Plant shows crop promise

The fruits of Smilax sailenii. Picture courtesy: Jatindra Sarma

Guwahati: The fruits of a new species of climber, Smilax sailenii, discovered in Upper Assam in 2012, can be developed into a horticultural crop.

The species, discovered by Jatindra Sarma, a forest officer working in Karbi Anglong district, has been named in the honour of late Sailendra Prasad Borah, a professor of botany at Gauhati University, who passed away in 2012 of cancer.

The discovery has been published in the current issue of Taiwania, a peer reviewed journal.

The species belongs to the family Smilacaceae.

The species was discovered in 2012 at Digboi reserve forest in Tinsukia district but it took time to publish the discovery as researchers were trying to find out how it was different from others.

"The fruits are reddish in colour and turn blackish when ripe. The fruits are sour-sweet when ripe," Sarma told The Telegraph. He also said, "It could be developed as a horticultural crop, like grapes, if cultivated properly."

He said tests conducted at a laboratory in Bangalore have confirmed the presence of starch and sugar.

The article - Smilax sailenii (Smilacaceae): A new species from Assam - authored by Sanjib Baruah, Jatindra Sarma and Sachin Kumar Borthakur says the specimens are quite distinct from hitherto known species of Smilax, and thus is described as a new species.

Sanjib Baruah works with the department of botany, Bodoland University, Kokrajhar, while Sachin Kumar Borthakur works in the department of botany, Gauhati University.

The authors say Smilax sailenii differs from Smilax orthoptera in its fruit size, which is up to 3cm in diameter and is found to be the largest among the species recorded in this study. The fruits are whitish in colour at young stage in Smilax orthoptera while the fruits are dark green in Smilax sailenii.

The species is known to be found only in the sub-tropical forests of Assam at an elevation of 300-400 metres. Its geographic range (extent of occurrence) and the quality of habitat are declining continuously.

Smilax sailenii is assessed as critically endangered (CR). The species is only known from its type locality Digboi reserve forest, Borjan area of Borjan-Bherjan-Padumoni wildlife sanctuary in Tinsukia district.

The climber flowers from September to October, and it bears fruit from June to December.


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