KERALA

New plant species gets a pioneer’s name

Ardisia ramaswamii

Ardisia ramaswamii  

A new plant species of the genus Ardisia spotted in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats has been named after an early 20th century botanist who helped expand the knowledge on Indian flora.

Scientists at the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (JNTBGRI) at Palode here encountered the new species in the Akkamalai forest within the Anamalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu recently. They have named it Ardisia ramaswamii after M.S. Ramaswami, who, with C.C. Calder and V. Narayanaswami, listed species not mentioned in J.D. Hooker’s Flora of British India.

Ardisia ramaswamii (family Primulaceae) is a small tree which grows to a height of about six metres. The finding by JNTBGRI scientists Nazarudeen Ahammed, G. Rajkumar and R. Prakashkumar, Director, JNTBGRI, is published in the July edition of Annals of Plant Sciences .

“The genus Ardisia has around 500 species of shrubs and trees worldwide, of which 400 are found in Asia. With the addition of the new species, the number of species found in India has risen to 29 with 16 in the Western Ghats alone,” Dr. Nazarudeen said.

The JNTBGRI team had literally stumbled upon the species while researching Kurinji species in the thick evergreen forest region.

Medicinal properties

Since many related species of Ardisia possess medicinal properties, the discovery is significant from a health-care perspective. For instance, Ardisia elliptica , known locally as ‘kili njaval’ or ‘sugar njaval,’ is good for making wine and valued for treating diabetes. Another cousin, Ardisia solanacea , (manimundakkizhangu), is used in traditional healing systems.

“Whether Ardisia ramaswamii has medicinal value needs to be ascertained,” Dr. Nazarudeen said.

The identification is important from the conservationist’s point of view as well. Recently, the same team identified two other Ardisia species — Ardisia nayarii and Ardisia agasthyamalayana — from the Kerala side of the Western Ghats. Bio-physical pressures and possible habitat degradation threaten all three species. In fact, Ardisia ramaswamii itself has a low population and is localised in distribution.

“That is why they get qualified to be included on the ‘red list’ category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, demanding urgent conservation initiatives,” the JNTBGRI said. “Anamalai hills, the area of distribution of the new species, can be marked as a refugium of relict biota and becomes one of the ‘hottest of the hotspots’ in the world,” according to the institute.

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