New rhododendron species discovered in Arunachal



New rhododendron species discovered in Arunachal Itanagar: Adding to the rare bouquet of rich biodiversity in the Himalayan state, researchers have discovered a new beautiful species of pink rhododendron flower in Arunachal Pradesh which was hitherto unknown to science.

A team of botanical experts recently carried out explorations in West Siang district's remote Mechukha valley, few km away from the China border, and found the rare and endemic flower which has been named 'Rhododendron Mechukae' after its place of origin.

The findings by the North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST) have been confirmed by the Botanical Survey of India and recorded in the latest issue of Edinburgh Journal of Botany as a species new to science.

"The tree of 5-10 meters in height grows in semi-dense temperate forest along with other known species of rhododendron and shrubs at an altitude of above 2400 metres. It is common there but habitat is limited to hillsides in Mechukha area," scientist Sanjeeb Bharali who led the research told PTI.

The attractive pink flower blooms in early February and can be noticed by tourists till this time of the year in March.

The word Rhododendron means red tree in Greek, referring to the red flowers commonly associated with the species.

Often regarded as the best flowering evergreen plants for the temperate landscape, rhododendrons are also known as the 'King of Shrubs'.

Widespread across the temperate regions of the world, rhododendron reaches its greatest diversity in Asia, with India alone hosting more than 100 species.

Mechuka, where the discovery was made, falls under the Himalayan range and is characterised by rough topography with mountains, deeply incised valleys, escarpments and plateaus.

Describing it as a critically-endangered species, the research paper published in the journal says the total area of occupancy of this species is only around 5-10 sq km and the area is subject to timber extraction, greatly threatening its population.

Bharali says deforestation for fuel wood and massive destruction of the habitats due to pressures of development is threatening the survival of this species, which is not found anywhere else in the world.

Ecologists say the stiff, waxy leaves of these evergreen species provide shelter to a great variety of insect fauna, which incidentally help in pollination.

Botanical Survey of India's scientist A A Mao points out that since many biodiversity-rich areas in the mountain state are located in very remote areas, many new species lay hidden.

In the last 4-5 years his team has already discovered around 10 species of different plants.

Surrounded by sublime Himalayan peaks and scenic splendour, Arunachal hosts a glorious variety of plants and animals.

A WWF report recorded the discovery of 353 new species of animals and plants in the Eastern Himalayas region between 1998 and 2008.

Arunachal Pradesh possesses India's second highest level of genetic resources. Although occupying only 2.5 per cent of India's geographical area, the state occupies a significant place in terms of floral and faunal biodiversity, being considered one of the world's 18 biodiversity hotspots.

PTI