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India’s newest Iris species found in Manipur
Sobhapati Samom

 IMPHAL, April 25 - A popular seasonal flower in Manipur, which is annually offered during Manipuri New Year- Cheiraoba in April, has turned out to be India’s newest Iris (flower) species, according to Principal Scientist of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)-North East institute of Science and Technology (NEIST) Dr Huidrom Birkumar.

 This mauve-blue colour flower Iris Laevagata Fisch, known as Kombirei in local tongue and found in the marshy areas in Manipur particularly in Lamphelpat and Yaralpat wetlands in the outskirts of Imphal city, blooms for about 15 days in the first half of April.

“Earlier, people used to name the said flower wrongly as Iris Bakeri wall. But London-based Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), Kew confirmed the new species only on April 19 after studying my report,” said Dr Birkumar. “The plant grows in Japan and it was also reported in Russia and South East Asian region”, he added.

Dr Birkumar, who had been studying the flower since 2000, sent a report to RBG, Kew, on April 13, following a media report that the flower is vanishing from the original habitat. RBG is an international authority on botanical research and education and has a collection of over 40,000 species of plants.

“Four species of Iris were reported in Manipur out of the country’s 17 species as per Botanical Survey of India reports,” said the scientist who had written a book on economic botany besides publishing 35 research papers. “Unfortunately this beautiful flower, which has very close connections with the traditions of Manipuris since time immemorial, is facing a great threat due to lack of attention.”

Whitish colour and height are the major distinct differences between Iris Laevigata Fisch (3.5 ft) and Iris Singuinea (2 ft) besides their leaves. Singuinea has no straight leaves unlike Laevigata.

Even though other species such as Iris Wattii, Iris Singuinea, Iris Kumaon grow wild in the State, this flower grows only in the wetlands of Lamphelpat and Loktak lake. Interestingly, Iris Singuinea which is used as real Kombirei (Iris Laevigata Fisch) during annual Cheiraoba festival in April, is being cultivated in private nurseries in view of the huge public demand.

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