Rare Tree Species Rediscovered in India's Western Ghats After 140 Years

Researchers have rediscovered the rare tree species Uniyala multibracteata in India's Western Ghats after a 140-year absence. The species was found in a non-protected forest area, highlighting the importance of preserving such regions for conservation.

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Nitish Verma
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Rare Tree Species Rediscovered in India's Western Ghats After 140 Years

Rare Tree Species Rediscovered in India's Western Ghats After 140 Years

In a remarkable discovery, researchers have rediscovered the rare and endangered tree species Uniyala multibracteata, locally known as Kattupoovamkurunnila, in the Wagamon hills of the Western Ghats, India. The species was initially discovered in 1880 by pioneer botanist R.H. Beddome in Peerumade but had not been seen for the past 140 years, leading to concerns about its possible extinction.

Why this matters: The rediscovery of this rare tree species highlights the importance of preserving non-protected areas in the Western Ghats, which are often overlooked in conservation efforts. This finding underscores the need for a more comprehensive approach to conservation, one that extends beyond designated protected zones to ensure the survival of rare and endangered species.

The research team, led by Dr. Jomy Augustine, former Botany Professor at Pala St. Thomas College, along with plant researchers Reshma Raju, Joby Jose, Divya K.S, and Chethana Badekar, made the accidental rediscovery during plant exploration studies in the Wagamon hills. The species, endemic to areas such as Wagamon, Memala, and Elappara, was collected from Memala, Idukki, and later from the Wagamon hills.

The rediscovery of Kattupoovamkurunnila holds significant implications for conservation efforts in the Western Ghats. Dr. Augustine emphasizes, "The finding of this very rare small tree from an area outside the protected area is a clear indication of the presence of rich biodiversity outside the protected area in the Western Ghats." The fact that the species was found in a non-protected forest highlights the importance of preserving these areas, as allotting them for non-forest purposes could lead to the extinction of such rare species.

Kattupoovamkurunnila, a small tree or large shrub reaching heights of 2 to 5 meters, is characterized by its leaves covered with cottony hairs and its beautiful flowers that bloom from October to January. The species thrives in evergreen forests and rocky grasslands at elevations of 1,200 meters above sea level. Thegenus Uniyala, named after renowned plant taxonomist B.P. Uniyal, comprises 11 species, most of which are endemic to south India.

The rediscovery of Uniyala multibracteata after a 140-year hiatus serves as a stark reminder of the rich biodiversity that exists outside protected areas in the Western Ghats. The findings, published in a recent issue of the Wildlife Information Liaison Development Society journal Journal of Threatened Taxa, underscore the urgent need for conservation efforts to extend beyond designated protected zones to ensure the survival of rare and endangered species like Kattupoovamkurunnila.