Tree turmeric on the last leg

The seeds (inset) of the creeper tree turmeric on a huge tree in the WesternGhats. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Tree turmeric, a rare medicinal plant, is clinging for dear life through a few mature plants in the Western Ghats.

A recent survey along the habitats of the species, known as Mara Manjal in local parlance, could record only 33 mature plants.

The survey by the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, revealed that the plant was surviving in less than 10 habitats across the Kerala region of the ghats. Though distributed across the Indo-Malesian tropical rainforests, its habitat has shrunken to a few patches, said P. Sujanapal, a scientist at the institute.

In Kerala, they are found at Meenchalali in Sholayar, Pezha in Parambikulam, Madambra-Kozhikuthu area in Vazhachal range, Kannadivechakunnu, Paripputhode in Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Ambayathode- Palchuram area in the Kottiyur reserve forests. The survey was conducted for the National Medicinal Plant Board for restoring plants in its natural habitats.

Though the researchers could count 615 individuals, 514 were seedlings with bleak survival chances. The 33 ‘adult individuals’ had grown to achieve more than 10 cm in diameter. Among them, only two had fruits, Dr. Sujanapal said.

The climber ( Coscinium fenestratum) is a valuable ingredient in a number of traditional medical systems of India, including Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha, and the medicial systems of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Berberine, a chemical extracted from the plant, is used in modern medicine and dye industry. Its wood with broad spectrum antiseptic properties is used to treat liver ailments, ulcers, and wounds.

It grows in moist shady and semi-rocky habitats under canopy, near streams. Habitat destruction and uprooting of plants had resulted in the depletion of number and size of the population. Destructive harvesting and the dioecious nature (a species with distinct male and female individuals) had also hit seed production, he said.

“Vegetative reproduction is being tried considering the issue of obtaining seeds. Ground layering and air layering are being tried in individuals of the species at the Meenchalali forest area in the Sholayar range and the Kulamavu area of the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary.”

The national project plants to restore at least 10,000 seedlings of the species in its natural habitats with the support of the Forest Department, Dr. Sujanapal said.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:30:25 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/tree-turmeric-on-the-last-leg/article6195654.ece

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