INTRODUCTION Azeez.K Studies on the aspleniaceae of south India, Department of Botany, University of Calicut, 2007

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1 INTRODUCTION Azeez.K Studies on the aspleniaceae of south India, Department of Botany, University of Calicut, 2007

2

3 INTRODUCTION The word "Pteridophyte" is derived from the Greek words "Pteron" meaning feather and "Phyta" meaning plant, due to their feather-like leaves. The Pteridophytes represent the most primitive vascular plants having a simple reproductive system and lacking flowers and seeds. In the case of these plants sporophytes are the dominant phase of the life cycle. The Pteridophytes are ancient plants whose antecedents go back to the Devonian and Cambrian periods of Palaeozoic era. Many extant groups can be regarded as continuing lineages that separated from each other far back in the remote geological past (Given, 2002). However, today this primitive group of land plants have world wide distribution, spread in all continents, except Antarctica, favouring moist temperate and tropical climate, and can be found everywhere, but for the most frigid and most arid environments. They have evolved to occupy almost every ecological niche, however, the greatest species diversity is found in tropical and temperate rain forests. There has been rapid fragmentation of this biome over recent decades with many of their Pteridophytes yet undiscovered, let alone scientifically described. The Pteridophytes consist of ferns and fern allies, which remain one of the most enigmatic groups of vascular plants even after centuries of work on their phylogeny and classification (Vasudeva, 2002). The fern allies dominated the earth, about 300 million years ago, in a period called the Carboniferous (literally "coal-bearing"). Unlike today's herbaceous fern

4 allies, these plants were huge and giant forming the first arborescent members of the earth. About 85% of the living Pteridophytes are ferns. In fact, there are probably about species of Pteridophytes in the world, most of these found in tropics. Unlike the fern allies which are a relic group, the ferns are highly successful and are virtually found in any habitat where the flowering plants are found. A keypoint to note on the life of ferns is that the location of the sporophyte is determined by the gametophyte. The gametophyte can only grow in places where there is enough water to develop and survive, even if this is only a few weeks in a year. This gametophyte is generally much similar to that of a leafy liverwort. Two important generalizations about the ecology of Pteridophytes are that they are rarely dominant in climax vegetation, and that their presence is dependent on conditions that, at least seasonally, allow development of gametophytes and reproduction (Given, 2002). The ferns and fern allies are generally unfamiliar to the layman, but have attracted the attention of botanists since long, mainly on account of their unique position in the plant kingdom, i,e., intermediate between the higher vascular plants and the lower cryptogams, and also because of their characteristic life cycle in which the sporophytic and gametophytic generations are not only independent of each other, but are autotrophic and morphologically quite distinct. The main bulk of the extant Pteridophytes is constituted by the ferns (Filicales). The other members are whisk ferns

5 (Psilotales), horse-tails (Equisetales), club mosses (Lycopodiales), spike mosses (Selaginellales), quillworts (lsoetales), commonly termed as fernallies, are fewer in number. There is a long geological history for the ferns and fern allies. The present day ferns originated some 240 million years ago, about 100 million years before the flowering plants appeared on the earth's surface, although most of the modern ferns have no fossils. Because of their antiquity, the study of the classification of the present day ferns has assumed great significance (Vasudeva, 2002). There are over living species of ferns and 1000 species of fernallies in the world, of which about 1200 species of ferns and fern allies are expected to occur in lndia (Manickam and Rajkumar, 1999; Chandra, 2000a), where they are mainly distributed in the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats - two of the 25 global hot spots of biodiversity (Koshoo, 1995). Pteridophytes constitute a sizable portion of the extant flora of lndia (5% of the total vascular plants), yet have not attracted good attention from plant scientists of the country (Bir, 1987). The Western Ghat forests are one of the richest centers of fern floras of the world. More than 300 species of ferns and fern-allies have been recorded from this region (Manickam, 1988). The unique physiography, mountainous terrain with narrow gorges and valleys, heavy rainfall and tropical humid climate have endowed this area with an environment most ideal for luxuriant plant growth (Nampy and Madhusoodanan, 1998). This region is not only rich in diverse ferns, but a good number of them are endemic also. Chandra (1998) recognised

6 Peninsular India, as one of the eight phyto-geographical regions in lndia since this region possesses about 25% of the total number of ferns endemic to India, which is the highest among all these regions. As many two-thirds of the world's plant species are in danger of extinction in nature during the 21'' century, threatened by explosive human population growth, deforestation, habitat loss, destructive development, the spread of alien invasive species and agricultural expansion. Further loss of plant diversity is predicted through genetic erosion and narrowing of the genetic basis of many species. The disappearance of such vital and massive amounts of biodiversity poses one of the toughest challenges faced by the present world community; to halt the destruction of the plant resources that are so essential for present and future needs (BGCI, 2000). So it is important to survey as soon as possible those tropical areas which are under threat. Ferns in general and asplenioid ferns in particular are very sensitive to environmental imbalance and anthropogenic activities. As a result, these ferns are facing the threat of extinction. In this context, a detailed study based on their distribution, ecology, morphology, systematics, anatomy and palynology of the genus Asplenium L. of South lndia is very pertinent. The genus Asplenium L., known in English as "spleenwort", in French as "doradille", and in Spanish as "daradilla", is the type genus of the family Aspleniaceae with about 74 taxa including variety and forma are representing nearly 10-12% of the total fern flora of the country. All species of Asplenium L. are shade loving ferns usually grow as epiphytes or

7 lithophytes at an altitude m except a very few terrestrial species (Das, 2004). Both the scientific name and the common name spleenwort are derived from an old belief based on the "doctrine of signature" that the fern was useful for ailments of the spleen (In Greek 'Splen' means spleen), due to the spleen shaped sori on the under surface of the frond (wort is an ancient name that simply means plant). The genus Asplenium L. is rather easily recognizable by a combination of characters -usually the small size, thin texture, veins usually free and ending far short of the margin, often in hydathodes visible from the upper surface, sori elongate, dorsal, on the veins, and indusia conspicuous and persistent, elongate, membraneous, glabrous, entire, directed proximally and covering the sporangia while young. One of the most important characteristic features is the rhizome scales (and blade scales where they exist, although they are not abundant in most species), which are "clathrate" that is to say like a window with numerous small panes of clear colourless glass (Morton et al., 1966).

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