doi:10.1038/nindia.2016.23 Published online 15 February 2016
A new plant species of the custard apple family (Annonaceae) has been discovered in India's biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats1.
Scientists are calling the new species Miliusa malnadense, after Malnad, the part of the Western Ghats where it was found. Navendu Page, a PhD student at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and his associate Ashish Nerlekar made the 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," Page says.
M. malnadense is different from its Annonaceae cousins in the long flower stalk, maroon flowers and the shape of its stigma (female reproductive part). Unlike custard apples, the fruits of this species, seen from November to May, are not edible. The tree is small and evergreen with a greyish brown bark and coppery red young leaves.
The scientists say the new species is endemic to Western Ghats and restricted to the high elevation ‘shola’ forests that are characterised by unique mosaic patterns — grassy of the top and forested in the valleys.
The ecologists also point to the evolutionary significance of the discovery saying it raises many interesting questions about the unique evolutionary trajectory of trees in the Western Ghats. “If we don’t protect whatever little is left here, we will loose many of them before we even know of their existence,"Page says.