Scientists trying to save India’s only double-coconut tree near Kolkata

Scientists trying to save India’s only double-coconut tree near Kolkata

It is now a race against time at the 232-year-old Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden in Howrah near Kolkata to save the country’s only double-coconut tree.

A 125-year-old female double coconut tree, the lone specimen planted by the British in India in 1894, is dying scientists fear. It is now in a virtual botanical intensive care unit.

In anticipation of the day, though, scientists intervened in the early years of this decade isetf and induced fruiting in the tree. It did produce fruits. But none are mature yet.

“If the fruit matures before the plant dies then we will be able to harvest it and produce another individual. In that case the country will get another double-coconut tree. But if the tree dies before the fruit matures, then years of scientific effort will go down the drain and there will be no such tree left in India,” said S S Hamid, curator of the garden.

Double-coconut trees are found only on two islands of the Seychelles. They were planted by the British in countries including India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

They can live up to 1,200 years and bear the largest fruits (weighing up to 25 kg) and leaves in the entire plant kingdom.

“But as the tree is growing in a different terrain and climate, it might not live its full life, we apprehend. Over the past one year the tree hasn’t produced any new leaf and the existing leaves are gradually turning yellow. This is the cause of worry,” said Hamid.

The plant started bearing fruits in 2013 and the most mature fruit is around six years of age. It will take another year at the least for it to mature, after which scientists will be able to extract seeds.

“When the tree was 94 years old, it produced flowers for the first time. When we came to know it was a female plant, we started searching for a male . The nearest male was traced in the Royal Botanic Garden of Sri Lanka. Pollen of the male flower were brought in to artificially pollinate the plant in 2006. But the efforts failed. In 2013, we tried again with pollen from another male from Thailand. This time it worked and the tree bore fruits,” said H S Debnath, former director of the garden.

Scientists of the garden are ensuring that the plant is not afflicted by any disease. Neem-based fungicide is being applied to it in very low doses to prevent diseases and ropes have been used to support the heavy fruit and lighten the burden on the tree.

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