A home away from home for rare plants from Andaman & Nicobar

Conservatory on Kariavattom campus home to scores of species

Updated - June 12, 2022 07:50 pm IST

Published - June 12, 2022 07:46 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

A. Gangaprasad, Professor and Director, Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC), Department of Botany, points the Piper sarmentosum. A rare climbing pandanus can be seen on the trunk of the tree behind him.

A. Gangaprasad, Professor and Director, Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC), Department of Botany, points the Piper sarmentosum. A rare climbing pandanus can be seen on the trunk of the tree behind him.

A short walk down a grassy path leads to an open tract of land fronted by a green board which announces, 'Andaman-Nicobar Plant Species Conservatory.'

A home away from home for numerous rare plants from the islands, the conservatory is today a subject of immense pride and delight for the Department of Botany of the University of Kerala. Established two years ago on the department grounds at Kariavattom here, the conservatory is now home to scores of species, many of which are endemic to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Like the Mangifera andamanica, an oblong, slightly kidney-shaped mango variety which is a cousin of the more famous Mangifera indica. Or the Pandanus dubius, a screw pine species whose fruit is boiled and consumed by the Shompen people of the Nicobar islands, according to A. Gangaprasad, Professor and Director, Centre for Biodiversity Conservation (CBC), Department of Botany, University of Kerala.

While big research establishments such as the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) do boast well-stocked conservatories on rare and endemic species from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the fledgling facility at Kariavattom is perhaps the first of its kind in a university department in the country, says Dr. Gangaprasad.

The case of the Piper sarmentosum aptly illustrates why such conservatories are important. Though found in south-east Asian countries, this plant of the pepper family was spotted in the Andamans in the early 2000s, but the population were wiped out by the 2004 tsunami. It received a fresh lease of life at the JNTBGRI Field Gene Bank at Palode, and specimens can also be found at Kariavattom.

Other specimen's in the conservatory include a rare climbing pandanus (Freycinetia insignis), orchids, wild nutmeg varieties, island cousins of the familiar 'Kudampuli' used in Kerala kitchens, and endemic specimens of the family Arecaceae and the genus Artocarpus. You can even spot plants like the Goniothalamus malayanus, which belongs to the same family as the custard apple, whose leaf juice is apparently a helpful insect repellent.

''The CBC was started in 2018 with the objectives of plant biodiversity conservation and the study of their sustainable use. We concentrate chiefly on plants of the Western Ghats and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The properties of many of the plants from the Andamans are still unknown and are the subject of study. The plant conservatory on the island species was started in 2020 and is slowly expanding over five acres. We have plants that are important as timber and several valued for their medicinal and ornamental properties,'' Dr. Gangaprasad said.

The university is hoping that in a few years' time, its small patch of Andaman and Nicobar will grow into a lush forest of island plants and trees.

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