Bangladesh university battles to save tree from extinction

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) - A unique tree at Dhaka University in Bangladesh has united students across the campus who are battling to save it from extinction and hold out hopes that its seeds may prove to have medicinal qualities.

What is believed to be the last naturally grown Talipalm tree -- also known by the botanical name Corypha Taliera Roxburgh -- was discovered on the campus at the university in the 1970s.

This species of tree was originally discovered in 1919 by William Roxburgh and considered endemic to Bengal but the Talipalm has quickly disappeared as it only flowers and bears fruit once in its life then dies.

When the 30 foot (9.1 metres) tree at Dhaka University flowered in January this year, students and academics stepped up their efforts to preserve the species with the Arboriculture Department collecting seeds and producing up to 500 saplings.

“This is the last living plant of the tree,” said Abul Hasan, chairman of the university’s Botany Department.

He said the tree had already been recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

But it was while researching the tree that the university’s Pharmacy Department discovered its seeds may have medicinal properties as they contain antioxidant agents that could help fight diseases and also possibly the ageing process in people.

“After primary tests we saw the seeds’ essence can be used in curing diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea but what interested us more is the antioxidant agents in the seeds,” said Abdur Rashid, dean of the pharmacy faculty at Dhaka University.

Rashid said their work was still at an early stage with no guarantees that they would be able to produce a viable drug from the seeds but early results were positive.

“First of all we have to separate the component from the extract and see the biochemical structure. If everything suits ... then it may be possible to produce a drug from it,” he said.

In the meantime, the university’s efforts to save the tree continue.

Syed Hadiuzzaman, director of the university’s Arboriculture Department, said the tree’s saplings would be distributed to forest departments and government institutions for breeding in an ongoing bid to preserve the species.

“This is the only way we can save the tree,” he said.

Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed