A small ironwood tree that bears clumps of white flowers on its stalks, and a new species of wild fern are the latest additions to Kerala’s flora.
Researchers at the University of Calicut’s Department of Botany discovered the new species of ironwood, Memecylon idukkianum , from the borders of a shola forest (a high-altitude evergreen forest) in Idukki’s Mathikettan Shola National Park during a three-year plant survey there.
The discovery, published in the international peer-reviewed journal Kew Bulletin (the official journal of the United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens) last month, details the features of the plant and where it grows.
The plant, that grows to the size of a small tree, can be identified apart from other Memecylon species by its pure white stalk-less flowers borne on its stalks during February and March, said research scholar S. Syam Radh, who discovered the plant along with Santhosh Nampy (Head, Department of Botany, University of Calicut).
Currently, the plant is known only from within the Mathikettan Shola National Park and its immediate environs.
The researchers found the plant growing in only eight locations here, some of which are vulnerable to anthropogenic activities.
Due to these potential threats as well as its rarity, the team suggests that the species be categorised as ‘Near Threatened’ based on criteria listed in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
However, the other plant discovered recently, the wild fern Pteris subiriana , is found not just in Kerala but also Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
A team including researchers from Kolkata’s Botanical Survey of India first collected the fern from Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra and then compared those plants with existing herbarium specimens of similar ferns species in several plant collections.
Using a scanning electron microscope, they studied the arrangement of the ferns' spores (small globules located under fern leaves through which ferns reproduce).
This showed that these ferns — which grow near waterfalls — are a new species, according to their study published in the international journal Phytotaxa .
Another team from the University of Calicut has also described a new species of mushroom from Kerala, based on detailed studies of its physical features and by using genetic methods as well.
The new species Laccaria violaceotincta is currently known only from the single area it has been collected from by the team: the threatened myristica swamps of Kulathupuzha in Kollam district.