A rare flower, which until now has been documented only in parts of Arunachal Pradesh, has been sighted in the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, leading to calls for increased protection of forests and the environment surrounding it.
Sapria Himalayana is an endangered holoparasitic flowering plant related to Rafflesia found in the Eastern Himalayas. It is completely dependent on its host plant for water, nutrients and products of photosynthesis, which it sucks through a specialized root system.
The flower itself has three varieties, Griffith, poilanei and ram, with Griffith being the one spotted in the Nokrek Biosphere. It has until now only been found in Thailand and parts of Arunachal, with sightings being extremely rare.
The flowers are about 20 centimetres across, dioecious and unisexual. It is also the largest flower in the world. It has 10 bracts and are bright red in colour covered with sulphur-yellow spots. They appear above the ground, bloom for two to three days and have a putrid odour. Flowers are fleshy with imbricate inflorescence.
Flowering takes place between August and September followed by fruiting during winter. After blooming, the flower bursts open and becomes dark in colour and subsequently decomposes slowly. The seeds are of the size of a grape fruit and are blackish-brown in colour.
While the flower has been spotted in some parts of Arunachal Pradesh, there have been records of it being seen in parts of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya, though there have been no recent sightings – until now in Meghalaya.
Bhuto Marak, an employee in the Taxation Department in Williamnagar and an avid trekker, had been on a recent trip on November 21 to the far-flung parts of the Nokrek Reserve accompanied by a friend.
During the trip that nearly reached the fringes of the Nokrek Peak, the two friends spotted a fully grown sapria himalayana. Surprised by the find, they immediately took photos of the place and the flower before informing the administration of their find.
They, however, chose to keep the location secret for now in the fear that the place could be overrun and the flower’s discovery could lead to a frenzy, which would lead to disturbances to the fragile environment required for its blooming.
“The bud itself has only a 40-60 percent chance of growing into a flower, which only blooms for two-three days. We chose not to disclose the location as nature wants to be left alone to heal itself and we felt the need to allow it time to do so,” said Marak.
According to him, the bud was still there when they spotted the flower and the friends have decided on another trip to the same place to see the condition of the bud and if it has bloomed. He gave some more good news after three more buds were spotted in the same place where they found the flower.
“The flower requires forest litter to grow and normal sightings have shown only one flower at a time. Sarpia has to be conserved in situ due to its parasitic nature. All efforts to grow the flower ex situ have been futile,” he added.
Furthermore, Marak felt that unauthorized and unproductive collection of specimens should not be encouraged; it lowers the chance of the flower’s survival.
“Too much damage has been done already. This is nature calling for it to be left alone so that it can heal itself,” said the nature lover.
Meanwhile, another resident of Tura, Barnash D Shira, has also reported sightings of the flower in another section of the Durama Range near Nokrek. He has documented the same through a vlog. Others too have reported sightings, though these could not be independently verified due to a paucity of time.
The flower generally grows in altitudes of 800 metres and above in evergreen forests but is found in only a few countries like Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the North East of India. It is extremely rare and is under threat due to human pressures.
The fact that the flower has a history in Garo Hills stems from the fact that it is known as ‘Dikge Pile’ in West Garo Hills and ‘Techri’ in East Garo Hills. Nokrek Biosphere is spread across both districts.
“This is an extremely rare find, both for botany enthusiasts as well as environment experts. It also showcases the diversity of Garo Hills in its environment. This environment is crying for protection and we must do everything possible to keep it right,” said Marak.
He added that the flora and fauna of the state, while not as well documented as the rest of the country, deserves as much protection with the hotspots of Balpakram and Nokrek in Garo Hills needing extra care.