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Assam produces an orchid link to the Orient

The parasitic bloom, found by forest officer Jatindra Sarma, is a variant of a Japanese orchid

May 12, 2019 11:03 pm | Updated 11:03 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Lecanorchis taiwaniana,  a parasitic plant without photosynthesis.

Lecanorchis taiwaniana, a parasitic plant without photosynthesis.

An Assam forest officer’s chance discovery has given India one of its smallest orchids in terms of size and duration of bloom to be recorded botanically.

Lecanorchis taiwaniana , which the Japanese Journal of Botany has published as a “new record for the flora in India” in its latest issue, is a mycoheterotroph, one of two types of parasitic plants that have abandoned photosynthesis.

Studied, classified

“We took time to classify this orchid as it appeared close to the nigricans species while bearing 90% similarity with the taiwaniana species named after Taiwan. The vote went in favour of the latter as the slight morphological differences were found to be due to local conditions,” Jatindra Sarma, a Conservator of Forests, told The Hindu .

Mr. Sarma, also the Member Secretary of the State Medicinal Plants Board, co-authored the study on the new orchid with Hussain A. Barbhuiya of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Santanu Dey of Nagaland University’s Botany Department, and Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University in Japan.

Lecanorchis taiwaniana adds to the orchid wealth of northeast India, which has 800 of some 1,300 species in the country.

About 300 species are found in the Western Ghats and 200 in the northwestern Himalayas.

Herbal value?

The orchid, discovered earlier in Japan, Taiwan, and Laos, was found to have a maximum height of 40 cm and a blossoming period of five-six days.

“We are yet to ascertain the herbal value of this orchid that flowers and fruits from July to September. But as it derives its energy and nutrients from fungus, it may be of herbal importance,” Mr. Sarma said.

The forest officer has a few other botanical discoveries to his credit. These include the rare, ginger-like Amomum pratisthana named after his daughter, and the Smilax sailenii named after Prof. Sailen Borah, one of Assam’s best known botanists.

Mr. Sarma has also published the two-volume Medicinal Plants and Mushrooms of India with special reference to Assam.

It contains information on 1,400 medicinal plants and mushrooms, including Costus pictus or the insulin plant used in treating diabetes mellitus, and Ophiorrhiza mungos used in treating cancer because of the alkaloid Camptothecin present in it.

Also known as Indian snake root, O. mungos has been the subject of medicinal research.

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