Thiruvananthapuram’s wasteland yields a new plant species

Sida keralensis  

Scornfully dismissing plants growing wild on roadsides and in our backyards as ‘weeds’ can be a mistake. Here’s why.

A subshrub spotted on the roadsides and wastelands in Thiruvananthapuram district has been identified as a new species of the genus Sida, to which the Kurumthotti, used in Ayurveda, also belongs.

Named Sida keralensis, the plant was spotted during a floristic survey at Maruthur in the district. A subsequent search helped confirm the presence of the plant, which belongs to the family Malvaceae, in nearby areas such as Vattapara as well. Its discovery has taken the number of species in the genus Sida endemic to India from six to seven.

Sida keralensis was identified and described by a team of researchers from the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI), Palode, consisting of E.S. Santhosh Kumar, S. Shailajakumari, A.K. Sreekala and R. Prakashkumar (director, JNTBGRI) and Parthipan B. of S.T. Hindu College, Nagercoil. Their findings have been published in journal Phytotaxa.

22 in India

The genus Sida has about 250 species distributed in the tropical and sub-tropical regions, of which 22 can be found in India. Sida rhombifolia and a few other related species are used today as Kurumthotti for the treatment of medical conditions in Ayurveda. Sida keralensis is similar to Sida scabrida but differs in physical characteristics, Dr. Santhosh Kumar said.

Not just in forests

The discovery underscores the importance of documenting neighbourhood plant wealth which gets destroyed due to urbanisation, road development, and ignorance. “People tend to harbour a misconception that new plant species can be found only in forests. This is not the first time that we have located them on roadsides. Several new ones have been spotted in sacred groves as well,” he said.

Named after Kerala

Sida keralensis is an erect branched subshrub, growing to a height of 40-80 cm. The stems are greenish or slightly purple-tinged. It has 2 mm-long, brownish-black seeds and striking yellow flowers. As its name suggests, the species is named after the State of Kerala.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 5:03:56 PM |

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