Research conducted on a tree found in the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in West Bengal the tree had, for years, been a puzzle to botanists and scientists has revealed two new species of Cycas to the world. Cycas are one of the most ancient plants whose fossils date to the Jurassic period and are often referred to as “living fossils”.
While initial studies on the lone tree revealed that it was Cycas, a gymnosperm, further research based on its morphological and anatomical characters led to the discovery of new species of Cycas pschannae and, later, Cycas dharmrajii in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The species were named after scientists Paramjit Singh Channa and Dharmraj S. Mishra.
The lone Cycas pschannae found in the Botanic Garden may have been planted by the British. Cycads are very slow growing trees and this particular tree did not catch much attention before 2001 when we started working on it, Of the nine locations where the species was found, it was only at two places that a congregate population of significant adult plants could be located. We found about 1,200 plants at Middle Andaman Curt Burt Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, which included only 13 adult trees and 500 in North Andaman, Ross Island which also had 13 adults.
The sporophylls of Cycas pschannae are characterised by the presence of two lateral horn-like structures. According to scientists, Cycas evolved on the earth as the first seeded plants and they grow very slowly, adding only a few centimetres every year. Nearly 65% of Cycas are threatened but what makes the flora unique is that despite being a contemporary of the dinosaur, the genus continues to thrive. There are over 100 species of Cycas found across the globe.