Crudia zeylanica Branches Out
By Risidra Mendis
It went extinct many years ago, or so we thought. But then by chance it was rediscovered while constructing the Central Expressway. The plant was identified by Conservation biologist and plant taxonomist Himesh Jayasinghe when plans were underway to remove the plant from the said location, to make way for the construction of the highway.
“In the 2012 National Red List five plants were identified as extinct. Crudia zeylanica was one of them. Two of the species Rinorea decora and Rinorea bengalensis were later discovered by Jayasinghe. When the environment impact assessment (EIA) on the highway was done the Crudia zeylanica was identified by Jayasinghe. At the time it was identified as the only plant in the country,” Prof. Siril Wijesundara from National Institute of Fundamental Studies said.
The Professor asked the relevant officials if the location can’t be changed to save the tree and the authorities said no. He then asked if the road can be built with the tree in the middle and they said that cannot be done as well. “I insisted that the tree should be saved. Then it was found in eight locations including in the Gampaha Botanical Gardens. This plant was not identified at the botanical gardens because this was a spontaneous plant and not a planted one,” Prof. Wijesundera said.
He said the tree will not be cut down and the Forest Department and the Botanical Gardens in a joint project with the Highway Ministry will conserve the species.
“In celebration of the National Tree Planting Day, 15 November 2021, a tree planting event was conducted on Sunday 14 November 2021 at the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary, the site of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society’s (WNPS) ‘Green Isle Project’. The initial idea and commitment came from Seyara Rajapaksa Vidanagamage and her friends from VisakhaVidyalaya to plant 100 trees of recommended species. A highlight of the event was the planting of five saplings of the endemic Crudia Zeylanica, which was believed to be extinct in the wild,” President of the WNPS Spencer Manuelpillai said.
Green Isle Project
He said the WNPS launched The Green Isle Project in 2019, to restore a part of the degraded urban wetland of the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary which was gazetted in 1990. “According to records the Sanctuary is home to more than 150 species of birds including migratory and endemic, and more than 20 species of mammals. While being a habitat with incredible diversity, it provides critical environment services such as flood control, air-purification, water-purification, minimising impacts from ‘urban heat island effect’ and helping to make the urban fringes of Colombo cooler to name a few,” Manuelpillai explained.
The main objective of the Green Isle Project is habitat restoration for species conservation in the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary, to provide a refuge to the primate species Purple Faced Leaf Monkey or Nestor (Kalu Wandura), which is an endangered endemic species that is fast losing its habitat in the urban and suburban areas of the Western Province.
The event marked a historical tree planting exercise, where for the first time in a tree planting programme, five saplings of Crudia zeylanica were planted at the site.
From the age of nine Seyara took an interest in helping animals and protecting the environment. She was particularly interested in protecting the Purple Faced Leaf Monkeys after an area close to her house was cleared of its greenery and the monkeys lost their main source of food.
“There are a lot of Purple Faced Leaf Monkeys where I live in Hokandara. People were throwing stones at the monkeys and chasing them away when they came in search of food. A group of monkeys were trapped at Karadiyana when the area was cleared under the Weheras Ganga project. I want to be an inspiration for the younger generation. I want to help these monkeys by planting fruit trees. We have to protect nature. If not for nature we wouldn’t be here. I want everyone to protect nature,” Vidanagamage said.
She said, "I want to talk to the President and the Prime Minister and hope they will help me to protect these animals and nature."
“The Colombo metropolitan city has been identified as one of the first Ramsar wetland cities, comprising of the wetlands; Baddagana, Diyasauru Uyana, Heenela, Kolonnawa, Kotte, Maddinnagoda, Mulleriyawa, and Thalangama. The WNPS would like to appeal to the authorities to annex the Bellanwila-Attidiya Sanctuary to the Ramsar list, as this will provide this important wetland habitat a much-needed, higher level of protection,” Manuelpillai explained.
Gamini Ranjith Prasanna Steinwall who lives on a seven acre land in Negombo, said he heard about the tree when it was going to be cut down. “I had a big tree in my garden. I sent photos to the Botanical Gardens. DNA tests were done and it was proved as the same species. I reproduced plants from this tree and gave the first plant for Seyara to plant. Range Officer of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Saman Liyanagama gave me his support to develop this plant project,” Steinwall said.
“The Wildlife Centre in Attidiya gets the largest number of injured Purple Faced Leaf Monkeys. Some die and others survive. Native plants such as madatiya among others are grown as part of the tree planting project. In time this will become a refuge for the Purple Faced Leaf Monkey. A lot of migrant birds come here together with the crocodiles, wetland birds, mammals, fishing cat and meeminna among others. From time to time we come and plant trees here. The Crudia zeylanica is a rare tree but now can be found in many parts of the country. Now we have a tree and plants,” Past President of WNPS Emeritus Prof. Lakdass Fernando said.
“In 2019 a MoU was signed between the DWC and the WNPS to protect native species and introduce native plants, to provide habitat and food for the Purple Faced Leaf Monkey and other native fauna and flora. We can now see an improvement in the habitat area consisting of 40 acres,” Director — Protected Area Management at the DWC Manjula Amararatne said.