Plant presumed extinct rediscovered after 188 years in Himachal

Updated on Jul 04, 2022 02:43 AM IST

A plant species, Brachystelma attenuatum, which scientists had presumed extinct has been rediscovered in Hamirpur and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh after 188 years.

A plant species, Brachystelma attenuatum, which scientists had presumed extinct has been rediscovered in Hamirpur and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh after 188 years. (HT PHOTO)
A plant species, Brachystelma attenuatum, which scientists had presumed extinct has been rediscovered in Hamirpur and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh after 188 years. (HT PHOTO)
By, Dharamshala

A plant species, Brachystelma attenuatum, which scientists had presumed extinct has been rediscovered in Hamirpur and Mandi districts of Himachal Pradesh after 188 years.

The last record of the rare plant dates back to 1835 when British botanists John Forbes Royle and Robert Wight had found the species in Doongie village of Himachal Pradesh. Since its first collection, the species was never recorded again, and therefore was presumed extinct.

The plant was identified by researchers from Botanical Survey of India, Dehradun and Himachal Pradesh University (HPU), Shimla. A study on the rediscovery of the species was recently published in July 2022 issue of ‘Oryx’, an international research journal published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Fauna & Flora International.

The researchers first observed the species in August 2021, but at the time the plants were in their last stage of growth and the flowering period was over, making it difficult to confirm their identity. This year, researchers revisited the same localities in its flowering season, and identified the species as Brachystelma attenuatum.

Brachystelma is a genus of more than 100 species in the Apocynaceae family found in Africa, Asia, and Australia, with the majority found in South Africa. In India, the genus is represented by 40 species, primarily distributed in the Western Ghats, with only four species reported from northern India. Of these, only two species, B parviflorum and B attenuatum, have been reported from the western Himalayas. B parviflorum was re-discovered in 2020 and the study was published in May 2021 issue of Oryx journal.

Amber Srivastava from the Botanical Survey of India, who identified the plant, said that rediscovery of two species considered extinct from the Western Himalayas in such a short period indicates the need for more species-specific field surveys and explorations in the area so that other rare species can be discovered and conserved.

“For the conservation of the species, it is necessary to preserve their habitat and also control overexploitation of rare and endangered species from wild habitats,” he said.

Co-author of the research, Nishant Chauhan of HPU, said, “During research and field surveys, we found that the main threat to this species is due to anthropogenic activities. People are exploiting it for its edible tubers. More plants were found in localities where its identity or presence was not known.”

He said that based on data collected during regular field surveys and field observations, it has been found that the species is endemic and threatened, and the geographical distribution of Brachystelma attenuatum is limited.

In some localities, the species appears to be declining as a result of local exploitation for its edible tubers. Only a few plants were observed in a restricted locality, suggesting the species is rare and should probably be categorized as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, so that its conservation policy-related actions can be accelerated, said Chauhan.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Naresh K Thakur is a staff reporter in Hindustan Times’ Himachal bureau. Based at Dharamshala, he covers Tibetan affairs, local politics and environmental issues.

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