A plant species that has outlived the dinosaurs, the Cycas circinalis, a ‘living fossil’ found only in the Western Ghats, faces the threat of extinction due to the over-harvesting of its leaves for commercial purposes.
- While there are nine species of Cycas found across the country, almost all of which are classified as being endangered, the Cycas circinalis, found at altitudes between 1,500 and 1,800 meters, has traditionally been used by tribal communities for a variety of purposes.
- In the Nilgiris and other parts of the Western Ghats, where the plant is found, the seed is sometimes soaked in water (to remove a strong poison contained within) and ground into flour, after which it is eaten, while the seed is also said to be used in traditional, indigenous medicine.
- However, over the last few decades, the leaves of the circinalis, which are used for ornamental purposes like for setting up ‘pandals’ have been harvested in bulk from the remaining plants, often leading to them becoming stunted and unable to reproduce and increase in number.
- Circinalis plants do not grow in large numbers in the wild, and the over exploitation of the leaves from the plant has caused a further decline over the last few decades.
- The circinalis is an ideal host plant for ants, cupid butterflies and bats, and added that their protection was a vital aspect of protecting the ecology of the Western Ghats in the long run.