Two new plant species discovered from shola forests

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A team of researchers have reported the discovery of two new plant species belonging to the Asclepiadaceae or milkweed family from the shola forests of the Western Ghats, highlighting its rich biodiversity and the need for a conservation strategy for the fragile ecosystem.

Latex in plant parts and pappus seeds are the general characteristics of the family. Tylophora balakrishnanii, a straggling vine, has been discovered from the Thollayiram shola in Wayanad, a biodiversity hotspot in the Nilgiri biosphere reserve. The tuberous species has been discovered by a team of researchers led by Salim Pitchen, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Jose Mathew, Assistant professor, Department of Botany, SD College, during a recent floristic expedition. The discovery has been published in the science journal NeBIO, an international journal on environment and biodiversity.

Reddish pink flowers

Flowers of the plant are reddish-pink and the species is similar to the coastal plant Tylophora flexuosa. However, it differs in the arrangement and morphology of its floral parts, says Mr Pitchen.

The species has been christened after V. Balakrishnan, member-secretary, Kerala State Biodiversity Board, and former director of the MSSRF, Wayanad, in recognition of his contributions to biodiversity. Tylophora neglecta has been discovered from the shola forest on the Thooval Mala hill under the Achencoil forest division in Kollam.

The flowers of the new species are white with a violet tinge. Its leaves are thick and bristly in nature, Dr. Mathew said.

“We could find five to six Tylophora balakrishnanii and 15 to 16 Tylophora neglecta plants in the respective areas, Dr. Mathew said, adding that it indicated the need for a conservation strategy for the ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats.

M.M. Jithin and Jayesh P. Joseph, taxonomists, MSSRF, and Regy Yohannan, field assistant, Plantation Board, were the other team members.