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Euphorbia epiphylloides Kurz - A Rare and Endemic Succulent of the Andamans, Needing Conservation

Volume 2 Number 6 - June 1996

P.V. Sreekumar, S.K. Mitra, and Tarun Coomar

The genus Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae) includes over 2,000 species in the world, of which about 100 occur in India and 5 in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The genus is well known for its aesthetic value as it contains a number of curious and eye-catching succulent species which attract both professionals and amateur collectors as well as other plant lovers.

This species was first reported from the Andaman Islands by S. Kurz in 1873 and the present field observations and herbarium data indicate the this rare and endemic species is only found in a few localities of North Andaman.

E. epiphylloides is a small unbranched tree, 1 to 3 m high, with a crown of flat branches, crenate-sinuate margins, narrow at base forming a callus. The leaves are obovate and caducous. Small, ivory flowers arise from the crenulate sinuses of the flat branches.

This succulent grows in the higher montane scrub forests of North Andaman, at an altitude of 600m. Though, according to Parkinson (1923, A Forest Flora of Andaman Islands, Simla) the species is distributed in several localities both in the interior and along the sea shore, the field data reveals that it is restricted to the proposed Kalpong Hydel Project area and the highest point of the Andamans, the Saddle Peak. The species appears to be on the verge of extinction. Only two large plants (2m high) have been found in each of two localities with 30-40 seedlings of different heights in these two localities.

According to Meena Singh (Hunt for Euphorbia epiphylloides Kurz J. Indian Soc. Cactus and Succulents 1:11-15, 1994) "the paucity of mature plants seen around the locality indicates a declining population and no explanation for the decline can be given. The presence of a fair number of seedlings on the other hand indicates a natural comeback. Until further information is gathered, we can presume the species to be rare and endangered".

As part of its ex situ conservation, some saplings were collected by the locally-stationed army personnel and introduced into the garden of the Botanical Survey of India, and that of the Mini Zoo of the Forest Department, both at Port Blair. The latter of the two is growing very well. Cuttings taken from the side branches of the crown can be rooted after the cut end is dried in the shade for 4-6 days.

Propagation can also be undertaken by means of seed. Mature seed (3 per fruit) will germinate within 25-30 days in a porous soil medium. Seedlings can be replanted after a couple of months.

There is also an urgent need for in situ conservation to save this unique succulent species.