Saving Chenkurinji from climate change

Conservation measures include mass plating of saplings

Published - July 02, 2022 08:27 pm IST - KOLLAM

A Chenkurinji tree at the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in Kollam.

A Chenkurinji tree at the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in Kollam. | Photo Credit: C. SURESHKUMAR

The Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary derives its name from Gluta travancorica, a species endemic to the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve known as ‘Chenkurinji’ in local parlance. Belonging to the Anacardiaceae family, the tree was once abundant in the hills on the southern parts of Aryankavu Pass but its presence has been fast receding from the area over the years.

Gluta travancorica is very susceptible to climate change and the present condition of the species is quite bad with low regeneration performance,” says Dr. P. A. Jose, Principal Scientist, Sustainable Forest Management Division, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI).

Though there are seemingly enough number of the trees, most are not productive, generating a negative trend in its population. “Majority of the trees are old with poor flowering and fruiting rates. What we require now is an emergency restocking at the sanctuary since the present population is in a degrading state. At present, we have a few young generation trees, and if we plant some now, we will have flowering trees within the next 25 years,” he says.

Though the flowering of Gluta travancorica usually happens in January, of late, the species has reported a tendency to extend the process due to climate change. “It’s an adaptation strategy to increase the chances of germination and maintain a minimum viable population,” says Dr. Jose.

Though the tree is also seen inside the shola forests near Ponmudi, effective pollination hardly takes place in the habitat. “The population in the habitat is facing inbreeding depression and we had earlier collected albino seedlings, an indication of endangerment,” he adds.

Medicinal properties

According to Forest officials, the tree was widely seen in places such as Pandimala, Vilakkumaram and Rosemala in the past. “It’s reported to have medicinal properties and is used to lower blood pressure and treat arthritis. The heartwood is quite sturdy with deep red colour, and several trees were felled for wood during earlier days,” says a senior official.

Since the conservation measures in the past weren’t totally successful, the department is launching ‘Save Chenkurinji’, a campaign to be implemented in various areas coming under the Achencoil Forest Division.

As part of the campaign, the department looks to plant thousands of saplings in the ghat sectors of Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts. The officials have identified around 75 schools in the area where Chenkurinji will be grown with the support of students.

Apart from schools, saplings will be planted in public places, and the department has already cultivated thousands of seedlings for Save Chenkurinji. “The campaign will be officially launched next week and we are expecting a visible difference in the coming years,” says the official.

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