New species of African violet found in Mizoram

Guwahati May 24, 2021 (TNN): Researchers of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, have discovered a new endangered species of plant belonging to the African Violets family in Mizoram and its adjacent areas in Myanmar.

The newly-described species Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae) is currently known to grow in three locations in the frontier state Mizoram. It is an epiphyte, plants that grow on trees, and produce light pink flowers during monsoon. The species is named in honour of Dr Vicki Ann Funk, a renowned botanist, who worked at the Smithsonian Institute, USA.

Along with other discoveries, this recent find shows that the rich biodiversity of the northeastern states remains unexplored and there are many species of plants waiting to be discovered. Researches have always been allured by the complex geology and climatic conditions of northeast India, which is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. However, much of it remains poorly documented, even as the IISER Bhopal team was studying the evolution and biogeography of Didymocarpus plants.

“This discovery is an outcome of extensive fieldwork across northeast India, coupled with rigorous study of past collections kept in herbariums across the world,” said an IISER spokesperson.

The discovery has been published in the reputed journal ‘Systematic Botany’ (a peer reviewed journal published by the American Society for Plant Taxonomists) in a paper co-authored by Prasanna NS, research scholar, and Dr Vinita Gowda, associate professor at the department of biological sciences in IISER Bhopal.

“Northeast India is home to highly diverse flora because of its unique biogeographic placement as part of two biodiversity hotspots: the Indo-Burma hotspot and the Eastern Himalayas,” Dr Gowda said.

Didymocarpus is a genus belonging to the plant family Gesneriaceae (commonly known as ‘African Violets’) and its members are distributed across the Western Himalayas to Sumatra. Most of these species are narrow endemics and require specialized habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats. There are 106 currently known species of this genus, of which 26 are present in the northeastern states of India, the research team informed.

But beyond the academic desire to document biodiversity, finding the ‘missing pieces’ of the biodiversity puzzle are important in designing conservation approaches to protect the fragile ecosystem of such hotspots. “This is science in its finest form, a field of investigation that seeks knowledge and depth because, for man, there is much to learn in the wonders of nature,” Dr Gowda added.

While collecting the plants for study, authors stumbled upon a plant which was distinct from all botanically known plants. After critical examination of the morphology, published literature and past collections that are preserved in the natural history museums in India and UK, they described it as a new species.

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