doi:10.1038/nindia.2018.15 Published online 9 February 2018
A team of botanists has discovered a new species of a flowering plant in the northern hilly forests of West Bengal1. This new species belongs to a genus called Drypetes that globally comprises about 220 species, and is distributed chiefly in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and Africa.
“Named Drypetes kalamii after the late Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam, it is a herb, having separate male and female plants,” said Gopal Krishna, the study lead author from the Central National Herbarium, Botanical Survey of India (BSI), in Howrah, India. “It prefers to grow in shaded areas of subtropical, moist and semi-evergreen forests at elevations [of] between 50 and 100 metres.”
Krishna and his teammates discovered the new plant species while they were routinely documenting flowering plants in Buxa National Park and Jaldapara National Park, both in the northern parts of West Bengal. They identified only 30 male plants in the Buxa National Park and a few male and around 20 female plants in the Jaldapara National Park.
In India, about 20 species of Drypetes are found. However, this newly found species of Drypetes is unique among them because of its shrubby nature, scrambling life-form and prominent modified leaf structures. The plant produces clusters of greenish and pale-yellow flowers with orange-red and red fruits. Such red fruits easily attract birds, which disperse the seeds far and wide.
The new plant belongs to the same group of plants that include Putranjiva roxburghii, a well-known medicinal plant species, said Tapas Chakrabarty, the study co-author formerly with the BSI. Since the new plant is a close relative of such medicinal plants, it might also possess some medicinal properties, he added.
Studies have shown that close relatives of this newly detected herb are used in the traditional medicines of Asian and Sub-saharan Africa to treat bloody diarrhoea, bone disorders, inflamed sinuses, tumours and specific wounds2. Several crude extracts of these plants and compounds isolated from such extracts have shown promise in relieving pain, lowering blood glucose levels and killing parasites and insects.
Going by criteria specified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the newly identified herb is critically endangered.
“This plant discovery, in particular, can be considered significant because it has been discovered from north-east India,” pointed out Navendu Page from the Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Bangalore.
“Unfortunately, new species discoveries rarely have any effect on the conservation and policies related to them,” Page lamented. However, since this new species has been discovered from protected areas, it has a longer chance of overcoming the threats of habitat loss, he said.
1. Krishna, G. et al. A new species of Drypetes (Putranjivaceae/Euphorbiaceae s.l.) from West Bengal, India. Phytotaxa. 319, 271-276 (2017)
2. Wansi, J. D. et al. Phytochemistry and pharmacology of the genus Drypetes: a review. Journal of Ethnopharamacology. 190, 328-353 (2016).