The biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats has added a new feather to its cap with the discovery of a new plant species. This plant species belongs to the custard apple family, scientifically called Annonaceae. Navendu Page, a PhD student at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and his associate Ashish Nerlekar made this discovery while on a trek!
“I saw this species for the first time in November 2013 when I was trekking up to the Kudremukh peak. It was quite a surprising find”, says Page, on this discovery.
The Annonaceae family of plants consists mostly of tropical, deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs. The custard apple is a well-known tree belonging to this family. They generally have aromatic barks, leaves, and flowers. Most species of this family are found in the tropics.
The newly discovered species is named Miliusa malnadense, after Malnad - the part of the Western Ghats stretching from Shimoga to Kodagu. This species is believed to be endemic to the Western Ghats and is restricted to the high elevation ‘shola’ forests – special habitats found above 1200 m elevation, where mountaintops are grassy and the gullies and valleys in-between contain forests. The two types of vegetation alternate to form a ‘mosaic’ habitat that makes the shola forests unique.
The new species is characterized by long flower stalk, maroon flowers and stigma (female reproductive part) shape that distinguishes it from other closely related species. It is a small evergreen tree with a grayish brown bark and coppery red young leaves.“Though this plant belongs to the custard apple family, the fruits are not edible and look different”, adds Page. The fruits and flowers are seen from November to May.
The team hopes that their discovery would get ecologists excited. “This discovery is a proof that there are many undiscovered species in the biodiversity rich and extremely fragile ecosystems of the Western Ghats”, says Page.
This discovery has an evolutionary significance too. “The discovery raises many interesting questions about the unique evolutionary trajectory of trees in the Western Ghats”, adds Page. “If we don’t protect whatever little is left here, we will loose many of them before we even know of their existence”, he signs off with a word of caution.
About the authors:
Navendu V. Page is pursuing his Ph.D. at the Centre for Ecological Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Ashish N. Nerlekar is a postgraduate student at Pune University, Maharashtra.
About the publication:
This research was published in the Phytotaxa Journal titled “A new species of Miliusa (Annonaceae) from the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India”.