Cycas beddomei: A threatened living fossil of India

Kundansing R. Jadhao, Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswar

2020-04-09 11:30:06

Cycasbeddomei–efloraof india, A:Cycasbeddomei female plant with female cone and B:Cycasbeddomei male plant with male cone. Credit: Kundansing R. Jadhao

Cycasbeddomei–efloraof india, A:Cycasbeddomei female plant with female cone and B:Cycasbeddomei male plant with male cone. Credit: Kundansing R. Jadhao

Cycads are prehistoric group of plants which are believed to be existed from Dinosaur’s age. The Cycads are the plant species which have survived three mass extinctions and is popularly known as living fossils. Cycas species are distributed throughout the world at least in 60 countries in South and North America, Africa, Asia and Australia and some of them are strictly endemic.At present, cycads are distributed in total 10 genera in 3 different families which comprise around 340 species. However, cycads are amongst the most threatened plant families in the world listed in IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants in 1997.

Due to continuous pressure from biotic and abiotic stresses, cycads are the only group of organism which have given the highest risk of extinction value i.e. 64% categorized into threatened plant species. In India, Cycads comprises thirteen native species which is represented by one genus Cycas. Among these naturally found cycasspecies,Cycasbeddomei is an endangered species endemic to a small area of Andhra Pradesh state in Seshachalam Biosphere Reserve in Chittor and Kadapa districts in scrubland and brush covered hills. It is named after the botanist Richard Henry Beddome who observed the presence of this distinctive species and later described by English botanist Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer. The threat status of Cycasbeddomeihas been changed over time as it was initially listed as a vulnerable species in Indian Red Data Book however later assessment listed the species to Critically Endangered and the most recently to Endangered based on their population studies. It is the only Cycas species listed in Appendix-I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and also protected under Schedule VI (Section 2) of Wildlife Protection Act (1972), Government of India.

Common name

Beddome’sCycas (English); Peritha, Madanakamakshi and Kondaeetha (Telugu).

Common English names:Beddome'scycas, Cicas di Beddome.

Vernacular names:Tel.: Perita, Madhana - Kamakshi.

Trade name:Andhra Pradesh Cycas, Cycad.

Scientific classification

Kingdom: Plantae

Clade: Tracheophytes

Division: Cycadophyta

Class: Cycadopsida

Order: Cycadales

Family: Cycadaceae

Genus:           Cycas

Species: C. beddomei

Binomial name: Cycasbeddomei Dyer

Distribution, habitatand Ecology

This species is the global endemic of Seshachalam hills (formerly called as Tirupati-Kadapa Hills) and the most recently from Velikonda Hills covering Chittoor, Kadapa and Nellore districts of the Southern Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh.This species is recorded only from the also known as the Seshachalam hillsnaturally, The occurrence of species belongs to dry, open hill slopes, in open grassy woodland or grass dominated forested hot sites in the scrublands at an altitude between 500–1165 m. Whereas, isolated trees is also recorded from the range of 500-600 m altitude. The entire area of distribution should probably be considered as a single locality due to the connection between the blocks as a single event such as a large fire, disease or pest outbreak could impact the entire population. These plants are fairly fire resistant, except as seeds and seedlings, which are very vulnerable to annual grass fires. It grows in an area with annual rainfall of 570-1,230 mm. Plants grow on skeletal soils, mainly in dry deciduous mixed type forest with patches of moist deciduous forest. The species is mostly restricted to the top slopes and predominantly in black soils. Common associate species are: Phoenix humilis, Terminalia pallida, Syzygiumalternifolium, Pimpinellatirupatiensis, Curculigoorchioides, Cymbopogonspp. and Dechaschistia spp. Reproductive period ranges from the month of April–August.

Botanical description

Superficially, Cycasbeddomeihas erect, solitary stems similar to Cycasrevoluta. It has a crown like appearance decorated with 20-30 leaves of 90 cm long, stiff, lanceolate, pinnate, with 50-100 pairs of leaflets. Shrubs to 2 m high, dioecious; bark brown, exfoliating in rectangular scales70–120 cm long

Stem: arborescent, appear like a small palm with a distinct trunk of up to 1.5m high. It is covered with the remnants of leaf bases.

