School of Environmental Sciences, Mahatma Gandhi University, Muttam 685 587, INDIA.
Investigations on the floristic and ethnobotanical aspects of Achankovil forests of Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve spread over an area of 291.75 km2 (9°0’ to 9°15' N and 77°0' to 77°16'30'' E), were conducted during the period 2009-2013. The unique phytogeographical conditions evolved over the years, moulded the present ecosystem of this pristine forest. Achankovil Shear Zone (AKSZ), Achankovil River and Kottavasal gap are prime geographical factors that contribute to the phytodiversity of this region. Frequent field trips were conducted to different localities of the study area during different seasons of the year to ensure the documentation of maximum species of flowering plants. Ethnobotanical details of Malampandaram tribes, residing in the Achankovil valley were done by interview and field observations. The data collected were subjected to systematic treatment and analysis. A total of 1040 taxa of flowering plants belonging to 642 genera and 130 families were identified which constitute 20.2 % of the flora of entire Kerala. High percentage of endemicity and rarity, occurrence of morpho-ecotypes with signs of adaptive evolution, phytogeographic affinity/botanical linkages to the leftovers of Mozambique belt, wild relatives of crop plants, presence of monotypic/bitypic plants, recent discoveries/ rediscoveries & extended distributional records, aboriginal Malampandaram tribes with rich traditional botanical knowledge and their conservation oriented beliefs and traditions highlight the significance of the present study. The diversity of the ecosystem ranging from tropical wet evergreen forests to montane grasslands containing numerous medicinal plants, plant genetic resources and wild edibles make the survival of the aboriginal Malampandaram tribe of Achankovil forest a reality. This diverse ecosystem plays a crucial role in maintaining the intensity and seasonality of precipitation, temperature and humidity which keep the perenniality of the innumerable streams associated with Achankovil River. The study recommends that, any disturbance to this unique ecosystem may lead to the extinction of the rich diversity of endemic species and the aboriginal tribe of Dravidian lineage.