Rare palm from Andamans gets second home

Green gift: Pinanga andamanensis at Mount Harriet National Park in the Andamans and, right, the seedling in Kerala.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A rare palm endemic to the South Andaman Island is finding a second home at Palode here, courtesy the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI). An earlier JNTBGRI effort in this direction had been thwarted by mischievous wild elephants that ate up all the specimens!

At first glance, Pinanga andamanensis — which at one point was written off as extinct — resembles the areca palm to which it is closely related. But its entire population of some 600 specimens naturally occurs only in a tiny, evergreen forest pocket in South Andaman’s Mount Harriet National Park.

By conserving the germplasm on the Indian mainland, JNTBGRI can ensure its continued survival in the event of its minuscule original home getting wiped out by, say, a natural calamity, JNTBGRI Director R. Prakashkumar told The Hindu. ‘Such conservation efforts assume special significance in the era of climate change,’ he said.

JNTBGRI scientists termed the Pinanga andamanensis “a critically endangered species and one of the least known among the endemic palms of the Andaman Islands”.

While its uses are yet to be understood fully, this elegant palm holds promise as an avenue tree for gardens, pavements and homesteads, said Sam Mathew, Senior Scientist, Plant Genetic Resource Division, JNTBGRI..

Colourful history

Pinanga andamanensis has a colourful history. It was originally described by the Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1934. His description was based on an old herbarium specimen collected by E.H. Man, a late-19th century assistant superintendent in the Andaman administration. After that first identification, it was thought to be extinct till 1992.

In 1992, Mr. Mathew, who was with the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) at the time, and his BSI colleague, the late K.C. Malick, encountered a few specimens at the Mount Harriet National Park.

Such a small gene pool means the species is vulnerable to natural calamities such as cyclones, earthquakes, Mr. Mathew said.

After he moved to the JNTBGRI, five or six specimens were introduced at the Field Gene Bank at Palode in 1994. Unfortunately, rampaging wild elephants ate them all up in 2012.

“The pith of the trunks of these palms is sweet,” he said. In 2014, a few more seedlings were introduced, which has started flowering.

“On fruit setting, JNTBGRI will resume seed germination experiments for mass multiplication as part of the conservation strategy.

So why is this palm called Pinanga? Well, it has something to do with areca nuts, after all.

The name is derived from ‘Penang’, the modern-day Malaysian state. “Penang itself has its origins in ‘Pulau Pinang’, which means ‘Island of the Areca Nut Palm,’” says Mr. Mathew.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 3:03:10 AM |

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