Tuesday, 5 June 2012

A new species of Custard Apple from the Western Ghats Mountains of India.

The Custard Apples (Annonacaea) are a family of flowering trees and shrubs found throughout the tropics, some of which produce edible fruit. They are placed within the Magnoliales (Magnolias), generally thought to be one of the oldest groups of flowering plants.

In a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa on 24 January 2012, a team of scientists led by Ratheesh Narayanan of the Community Agrobiodiversity Centre at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation describe a new species of (non-edible) Custard Apple from the Nadukani forests of Nilambur to the Kakkayam and Thusharagiri forests of Kozhikode district through the evergreen forests in the western side of Wayanad Ghats Mountain Range, in Kerala State, India. It is named Miliusa gokhalaei in honor of A.M. Gokhalae (IAS, Retd.), former Director of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India.

Map showing the locations where the new Custard Apple was found. Narayanan et al. (2012).

Miliusa gokhalaei is an evergreen tree with black bark reaching 5 m in height (which makes it part of the understory in the forests where it lives). It has large, oval, glossy leaves and small greenish flowers that develop into inedible pink fruit. The flowering/fruiting season lasts from September to February.

Miliusa gokhalaei. (A) Small twig with young flower. (B) Branch with mature flower. (C) Young fruit with cream-coloured monocarps. (D) Mature fruit with pinkish monocarps. Narayanan et al. (2012).
Trees of the genus Miliusa are found from India and Sri Lanka, through Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to New Guinea and Australia. There are five previously described species restricted to India, two found in India and Sri Lanka, and a further eight with wider distributions that include India. 

The forests where Miliusa gokhalaei was found are highly fragmented due to commercial plantations of coffee, tea and cardamom, as well as other crops. The M. gokhalai population was equally fragmented, and few of the stands discovered contained many plants. Theses forests are also host to a number of other endangered plants.

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