Scientists from Agharkar Research Institute, Pune have discovered two new species of pipeworts from the Western Ghats of Maharashtra and Karnataka- one of the thirty-five hot spots of biological diversity in the world. This information was mentioned in the press release by the Ministry of Science and Technology. These two new plant species are known for its varied medicinal properties.

This plant group pipeworts (Eriocaulon), completes their life cycle within a small period during monsoon, exhibits great diversity in the Western Ghats, having around 111 species in India.

Eriocaulon karaavalense

The release further states that the scientist from ARI, Pune found the new species while exploring the biodiversity of the Western Ghats. They wanted to trace the evolutionary history of the genus Eriocaulon and made extensive efforts to collect as many species as possible from India, especially from the Western Ghats.

“While critically examining our collection, we came across two accessions, which showed different floral characters than earlier known species. Hence, we studied morphology and its DNA to confirm the novelty,” said Dr. Ritesh Kumar Choudhary, the lead author of the study.

“Identification of the species belonging to Eriocaulon is very difficult as they all look similar, which is why the genus is often referred to as ‘Taxonomist’s nightmare’. Its tiny flowers and seeds make it difficult to distinguish between different species,” Dr. Choudhary pointed out.

Eriocaulon parvicephalum

Their study was published in the journals ‘Phytotaxa’ and ‘Annales Botanici Fennici’. The one reported from Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra was named as Eriocaulon parvicephalum (due to its minute inflorescence size), and the other reported from Kumta, Karnataka was named as Eriocaulon karaavalense (named after Karaavali = Coastal Karnataka region).

“Future studies will focus on elucidating the evolutionary history of the genus in India. A thorough investigation of the phylogenetic relationship between all Indian species would also help in prioritizing the conservation of threatened species in India. We are also trying to develop DNA barcodes, which will enable us to identify the species with just a portion of the leaf,” said Dr. Choudhary’s Ph.D. student Ashwini Darshetkar.

Most of these are reported from the Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas, and around 70% of them are endemic to the country. One species, Eriocaulon cinereum, is well known for its anti-cancerous, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. E. quinquangulare is used against liver diseases. E. madayiparense is an anti-bacterial from Kerala. The medicinal properties of the newly discovered species are yet to be explored.