Syzygium travancoricum: A Highly Threatened Tree Species Endemic to the Western Ghats of India

Syzygium travancoricum

A Highly Threatened Tree Species Endemic to the Western Ghats of India 

-Dr. Arvind Singh 

Syzygium travancoricumIndia is a mega-diversity country having a large variety of flora and fauna. About 45,000 species of plants and about 80,000 species of animals are reported from India. Of the total reported plant species from India, about 15,000 of them are represented by the flowering plants. The Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas are the two hotspots of biodiversity in India. Hotspots are the biodiversity-rich regions of the world but at the same time, there is a threat to biodiversity from human beings.

Syzygium travancoricum is a rare tree species found in the Western Ghats of India chiefly in the state of Kerala. The species has also been reported from the state of Karnataka. Syzygium travancoricum belongs to the Myrtaceae family of the flowering plants. In Kerala, it is locally called as Poriyal, Vathamkollimaram, and Kollignaval.

Due to the small population size the tree species are listed as “Critically Endangered” in the Red List of Threatened Species of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Critically endangered species are those which are facing the threat of extinction in wild in immediate future. According to IUCN Red List, only 200 mature trees of Syzygium travancoricum are found in the Western Ghats of India.

Characteristics of Syzygium travancoricum:

Syzygium travancoricum is an evergreen tree species growing up to 25 m. in height. The bark of the tree is longitudinally fissured and greyish brown in color. Leaves are simple, petiolate and large in size. Flowers are small, bisexual and white in color. The fruit is a berry type of deep purple color containing a single seed.

Economic Importance of Syzygium travancoricum:

Syzygium travancoricum is known for its medicinal value. Traditionally this plant species has been used for curing diabetes and arthritis by local people. The species is well known for its astringent, hypoglycemic, bactericidal, antifungal and neuropsychopharmacological effects. It is also a source of essential oil.

Distribution and Population size of Syzygium travancoricum:

Syzygium travancoricum was first discovered in the swampy lowlands of Travancore. The species presently occurs in evergreen, semi-evergreen forests and few sacred groves in Kollam, Pathananthitta, Thiruvanthapuram, Alapuzha and Thrissur districts of Kerala. The species has also been reported from freshwater Myristica swamps of Southern Kerala and Uttar Kannada district of Karnataka. . 

Studies in India reveal that presently 323 trees (which also include immature trees) of Syzygium travancoricum are found in India. In Kerala state 152 trees have been reported from Myristica swamps of South Kerala, 110 trees from Kalassamala grove, 20 trees from Guddrikal and 4 trees from Aickad sacred groves. In the state of Karnataka total of 36 trees have been reported, of which 35 trees occur in Myristica swamps of Siddhapur taluk and a single tree occurs in Ankola taluk.

What are Myristica Swamps?

Myristica swamps are freshwater swamp forests dominated by tree species belonging to the Myristicaceae family of the flowering plants. These swamps are found at two places in India; one in Southern parts of Kerala state and the other in Uttar Kannada district of the state of Karnataka.

What are Sacred Groves?

Sacred groves are the small patches of natural vegetation preserved on religious grounds. These groves are found in areas dominated by tribals and managed by local people for various reasons. All sacred groves are islands of greenery in the landscape protecting biological diversity and enhancing environmental quality. Protection of groves of Khejri (Prosopis cineraria) trees by the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is a noteworthy example.

Habitat and Ecology of Syzygium travancoricum:

Syzygium travancoricum prefers high rainfall areas with plenty of soil moisture. Leaf fall begins in January followed by flushing by mid-February. Leaves attain maturity at the end of April. Flowering begins at the end of March. Fruiting begins at the end of April and extends up to September. At the end of September, most of the fruits fall. Germination of the seeds follows within one month.

Threats to Survival Syzygium travancoricum:

Habitat loss is the main threat to the survival of Syzygium travancoricum. The swamp habitat of this tree species has been converted to paddy fields. The other threats include inferior germplasm, high rate of outbreeding and habitat specificity, which accounts for poor regeneration and seed viability.

Conservation of Syzygium travancoricum:

The following actions are needed for the conservation of this rare endemic tree species:

1. To check the habitat loss of the species. 
2. To restore the degraded habitats of the tree species. 
3. To propagate the tree species through tissue culture technique. 
4. To immediately declare the Myristica swamps as a Protected Area. 
5. To create mass awareness for the conservation of this endemic tree species. 

Conclusion:

It can be concluded that Syzygium travancoricum endemic to Western Ghats of India is a highly threatened species of the plant facing the threat of extinction. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to conserve this endemic tree species for the maintenance of biological diversity and ecological stability.
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Dr. Arvind Singh is M. Sc. and Ph. D. in Botany with an area of specialization in Ecology. He is a dedicated Researcher having more than four dozen published Research Papers in the Journals of National and International repute. His main area of Research is Restoration of Mined Lands. However, he has also conducted research on the Vascular Flora of Banaras Hindu University-Main Campus, India.

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