Researchers rediscover rare tree species in Wagamon after 140 years 

The rediscovery of the critically endangered shrub outside the protected area of the Western Ghats highlights the importance of conservation of non-protected forests in the ghats. The allotment of such forests for non-forest purposes may lead to the extinction of such species

Updated - May 10, 2024 10:21 pm IST

Published - May 10, 2024 09:52 pm IST - IDUKKI

The rediscovered Uniyala multibracteata  (Kattupoovamkurunnila).

The rediscovered Uniyala multibracteata (Kattupoovamkurunnila).

After a gap of 140 years, researchers have rediscovered a rare and endangered tree species, Uniyala multibracteata (locally known as Kattupoovamkurunnila), from a non-protected area of the Wagamon hills in the Western Ghats. According to the researchers, the species, believed to have become extinct, has been accidentally rediscovered. 

Kattupoovamkurunnila is endemic to areas such as Wagamon, Memala, and Elappara. The species was originally discovered from Peerumade in 1880 by R.H. Beddome, a pioneer botanist who conducted plant discoveries in south India. 

Jomy Augustine, former Botany Professor at Pala St. Thomas College, who led the research, says that after Beddome nobody could collect this rare plant. “It remained unknown for the last 140 years and scientists declared it as critically endangered or possibly extinct. The genus Uniyala is named to recognise the contribution of B.P Uniyal, a renowned plant taxonomist. This genus has 11 species, most of which are endemic to south India.” says Dr. Augustine.

During the plant exploration studies conducted by plant researchers Reshma Raju, Joby Jose, Divya K.S, and Chethana Badekar of the college, led by their guide Mr. Augustine, the species has been collected from Memala, Idukki, and later from the Wagamon hills. 

Small tree or large shrub

“The finding of this very rare small tree from an area outside the protected area is a clear indication of the presence of rich biodiversity outside the protected area in the Western Ghats. It was not reported earlier in any sanctuary or national park. This shows the importance of conservation in the non-protected forests in the Western Ghats. The allotment of such forests for non-forest purposes will lead to the extinction of these species,” says Dr. Augustine. 

“Kattupoovamkurunnila is a small tree or large shrub of 2 to 5 metres high. Its leaves are covered with cottony hairs. Its flowers are very beautiful and [the tree] produces flowers from October to January. Its habitat consists of evergreen forests and rocky grasslands 1,200 metres above sea level. Interestingly, such rare species of plants have not yet been discovered in protected forests,” says Dr. Augustine.

The rediscovery of Kattupoovamkurunnila has been published in a recent issue of the Wildlife Information Liaison Development Society journal Journal of Threatened Taxa

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