Monday 1 April 2013

The fronds of extinction

This plant is as old as the Dinosaurs. A rare plant, it has medicinal properties and in Karnataka it is mainly found in the forests in and around Melkote in Mandy district.
Unfortunately, the plant is on the verge of extinction and in the next few years it may go the Dinosaurs way if remedial measures are not taken immediately to save this plant.
The plant is being recklessly being exploited  for commercial purposes and this is the main reason for it to be put on the endangered list.
The plants, apart from its medicinal properties, is used as an attractive background for floral arrangements. The cut flower trade demand in Bangalore is another reason for the plant to start losing out. The fronds are extensively used during decoration of bouquets.
The major markets for the fronds are Mumbai and Bangalore. Every day, several lorry loads are transported to these cities by the locals and the price varies from Rs. 5 to Rs. 10 for each frond.
Apart from Melkote, botanists have recently come across a very small patch of this plant in Bellary district. The plant can come up even in semi-arid conditions and even in rough soils or the lack of it. Yet, this hardy plant is almost on the verge of entering into history books.  
The plants belong to one of the most ancient species in the country and it is classified as Cycas Circinalis. It is not found anywhere else in the State barring the Narayandurga forests in the Melkote wildlife reserve.
Botanists say that the humid climatic condition of Melkote and the rocky terrain of the region interspread with shrubs and trees, are well-suited for its growth.
Cycases belong to the group of Gymnosperms. What sets them apart is that the male and female plants are separate and they are rather slow growing.
There are two species of this plant in South India- Cycas Cercinalis and Cycas Revoluta. The former is a native, while the latter is introduced species.
It is also called Dinosaur Foot Tree as it resembles a Dinosaur’s foot. Several species of butterflies are dependent on this plant as it helps in pollination.
In India, three species of the Cycas Circinalis family are found in different states. While one species is found in Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, the other is found in parts of Orissa and another species in found in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. However, Circinalis is confined only to Narayandurga forests in Karnataka.
The Yadavagiri Hills of Melkote are the last rocky ridges of the Sahayadri ranges and they comprise some of the oldest rock formations on the Earth.
The hill is the last home to the rare plant. Botanists say that at least 50 per cent of the habitat is estimated to have been lost in the past 60 years. A few plants have also been noticed in the Chamundi Hills in Mysore.
There is  an urgent need to protect the plant as it takes several years to grow and sexual reproduction takes place after 10 years of exclusive vegetative growth.
The Forest Department has decided to set up various “daivavanas” which will go by the names like Dharmikavana, Smrithivana, Navagrahavana and Saptarishivana. The department has decided to re-plant it on  200 hectares in and around Melkote, where the department had identified over 200 rare and endangered floral species, some of which date back to the pre-historic times.
Apart from the Cycas Circinalis, the department also wants to preserve other endangered species like Gardenia Gummifera and the commonly used medicinal plant Boswellia Sarreta.

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