Leaves: grey-green, dull, 90 cm long, flat (not keeled) in section (opposing leaflets inserted at 180° on rachis), tomentum shedding as leaf expands. Petiole 15 cm long, glabrous, spinescent. Basal leaflets not gradually reducing to spines. Leaves up to 1 m long;

Median leaflets: simple, strongly discolorous, 100-175 mm long, 3-4 mm wide; section slightly keeled; margins revolute; apex acute or aristate, spinescent; midrib raised above, flat below.

Cataphylls: narrowly triangular, soft, thinly sericeous or lacking tomentum, persistent.

Pollen cones: narrowly ovoid, orange, 30 cm long, 7.5 cm diam.; microsporophyll lamina firm, not dorsiventrally thickened, apical spine prominent, gradually raised.

Microsporophyll: oblong, deltoid, tapering, acuminate at apex, lower erect, upper strongly recurved.microsporophyll with an apical spine up to 3cm long.

Megasporophylls: 15-20 cm long, brown-tomentose; ovules 2, glabrous; lamina lanceolate, 75 mm long, 25 mm wide, regularly dentate, with 10-16 pungent lateral spines, apical spine distinct from lateral spines.Ovate-lanceolate, grow up to 4x2 cmand with pectinate margins; ovules usually 2-4, occasionally 6–8, inserted above the middle of the stalk, up to 4cm across.

Seeds:globoseflattened-ovoid, 38 mm long, 34 mm wide; sarcotesta yellow; fibrous layer present; sclerotesta smooth. Spongy endocarp absent with fibrous sarcotesta, up to 5×5 cm, green, turning yellow on maturity.

Male cone: oblong-ovoid, up to 35 x 16 cm, orange,with a short peduncle;Petioles up to 15-20cm long, with minute spineson upper portion, base clothed with tufted tomentum.

Leaflets: narrow, linear, 10–18 x 0.2–0.4 cm, margins revolute, apex pointed.

Rachis: quadrangular

Population and threat status

The population size before 2006 was originally regarded as having less than 1,000 mature individuals. However, detailed population studies across the entire range (from 2006-2008) signify that the population is much larger than formerly thought, with an estimated number of 20,000-30,000 mature individuals. However, all the habitats of Indian Cycas species are threatened and have suffered severe reduction and degradation. It is estimated that 97% individuals of species population is in Seshachalam Hills indicating that the destruction of these natural habitat, forest clearing, frequent grassfires and over exploitation of the species are the major threat due to its confinement to small habitat. In addition to that selective removal of female and male cones foreasy money and its uses in ayurvedic medicine upsets the male to female plants ratio.Uprooting plants for ornamental purpose; occasional collection of individuals for pith extraction for flour making and debility treatment are other major threats.The distribution of maximum population is restricted to the small area, the potential natural threats like hemipteran scale Saissetiacoffeae and lepidopteran butterfly Chiladespandavamay prove fatal in the future due to its persistent occurrence and massive infestation.


Indian cycads are extensively used as food, traditional medicine, cultural and religious rituals wherever they grow naturally. In urban areas, cycads are extensively grown in gardens as ornamental plant and the leaves are used in flower arrangement.The male cones of the plant are used in Ayurvedic medicine as a cure for rheumatoid arthritis and muscle pains. This cycad, due to its demand for medicinal purposes, and consequent reduction in living populations, is now an endangered species. The seeds are harvested for preparing flour by the local people. The, male cone extracts are used to prepare a health tonic by the local Yanadi tribes and rural communities. The pith is harvested often for use in abortion.The seeds are processed and eaten in mixture with ‘Ragi’ cereal.  Crude flour made out of the endosperm of the seeds of this plant is used as one of the ingredients in the preparation of Sweet and Dhosa. The male cones are pruned away by local tribals for its professed medicinal properties and are used as a major ingredient in rejuvenating tonics. The male cones of this plant are also considered to possess the narcotic properties like that of C. circinalis. Further, this plant is horticulturally valued due to the palm-like appearance. The male cones of this plant are used by local herbalists as a cure for rheumatoid and muscle pains. The seeds are ground to a paste with coconut oil and are used as a poultice to treat skin complaints such as wounds, sores and boils.The main therapeutic activities of the species are aphrodisiac, debility, antioxidant, antiulcer, wounds and boils, skin diseases, arthritis and diabetic.