Reviews

Into that forest

Endemic Woody Plants of the Western Ghats: A Photographic Guide Navendu Page Trail Blazer Printers and Publishers ₹ 550  

Forest trees can flummox even the best field naturalists with their varying leaf edges, bark textures, minuscule flower parts, fruit shapes or hairy stems. The features one has to examine to identify a tree species are numerous and many a time, confusing. And it gets tougher with rare trees, or those restricted to specific locations: for instance, there are 350 woody plants (trees, large shrubs and thick-stemmed vines called lianas) found only in the Western Ghats.

Identifying such trees on your next trek in the Ghats could be easier if you carry along the new Endemic Woody Plants of the Western Ghats: A Photographic Guide authored by plant ecologist Navendu Page. True to its name, it sports colour photographs of the distinct features of 100 common and rare Western Ghat endemics (tree species found only in this mountain range). The photographs, collected by Page over 10 years of travels and treks across the Ghats, are easily one of the most useful features of the book for tree enthusiasts. What are also handy are the lists of ‘look-alikes’ — other trees that a species could be mistaken for — that the author alerts readers to.

In a first, the author has assessed the conservation status of many of these trees, using the information he collected during the four years of his doctoral research. Based on the locations and habitats of each plant species and the habitats that would suit it across the Ghats, the author has mapped ‘predicted’ distribution areas for each species, according to guidelines set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Many species have in fact been assessed this way for the first time ever. Based on their conservation status, all species have been assigned colour codes as well.

One of the 100 endemics, Elaeocarpus gaussenii, is the only species which is ‘critically endangered’. It is a 20-metre-tall tree found only in the montane (high elevation) evergreen forests of the Meghamalai Hills of Tamil Nadu. The book also lists 10 species as ‘data deficient’: lacking distributional and ecological data to assess their conservation status. These include the rare Aporosa bourdilloni, locally known as ‘Malamvetti’ in Malayalam, and the one-metre tall yellow-flowered shrub Glyptopetalum grandiflorum, found only in the district of Kodagu in Karnataka and Wayanad in Kerala.

The book, however, is hard to decipher for the uninitiated: the lack of a glossary makes it hard to figure out what ‘echinate’ fruits and ‘axillary’ flowers, for instance, are. A basic — or even higher — knowledge of plant physical features is a must to put the book to good use in the field.

Endemic Woody Plants of the Western Ghats: A Photographic Guide; Navendu Page, Trail Blazer Printers and Publishers, ₹550.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 4:44:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/into-that-forest/article19818835.ece

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