New plant species discovered in Western Ghats
Three research scholars, one from the United States, have discovered a new plant in Kerala’s Ponmudi hills which is part of the Western Ghats, one of the eight hot spots of biological diversity in the world.
They named the plant ‘Symplocos Mohananii’ after Dr N Mohanan, former principal scientist and now scientific adviser of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Wayanad, north Kerala. The scholars said the tree was named after the scientist for his outstanding contribution spanning 37 years in the field of taxonomy (classification of plants) and conservation of biodiversity. Mohanan discovered more than 33 new species from the Western Ghats.
Stephan J, Akhil R, both from the Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research institute (JNTBGRI) in Palode (Thiruvananthapuram), and Peter W Fritsch, curator and scientist from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, US, have been doing research on ‘Symplocos Mohananii’ for more than four years.
“The tree is very endemic in nature and we could spot only five of them during our research. Though it looks like other plants of the genus Symplocos, a critical analysis of micro and macro characters of it later revealed that the Symplocos Mohananii is a different species,” said R Akhil.
Fritsch said the plant was spotted from a hill which was about 3,000 feet above sea level. “The plant carries white flowers but we could not record opening of the flowers so far. The white flowers usually open in night.”
J Stephen said, “Plants of this family are commonly known as sweet leaf plants locally and the bark of a few species were used to treat skin diseases by tribals and also for dye-making. Symplocos Mohananii has also got some medicinal properties, but a detailed study is needed.”
Since the number of plants is limited, they said their next task is to find its large collection in deep forests.
The researchers revealed their discovery last week, but the research, they said, was published in New Zealand-based Phytotoxa International magazine in March.
Rich in endemic flora and fauna, the Unesco heritage site Western Ghats stretching from Gujarat to Kerala, which plays an important role in climatic condition of the country, still remains a mystery for scientists. They periodically discover new plants, frogs, reptiles and other species.
Following concerns over the depletion of the Ghats’ green cover due to human interference, the union government had set up an experts’ panel under eminent ecologist Madhav Gadgil. In 2011 he had submitted his report. When all six states (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu) coming under the shadow of the Ghats opposed the Gadgil panel recommendations, a working group was constituted under Dr Kasturirangan, former ISRO chief. The group submitted a watered-down report, but it was also opposed. Now both the expert reports are gathering dust.