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Conservation of the Endangered Kaempferia siphonantha King ex. Baker in the Andaman-Nicobar Archipelago

Volume 2 Number 5 - August 1995
P.S.N. Rao

Situated in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman-Nicobar islands are an elongated north-south orientated group of over 350 islands (Latitude 6º to 14ºN and Longitude 92º to 94º E) with a total land mass of about 8,500 sq. km. With more than 85% of the geographical area under luxuriant tropical forest cover, the insular and fragile flora exhibits immense diversity and a high degree of endemism, as nearly 280 species are endemic, among a total of about 2,000 angiosperms enumerated for the Bay Islands. The islands constitute one of the 12 phytogeographical zones in India. Subjected to both south-west and north-east monsoons from May to December, average annual rainfall is 3,500 mm.

With the recent increase in various developmental activities and human interferences over the last two decades, the natural habitats have either been destroyed or are deteriorating. The existence of several endemic plant species is now threatened. Unfortunately herbaceous species often go unnoticed to extinction while the plight of tree species is highlighted by foresters.

This present communication aims to highlight the threat looming large in the case of Kaempferia siphonantha King ex. Baker (Zingiberaceae) endemic to the Great Andaman island of this archipelago with extremely limited populations. K. siphonantha is the only representative of the genus in the island territory (Karthikeyan, S., Jain, S.K., Nayar, M.P. and Sanjappa, M. (1989) Florae Indicae Enumerato: Monocotyledonae. B.S.I. Publication, Calcutta.

First collected by King's collector and later described by Baker in J.D. Hooker's Flora British India (6:218-224, 1890), the species was almost forgotten until its collection and identification by the author from the Kalpong foothills in North Andaman. This very region is now earmarked for construction of the first ever hydroelectric project of these islands.

K. siphonantha is a stemless annual up to 20 cm. tall, with slender root fibres, 3-4 leaves in a tuft having oblique leaf base and a solitary flower at the end of a long slender spike which is contemporary with the leaves. White flowers attract attention as the lip is tinged with purple patches at the distal end.

Presently, the large scale conversion of forested land for agriculture and human settlement is contributing to the shrinkage of the distributional range of this species, as well as many more rare species in their natural habitats. Of late, the local forest department has initiated some measures to protect species such as Caesaria andamanica King., Euphorbia epiphylloides Kurz. and Arisaema saddlepeakense Rao & Srivastava. by legislation, while the Botanical Survey of India is making efforts to introduce and conserve them in the Experimental Botanic Garden/Arboretum at Port Blair.

BSI has been concentrating on the introduction of several endemics in its Experimental Garden for ex situ conservation, and providing the requisite information to forest departments for in situ conservation of threatened plant species. BSI also stresses the need for further taxonomic studies of various extra-Indian species found in this archipelago but not occurring in India proper.