Madhuca bourdillonii (Gamble) Lam.


Bourdillon [7], the discoverer of this species in Travancore during 1894-95 described it as a “rare tree of medium size occurring in the Ariankavu and Shenduruny valleys, but not seen elsewhere”. Gamble [13], quoting Bourdillon, also described it in the Flora of the Presidency of Madras (vol.2). The Red Data Book of Indian Plants considered its status as “possibly extinct”, since the species was not collected after Bourdillon’s observation. The book states [9], “Indiscriminate and steady destruction of its natural habitats, compounded by selective felling of Madhuca trees in the past for their purported all round value, accounts for the present day state of scarcity in the Western Ghats region”. Sasidharan and Sivarajan [10] found this species in the forests of Thrissur district (10.66° N, 76.25° E), to the north of the type localities. Later, it was also found in its type localities namely Arainkavu and Shenduruny valley and was reported [11] as “rare”.


Notably all the findings of the species hitherto were towards the south of Palghat Gap, until we came across a rare population in Ankola taluk (14.7° N), of Uttara Kannada district, in the central Western Ghats. Our find extends the northern limit of the species by about 500 km; but more significantly, this is the first report of the species from north of the Palghat Gap. Fig. (2) depicts these locations along with the earlier sightings. There were only 13 trees of this critically endangered species dispersed within a stretch of evergreen forests. Three of them exceeded 30 m in height and were about 2 m in girth while others were much smaller. These trees occurred in a relic forest characterised by a Myristica swamp and endemic trees such as Aglaia anamallayana, Dipterocarpus indicus, Garcinia talbotii, Holigarna spp., Gymnacranthera canarica, Knema attenuata, Myristica malabarica, etc. Incidentally, this site is also a northward extension for D. indicus by about 30 km, from the previous report [14].


Madhuca bourdillonii is a medium to large tree exceeding 30 m height at maturity (Fig. 3a). Though described as an evergreen [9], it has a brief period of leaf-fall, which is not strictly season bound. Flowering is simultaneous with leaf-fall and new flush that follows is mingled with late blooming flowers and early fruits. The trees have grayish brown, longitudinally fissured and flaky bark with a pinkish interior (Fig. 3b). The plant parts have milky latex like other species of Madhuca. Young shoots, including young leaves, are densely covered with brownish-orange, wooly hairs. In the mature leaves the undersurface of veins retains the hairs. In other related species like M. longifolia var. longifolia and M. longifolia var. latifolia and M. neriifolia mature leaves are not hairy. The leaves are simple (Fig. 3a) reaching dimensions of 20-32 x 6-10 cm and crowded towards the tips of branchlets. They have conical base and bluntly acute to narrowing tips. In having 20-25 pairs of lateral nerves M. bourdillonii stands apart from its close associates M. longifolia var. longifolia (10-12 pairs) and M. longifolia var. latifolia (10-14 pairs). Flowers appear in dense clusters (Fig. 3c) from the axils of fallen leaves or of older leaves that are about to fall. When the tree is in full bloom, clusters of young leaves appear from the tips of branchlets. The stalks of flowers, 1.5-2 cm long, are also covered with dense hairs. Sepals are 4, ovate and hairy outside. Corolla consists of 12 united petals. Stamens are often twice the number of petals, in two whorls. The anther is tipped with a narrow outgrowth.
Genus Madhuca produces berries (Fig. 3d) with one to few seeds. Globose fruit is a key distinguishing character of M. bourdillonii. Madhuca longifolia var. latifolia has globose fruit, with oblique apex [15] and M. longifolia var. longifolia has ovoid fruit. Both these varieties have 1 or 2 seeds whereas M. bourdillonii has 2-3 seeds (Fig. 3e). Table 1 compares the various Madhuca spp. of South India.

Fig. (3). a) Madhuca bourdillonii in flush; b) An old tree of M. bourdillonii – showing fissured and flaky bark; c) flower; d) fruit and e) seeds.