|Cycas nayagarhensis is a new cycad species discovered from Nayagarh district of Odisha|
(Image courtesy: R. Singh/P. Radha/J.S. Khuraijam/AJCB)
According to a study published in the Asian Journal of Conservation Biology, this new species of cycad from Northern Eastern Ghats has a set of features which makes it distinct from its close relative Cycas orixensis and other known cycad species. Cycas nayagarhensis is distinguished from C. orixensis by its massive arborescent (tree like) stem, large male cones, with microsporophylls (leaf like structures that bears the spore cases called microsporangia in the plant) having entire or variously forked apical spine and radially compressed ovules, says the study.
The researchers were able to spot this particular species of cycad from three different places in Nayagarh. “Cycas nayagarhensis is reported from three populations in Nayagarh district of Odisha- Gamein Hills, Rukhi Hills and Balram Hills”, they said. These populations were recorded from an elevation of 130 to 180 meters from the sea level. Its typical habitat, as per the study, is open sandstone rocky hills of Nayagarh district.
Though the species is new to science, the plant is known to the local people. In vernacular language, the plant has different names like Aruguna, Oruguna, Orguna, Oranga and Odissimari. The stem of the plant is used by the local population for religious and cultural events.
However, the already small population of the newly described cycad species is under threat. According to the researchers, the typical habitat of the species is under the threat of getting modified, thanks to the expansion of the construction activities in the area. “Land transformation due to expansion of Nayagarh city has resulted in steep decline in the cycad population”, says the study. The researchers have recommended the plant to be classified under the Critically Endangered category of the IUCN Red List. “Considering its small population size with very few mature trees, the species can be enlisted as Critically Endangered”, says the study.
The study has also raised the status of another cycad plant which was earlier considered as a variety of Cycas circinalis, into a distinct species. Now known as Cycas orixensis, the species is very similar to the newly described Cycas nayagarhensis. However, it is reported from six different districts - Angul, Boudh, Dengkanal, Ganjam, Kendujhar and Mayurbhanj- of Odisha.
Rita Singh, University School of Environment Management, GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi, P. Radha, Centre for Plant Molecular Biology, Osmania University, Hyderabad and J.S. Khuraijam, Botanic Garden, CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow co-authored the study.