Conserving the natural habitat is the best solution. If proper measures are not being taken, this unique habitat may be irreparably damaged,” says Dr. Prakashkumar.

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