It is a genus of about 130 species of flowering plants and unique because of the size of its composite inflorescence
A Mumbai University M.Sc. (Botany) student is reported to have discovered a new species of Echinops Sahyadricus (English Common Name — Sahyadri Globe Thistle) from the Rajgad Fort in the Sahyadri mountains in collaboration with researchers of Fabio Conti of the University of Camerino, Italy, and Harshal Bhosale of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
Echinops is a genus of about 130 species of flowering plants found in tropical and north Africa, the Mediterranean basin and West Asia, extending eastwards to China and Japan. The highest number of taxa (76) are concentrated in the Iranian plateau. Five species are found in India including two in Maharashtra.
The new species was discovered while the botanists were working on a project called “Assessing the endemic biodiversity of high elevational plateaus of northern western ghats” led by Mr. Bhosale.
“The new species is unique because of the size of its composite inflorescence which measures up to 9 cm in diameter that is relatively large compared to other Echinops species found around the world,” said Sushant More, M.Sc., Sathaye College, Mumbai University, who discovered the species.
“I love to study the angiosperms AKA flowering plants and love exploring the western ghats mountains,” he said on the reason why he ventured into the project as part of the curriculum. The team worked last year during the monsoon, he said.
The discovery and the research paper has been published in the Nordic Journal of Botany, an international scientific journal.
The species is endemic to Western Maharashtra and found only on a few open hilltops in the northern western ghats. It is named after the Sahyadri mountains.
As per the research paper, the new species is close to other Indian species called Echinops echinatus AKA Indian Globe thistle and one European species called Echinops sphaerocephalus. But it differs in size of inflorescence, types of whorls of spine-like Bracts around the floret and type of leaves surface.
“In India, Echinops is represented by five taxa out of which three, E. cornigerus DC, E. niveus Wall and E. prionolepis Bornm & Mattf are restricted to the Himalayas and neighbouring areas,” the paper said.
Echinops rajasthanensis R.P. Pandey & V. Singh is endemic to Rajasthan and E. echinatus Roxb is seen throughout India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar in dry open scrub lands, it said.
It grows vegetatively on open grassy slopes of mountains in four months of monsoon and blooms in November. Fruiting can be seen in December.
The researchers said projects like road widening in the ghats and construction activities on forts could affect populations of this species and this should be protected at all costs.