Extinct tree found after 180 years in Kollam grove

It was in 1835 that Madhuca diplostemon, a threatened species of the Western Ghats, was spotted

October 03, 2020 05:22 pm | Updated 10:10 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Madhuca diplostemon

Madhuca diplostemon

A tree species, long believed extinct, has been rediscovered after a gap of more than 180 years from a sacred grove in Kollam district.

Scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) at Palode here have identified the tree as Madhuca diplostemon (family Sapotaceae), a threatened species of the Western Ghats whose specimen was first collected in 1835.

Only one mature tree has been found so far, which makes this remarkable rediscovery extremely valuable from a scientific, environmental and conservation point of view. A paper on the finding authored by Shailajakumari S., Santhosh Kumar E.S., Sreekala A.K., and R. Prakashkumar of the JNTBGRI and Parthipan B. of S.T. Hindu College, Nagercoil, has been published in Rheedea, the journal of the Indian Association for Angiosperm Taxonomy.

The lone mature tree was located at the Koonayil Ayiravilli Siva Temple at Paravur, Kollam. Locally, it was erroneously believed to be the common Attilippa . Shailajakumari, one of the authors of the paper, had collected a specimen and brought it to JNTBGRI two years ago as part of her PhD dissertation. However, surveys in other sacred groves in Kollam district failed to find another tree of the species. Since the species is represented only by one specimen in a single locality, it is eligible to be categorised ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN, the JNTBGRI has noted.

Madhuca diplostemon has an interesting history. In 1835, Robert Wight, a surgeon-botanist with the East India Company, had collected three specimens. In 1848, he described it as Diospyros obovata in his famous work, the Icones Plantarum Indiae Orientalis. Later C.B. Clarke corrected it as Isonanandra diplostemon and, in 1960, P. Royen described it as Madhuca diplostemon.

Interestingly, “since its original collection, specimens of Madhuca diplostemon were never collected again, neither from its locality nor elsewhere, and botanical explorations in Eastern and Western Ghats failed to locate the species,” notes the paper on the rediscovery.

The JNTBGRI is planning to undertake the ex situ conservation of this species through the institute’s species recovery programme, JNTBGRI director R. Prakashkumar, one of the authors of the paper, says.

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