By Ifham Nizam
A rare endemic lotus plant species, widely thought to be extinct, has been discovered after 50 years in the Gulawita North Grama Niladhari Division, adjacent to the Nawalakanda forest in the Walallawita Divisional Secretariat Division in the Kalutara District.
Scientifically known as Strobilanthes rhytisperma, the species was last reported in the Central Province in 1867 and in the Ranwala Forest Reserve, in the Kalutara District, in 1971, but no living specimens had been found since, said researcher Peshala Pasan Karunaratne.
Karunaratne said the particular species had been thought to be limited to research notes as it had not been found anywhere.
The species has been confirmed by environmental researcher Karunaratne, who has been studying the species, after the rediscovery of the plant in the Walallawita area by Himesh Dilruwan Jayasinghe, an expert on the species.
The research team of Renuka Nilanthi Rajapaksa and Nuwan Chathuranga Jayawardena, engaged in research on plant species at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, also confirmed that the Lotus species was a Strobilanthes rhytisperma.
The Sinhala name of this plant is not known and as it is endemic to Sri Lanka, there is no name for this species in English or any other language and it has been scientifically named as Strobilanthes rhytisperma. Scientific taxonomy belongs to the genus S. rhytisperma of the genus Strobilanthes, of the family Acanthaceae of the genus Lamiales, and belongs to the genus Tracheophytes.
Some 450 species of the genus Strobilanthes, commonly known as Nelu, have been reported from Asia and Australia, including Sri Lanka.
Of these, 33 species are recorded from Sri Lanka and 27 of them are endemic species. Although no live plant specimens have been found so far, researchers believe the species may have been more widespread in the past, and the new findings confirm the evidence.
According to the 2020 Red Data List, this species is listed as a critically endangered species. Researchers predict that this species will lose habitat as lands are cleared for various crops and human habitation, and that this will further endanger forests.
The forest system where this plant was found is small with human settlements and lowland wet zone forest features such as Sinharaja Kanneliya. These small forest systems, which are home to a number of extremely rare plant and animal species, have not yet been formally studied, and it is hoped that if such a formal study could be conducted, many previously unknown species could be identified, environmentalists say, adding that it will enable the conservation of such rare and endangered species and pass on these species to future generations.