Camphor-scented leaves found in Western Ghats

A new tree species that gives out strong smell of camphor when its leaves and stem are crushed has been reported from southern Western Ghats.

The species, which is endemic to the Ghats region of Kerala, was named as Cinnamomum agasthyamalayanum after the type locality, Agasthyamala hills, from where it was reported. The find attains significance as this is considered the only endemic species that gives out the smell of camphor. Now, the challenge is to find out whether camphor can be distilled from the plant at commercially viable level. While natural camphor is extracted by distilling the leaves and bark of Cinnamomum camphora, a native to China, Taiwan, southern parts of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, it is also synthetically produced. Camphor oil is extracted by steam from the chipped wood, root stumps and branches of the camphor tree. It is then rectified under vacuum and filter pressed, explained scientists.

Camphor has a wide range of medicinal applications especially in Ayurveda. Camphor has pain-relieving effect. It is an ingredient in a few externally applied oils to relieve muscle spasm. It also has mild mucolitic property and can reduce bronchospasm. It is also used in mild dosage in internal medicines.   Cinnamomum agasthyamalayanum was identified by A.J. Robi, P. Sujanapal and P.S. Udayan of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur. 

It was found distributed between Attayar and Chemungi of Agasthyamala in Thiruvananthapuram. Isolated populations were also recorded from Rosemala in Kollam district of Kerala. The finding was recently published in the International Journal of Advanced Research.

Though Cinnamomum camphora would grow in Indian climatic conditions, it need not yield camphor at commercially viable levels. The new species can grow up to 8 metres in the dense wet evergreen forests of the Ghats at an altitude between 500m and 1400m, said scientists.

It was found “distributed in the windward evergreen forests of Agasthyamalai phyto-geographical region of southern Western Ghats. The population was found to be very low in all regions which were surveyed.

The leaves and stems of the new species have the smell of camphor probably due to the high content of volatile oil,” said Mr. Sujanapal of the Kerala Forest Research Institute, Thrissur, Kerala.

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Printable version | Jun 8, 2021 12:01:03 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/camphorscented-leaves-found-in-western-ghats/article7202176.ece

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