Nageia wallichiana, the coniferous tree
A rare coniferous tree species known as Nageia wallichiana has been traced to the Mankulam forest division in Idukki of India. It is believed that its wood was used by Noah for his Arc in the biblical story.
The tree will flower in December and the fruit (cone) will ripen during March-April. The regeneration is through seeds which will germinate during the next monsoon.
The old botanical name of this tall tree was Podocarpus Wallichiana under the family of Podocarpaceae. The Malayalam name is Nirampali or Karadikkayyan. In Bible, it is mentioned as Gofar Tree.
This grows to a height of 50 metres with 30-metre clear bole (the trunk of a tree) which is seen in the evergreen forests of China, India, Myanmar, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines.
Mankulam forest division B.N. Nagaraj who found out this tree in Idukki told DC that as per scientific records available, only Gavi and Thekkady forests are their home range.
“We came across this tree during one of our field trips in 2015, but could not get a confirmation. Then we circulated the photo of the tree to all the staff in the Mankulam division. To our surprise, we located its presence now in Mapatham, Methappu, Kadalar, Bhagavathipara, Nakshathrakuthu and Kannadipara of Mankulam forest division,” he said.
Apart from Mr Nagaraj, the others in his team include P. T. Eltho, section forest officer, V. K. Binu and A.G. Ratheesh, beat forest officers, K. Raman, tribal watcher and also Ramachandran and Guruswami, protection watchers.
The wood is highly durable and can be used for construction work. However, Dr. Mathew Dan, senior scientist at the medicinal and aromatic plant division at the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute (TBGRI) at Palode told DC that as per the distribution of the Nageia Wallichiana, it is rare to spot it at Mankulam forest division as it can be mistaken to that of a Cyprus tree as both are closely related.
Dr Mathew, who has 31 years’ experience at TBGRI, has written a book in Malayalam, Lebanoniley Devatharu which highlights the trees that have been included in the Bible.
“In Bible, Noah’s Ark is supposedly made by Koscar Tree in Hebrew which is otherwise known as Gofar Tree. It is also mentioned in another book that the Ark was used from Arka Tree which explains why it was named as Noah’s Ark. Sometimes what has been identified in Mankulam might be the same tree or it must be closely related to the original one,” said Dr Mathew whose book was initially published in 1998.
Dr Mathew feels that the regeneration is not easy and that it has good timber value.