Swan song in full bloom

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  • Published 20.05.03

Burdwan, May 20: For this species of palm, death comes with procreation. Botanists and students at Burdwan University are closely monitoring the last days of the Gebang palm, which flowers, bears fruit and dies.

“The Corypha Elata is a unique species of the palm family. It attains maturity in 40 years and then a large inflorescence emerges near its crown and after it bears fruit and its seeds are dispersed, it withers away,” said Pankaj Paul, the head of the botany department of the university.

Paul said this is the first time in 20 years that the students and the faculty of the department are witnessing the unique phenomenon. The two other trees of the variety on the campus are yet to flower.

“You can count these trees on your hand. Some of them are found in Birbhum and Bankura. For us, who study plant life, this is a rare opportunity to study the Corypha Elata in its last throes,” Paul said, pointing at the seeds dispersed in the vicinity.

The students here have taken up a project to collect as many seeds as possible from the dying tree to make up a gene bank and to grow the Gebang palm on the varsity premises.

No one here knows who exactly brought the plant species to India from its original home in coastal East Indies.

“When I heard that the palm was in bloom, I went to the Lalbag campus with my entire family to see it. I had not imagined that I would see with my own eyes what I had read in the botany texts,” said Samaresh De, a former student of the varsity’s botany department. He is now a sub-inspector with the district police.