Gauhati University botanist unearths rare rock-growing plant, lesser-known wild jamun
Eranthemum burmanicum with flowers (L) and Syzygium diospyrifolium (Jamun) recollected after 109 years in Assam (Photo source: Debolina Dey)

Guwahati: A field botanist from Gauhati University has recorded a rare rock-growing plant for the first time in India and recollected a lesser-known wild jamun species of Assam after 109 years. Both milestones came in quick succession, with the rock-growing plant spotted in 2020 during an expedition to Barail hills of the Cachar district, and the wild jamun species found in 2021 in the Tinsukia district.

A team of botanical researchers from Gauhati University and the Botanical Survey of India, ISIM, Kolkata, has recorded the occurrence of Eranthemum burmanicum N.P.Balakr. for the first time in India from the Barail hills of Cachar district, Assam. A report on it has been published in the ‘Journal of Japanese Botany’. The genus Eranthemum L. belongs to the family Acanthaceae and contains about 23 species, distributed in tropical and subtropical regions from India to South China and Malaysia. In India, it is represented by around 16 species. The number of species clearly suggests that India is one of the centers for the diversity of Eranthemum.

During a botanical expedition to the Barail Hills of Cachar district, Assam, an interesting plant species with beautiful bluish-purple flowers was spotted growing from the rock crevices. The plant species that grow in or from rock crevices are known as chasmophytes. Upon a critical study of the available literature and relevant mid-19th-century herbarium specimens housed at RBG, Kew (K), and CNH, Kolkata (CAL) herbaria, the authors identified the plant species as E. burmanicum N.P.Balakr. So far, it was known only from Myanmar and Thailand. The present report from Cachar district of Assam is its first and only occurrence record in India. The publication also includes the first available live photographs of this plant specimen.

“Eranthemum burmanicum is one of the least known yet most aesthetic chasmophytes, possessing great potential value toward the horticulture sector. However, its limited distributional range, unique ecology, and lack of population data call for further attention, research, and propagation to enhance both its ex-situ and in-situ conservation,” Dr. Debolina Dey, a researcher at the Department of Botany, Gauhati University, told EastMojo.

On a similar quest, a team of researchers from the Botany department at Gauhati University has succeeded in recollecting the wild jamun species from Assam after 109 years. Syzygium diospyrifolium (Wall. Ex Duthie) S.N. Mitra was first described by the 19th-century English botanist J.F. Duthie as Eugenia diospyrifolia based on herbarium samples collected by F. De Silva from ‘Montes Sillet’ (present-day Sylhet mountains of Bangladesh) and Griffith from Khasia mountains. The term “diospyrifolium” refers to its Diospyros tree-like leaves (Kendu gos in Assamese).

Upon consultation at the CNH, Kolkata, and BSI-ERC, Shillong herbaria, the authors inferred that although the species was recollected earlier by several workers from Meghalaya and Bangladesh, it is still a lesser-known wild jamun species in other parts of the N.E. region, especially in Assam, where it was collected only once by Upendra Nath Kanjilal in 1912 from Rengma Reserve of the hitherto greater Sibsagar district of undivided Assam.

“The species is often misidentified with other similar-looking jamun species like S. coarctatum, S. formosum, and S. lanceolarium,” said Dr. Debolina Dey, who had been working on the taxonomy of the genus Syzygium (Jamun) in North East India. Dr. Debolina has worked under the guidance of several noted and senior taxonomists from Gauhati University, Shivaji University, and the Botanical Survey of India. Along with her co-authors, she has also contributed a few more botanical findings besides these two.

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She has discovered and described a new species to science from Golaghat district. The tree (Syzygium namborense D.Dey, N.Devi & J.Sarma) has been named after its type locality, Nambor forest. She has rediscovered a long-lost aquatic plant species of India (Aponogeton lakhonensis A. Camus) from Dhemaji district after 123 years and recollected another rare plant (Ceropegia lucida Wall.) from Assam after 145 years. She has added several other new plants to the flora of Assam.

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