New bloom in the Eastern Ghats
The discovery of a new species of flower is a great achievement. We bring to you a report from the field.
“Is this flower even real?” was my first reaction when Dr L Rasingam showed it to us. Dr Rasingam, Senior Scientist at Botanical Survey of India was leading an expedition accompanied by Dr MS Rao and myself to assess the population of Cycas beddomei, an endangered species found only in Seshachalam hill Ranges. We were trekking through the Penchalakona hill, a part of the Veligonda hill-ranges of the Eastern Ghats. While climbing the rocky cliffs we spotted a beautiful flower which we initially felt belonged to Brachystelma, a genus belonging to family Apocynaceae. It was really difficult to locate this delicate species which was growing among a tangle of grasses, but thanks to Dr Rasingam, we chanced upon this flower not by sheer luck but because of his years of experience in exploring the landscapes of India. I photographed and collected the flower for further identification at our lab in Hyderabad. It was confirmed that it belonged to the genus Brachystelma which is phylogenetically close to genus Ceropegia (lantern flower). Brachystelma is distributed mainly in the Old World tropics, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, India, Sri Lanka, South East Asia and Northern Australia. It has c. 120 species altogether; of which c. 18 species are reported from India. In Andhra Pradesh, the genus is represented by four species: Brachystelma ciliatum Arekal & T.M.Ramakrishna, Brachystelma glabrum Hook. f., B. volubile Hook and the recently described B. pullaiahii B. R. P. Rao et al. While comparing our specimen with other species of this genus we came to the conclusion that this species is indeed new to science. For further confirmation, we approached Dr Ulrich Meve, a German Botanist who is an authority on this genus. He also confirmed the uniqueness of our specimen. We described this species and named it Brachystelma penchalakonense, after the Penchalakona hills where it was first discovered.
This discovery was published in the journal Kew Bulletin in the year 2013. Further explorations in the adjacent hill tracts are necessary to ascertain the status of the species. At the moment, the area is well protected under the Peninsula Wildlife sanctuary.
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