A team of researchers from Pune and Kerala have “rediscovered” a rare and critically endangered plant species called Globba andersonii from the Sikkim Himalayas near the Teesta river valley region after a gap of nearly 136 years.
The plant, known commonly as ‘dancing ladies’ or ‘swan flowers’ was thought to have been extinct until its “re-collection”, for the first time since 1875, by noted city-based botanist Sachin Punekar, founder of the city-based environmental NGO Biospheres, during a field trip to Sevoke in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Along with Dr. Punekar, the findings of Jayakrishnan Thachat of the Department of Botany at the University of Calicut; Vadakkoot Sankaran Hareesh of the plant taxonomy division of the Malabar Botanical Garden; and Mamiyil Sabu of the Institute for Plant Sciences in Kozhikode, was published earlier this month in the prestigious international journal, Botany Letters .
The paper titled ‘Rediscovery of Globba andersonii and three new synonymies in Indian Zingiberaceae’ (belonging to the ginger or turmeric family) details the retrieval from the wilds of this endangered taxon, which was thought to be extinct after 1875.
“The earliest records of the collection of this plant were dated between the period 1862-70 when it was collected by Scottish botanist Thomas Anderson from Sikkim and Darjeeling. Then, in 1875, the British botanist Sir George King, had collected this taxon from the Sikkim Himalayas,” said Dr. Punekar.
Since then, the plant had not been collected for over 135 years, until chanced upon by Dr. Punekar during a field trip to the Sevoke hill forest region in July 2011.
“Since the past nine years, myself, along with three other botanists from Kozhikode have been perfecting this discovery and confirming that this taxon is indeed the Globba andersonii ,” he said.
Globba andersonii are characterised by white ﬂowers, non-appendaged anthers (the part of a stamen that contains the pollen) and a “yellowish lip”. Classified as “critically endangered” and “narrowly endemic”, the species is restricted mainly to Teesta River Valley region which includes the Sikkim Himalays and Darjeeling hill ranges.
“As no live collections were made for the last 136 years, it was considered as presumably extinct in the wild. Eﬀorts made by us for the rediscovery of the taxon for the past several years were in vain. However, Dr. Punekar could locate some specimens during his visit to Sevoke in July 2011, which was used to make a detailed description,” said Mr. Thachat.
Dr. Punekar said that the plant usually grows in a dense colony as a lithophyte (plant growing on a bare rock or stone) on rocky slopes in the outskirts of evergreen forests. “It is especially prevalent near small waterfalls along the roadside leading to these hill forests, which are 400-800 m. above sea level,” he said.
Given the endangered nature of this species, the four researchers recommend total protection be given to the natural habitat of this taxon.
“Micro-propagation, tissue culture of this taxon and multiplication of this species and its re-introduction in the natural habitat could be the key for it to survive and thrive in the future,” said Mr. Hareesh.