New plant species from coffee family spotted in Wagamon

Argostemma quarantena is a perennial herb characterised by striking white flowers

A new plant species belonging to the coffee family spotted in the scenic Wagamon hills in Kerala has been named Argostemma quarantena to commemorate the millions who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.

A delicate herbaceous species from the family Rubiaceae, Argostemma quarantena was discovered along quick-flowing streams in an isolated evergreen patch along the Idukki-Kottayam border.

The plant was identified by a research team consisting of Anoop P. Balan and A.J. Robi, faculty of the Department of Botany, Bishop Abraham Memorial College, Thuruthicad, Pathanamthitta district; and N. Sasidharan, former Chief Scientist, Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi. Their findings have been published in the latest issue of Webbia journal of plant taxonomy and geography.

“The specific epithet quarantena indicates the outbreak of coronavirus across the world in 2020,” the paper on the discovery noted. The new species sports similarities with two south Indian endemics, Argostemma anupama and Argostemma courtallense but differs in many attributes, including the stem, leaves and stipules, according to the researchers.

In undisturbed habitats

Argostemma quarantena is a perennial herb which grows to a height of 3-7cm and is characterised by striking white flowers. Very sensitive to microclimatic changes, the plant is found in wet rocks in shaded, undisturbed habitats, notably along streams in evergreen forests. Argostemma quarantena is known only from its type locality at Wagamon, according to the findings. The species has been classified Data Deficient (DD) under IUCN standards as extensive field surveys are required to assign an appropriate category.

Biodiversity protection

The discovery underlines the need for urgent measures to protect the biodiversity of Wagamon, a popular tourist destination, Dr. Robi said.

Argostemma quarantena is in fact the fifth species discovered from Wagamon by research teams which included Dr. Robi and Dr. Balan. The list includes Eriocaulon meenachilense, a new tuberous species (published in Edinburgh Journal of Botany), and Litsea manilaliana (identified by Dr. Robi and P.S. Udayan, Department of Botany, Sree Krishna College, and published in the journal Phytotaxa). The latter species, belonging to the family Lauraceae, is named after botanist K.S. Manilal, who translated Hendrik van Rheede’s Hortus Malabaricus.

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