In August 2017, a research paper describingImpatiens walongensis, a new species of balsam, was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Phytotaxa .
The species was discovered from Arunachal Pradesh’s Anjaw district, one of India’s easternmost. About a meter tall with ovate elliptical leaves and light pink flowers, the plant was named after Walong, the locality where it was found.Impatiens walongensisis the latest but not the only new discovery of balsam in Arunachal Pradesh.
In 2017 alone, scientists discovered and published their findings on five other new species of balsam, taking the total number of balsam species discovered this year to six.
Impatiens arunachalensis, which bears purple flowers and a pink throat, was discovered from the Upper Siang district. Since only 50 plants of the species were found at a particular location, scientists described the conservation status of the plant as critically endangered.
Another species,Impatiens zironiana, with lanceolate pale yellow floral buds flowering and fruiting in the rainy season from July to September, was discovered from the Lower Subansiri district.
Two more species of balsam,Impatiens rugosipetalafrom the State’s Lower Dibang valley, andImpatiens tatoensisfrom the West Siang district, were also discovered and described earlier this year.
“Three new species of balsam were discovered from Arunachal Pradesh in 2016, and five [were discovered] in 2015. Since 2013, at least 16 new species of plants under the genus Impatiens, commonly referred to as balsam, have been discovered from Arunachal Pradesh,” said Rajib Gogoi, a scientist with the Botanical Survey of India (BSI), who has been working on balsams in Arunachal Pradesh since 2012, told The Hindu .
He said that botanists have found 55 species of balsam from the northeastern State, 16 of which are new discoveries to science.
Known for their starkly differing flower shapes, which are produced along the stem with vivid colours like pink, red, white, purple and yellow, balsams grow in rich moist soil. Across the world, about 1,000 species of these angiosperms or closed seeded plants are known to occur.
In India, about 210 balsam species were known till these new discoveries from Arunachal Pradesh emerged. Now, the number of balsam species has increased to 230.
“What makes the Impatiens interesting is the high endemism among these plants. In most cases, while collecting the specimens, only a handful of plants are spotted. Since these plants have a very small habitat, they face a threat from the fast-changing landscape of the region,” said Souravjyoti Borah, another botanist associated with these discoveries.
Mr. Borah, who has been working with Mr. Gogoi on genus Impatiens, pointed out that inaccessibility and the difficult terrain of the region were among the reasons why it took so long for the new species to be discovered.
The researchers also had to dissect and study their morphology in the field itself.
Study on hybrids
Both botanists emphasise that balsams have immense horticultural importance. Studies on hybrids of the plants have been undertaken in parts of the country to produce flowers that can sustain in different environmental conditions. Different hybrids can be created from wild balsam species, so it is important to know the actual number of balsam species in the wild, Mr. Borah said.