New species of African Violet plant discovered from Mizoram

Violet Saintpaulias flowers commonly known as African violets Parma violets close up isolated colored bokeh background.

A group of botanists from the Bhopal-based Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) have recently discovered a new species of plant belonging to the African Violets family from Mizoram and adjacent areas in Myanmar.

IISER sources said that there are 106 currently known species of this (African Violets) genus, of which 26 are present in northeastern states of India.

Didymocarpus is a genus belonging to the plant family Gesneriaceae (commonly known as African Violets) and its members are distributed from Western Himalayas to Sumatra. Most of these species are narrow endemics and require specialised habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats.

Highlighting the importance of Research IISER’s Associate Professor (Department of Biological Sciences) Vinita Gowda said : “Northeast India is home to highly diverse flora because of its unique bio-geographic placement as part of two biodiversity hotspots – the Indo-Burma hotspot and the Eastern Himalayas.”

She said that the new discovery brings new insights into the unique evolutionary trajectory of flora in this region of India. “Beyond the academic desire to document biodiversity, finding the amissing pieces’ of the biodiversity puzzle are important in designing conservation approaches to protect the fragile ecosystem of such hotspots,” said Gowda, who led the study on African Violets.

Newly described species Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae) is currently known from only three locations in Mizoram and considered as an endangered species.

Along with other discoveries by the IISER, Bhopal research team in the past few years, this discovery shows that the biodiversity of the northeastern parts of India is understudied and there are many species of plants that remain undiscovered.

The IISER scientists said that because of its complex geology and climatic conditions, northeast India is home to a diverse flora and fauna. However, much of it remains poorly documented.

Northeast region comprising eight states consists of eight per cent of India’s total geographical area and four per cent of country’s population Scientists of IISER, under the Union Education Ministry, said that the latest discovery has been published in the journal Systematic Botany (a peer reviewed journal published by American Society for Plant Taxonomists) in a paper co-authored by Prasanna N.S., a research scholar and Vinita Gowda.

Gowda said that the biodiversity in the northeastern region of India is poorly known due to low priority in research, inaccessibility and remoteness, challenges that are being tackled by research groups such as the TrEE lab (Tropical Ecology and Evolution lab).

The IISER research team combines traditional processes of taxonomy with modern methods such as molecular phylogenetics to unravel the biodiversity of the northeast and place it in the context of the larger Asian landscape.

“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,” said Gowda.

Set up in 2008, IISER Bhopal has secured 40th place in the National Institutional Ranking Framework of the Union Education Ministry last year.

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