Syzygium travncoricum, a tree endemic to Kerala, is no longer ‘critically endangered’ as classified on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Field studies conducted by the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI) in the wake of the IUCN classification suggest that the tree can now move to the ‘endangered’ list.

Known locally as kulavetti or vadhamkolli, the tree entered the IUCN’s ‘critically endangered’ list on the basis of a Conservation Assessment Management Plan (CAMP) workshop conducted under the Biodiversity Conservation Prioritisation Project India in 1998. The IUCN had then suggested periodic updating of the classification based on information provided by authoritative agencies.

Based on the CAMP study, the IUCN estimated the population of the tree at less than 200 and attributed habitat destruction as the prime cause for it. Most of the “last of these trees” were seen in the southern parts of the State. The classification triggered concern among nature enthusiasts here. And the KFRI embarked upon field studies to find out whether there are more surviving trees and located some in the northern parts of the State.

Propagation

N. Sasidharan, senior scientist attached to the Forest Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation division of the KFRI, told The Hindu that this will hopefully help the tree get updated on the IUCN list. Dr. Sasidharan says that in association with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, the KFRI has embarked upon a programme to propagate the tree in ecosystems where it can easily adapt and thrive. Though there are claims of a good number of Syzygium travncoricum in neighbouring Karnataka, that is a different species.

Nature enthusiast V.K. Madhusudhanan says that in addition to habitat destruction, the tree has been extensively used for traditional medicine preparation. For the purpose, a good number of these trees which grow in the wild have been felled, but never propagated. The bark of the tree is believed to contain medicinal properties which can cure arthritis and other joint pains.

Mr. Madhusudhanan recently discovered one of these trees in the Pulimana sacred grove at Chavara Thattassery in Kollam district and Dr. Sasidharan confirmed it. Mr. Madhusudhanan says the sacred grove of Kalassamala in Thrissur district has a good collection of these trees and some could even be seen in the Asramam mangrove forest belt in Kollam city.

He laments that it is unfortunate that the Kerala State Biodiversity Board is not doing much for the conservation and propagation of such endangered species.