Woody species diversity of four sacred groves in the Pondicherry region of South India
Biodiversity and Conservation
Plant wealth and diversity of four sacred groves - two anthropogenic stands and two natural forest patches - along the southeast coast of India adjoining Pondicherry was studied. A total of 111 species, belonging to 103 genera in 53 families, were recorded from the four sites, which together measure 15.6 ha. The number of woody species ( girth at breast height ( gbh) less than or equal to 20 cm) was 20 each in Keezbuvanagiri (KBG) and Kilialamman (KLM) grove, followed by 13 in Periyakattupalayam (PKP) and 15 in Periyamudaliar chavadi (PMC). Based on the important value index (IVI), PMC grove is an association of Aglaia elaeagnoidea, Borassus flabellifer and Pterospermum suberifolium. A two-layered forest structure resembling tropical dry evergreen forest (TDEF) was found there. Stratification was obscured in the KBG grove, as the scrub species were abundant, indicating a scrub woodland formation. PKP and KLM were characterised by the abundance of a few species. The presence of a stout liana of Secamone emetica ( gbh 35 cm), the robustness of Cretaeva magna ( gbh 220 cm), Syzigium cumini ( gbh 207.45 cm), P. suberifolium ( gbh 128.7 cm) and Tamarindus indica ( gbh 250 cm), and survival of evergreen species like A. elaeagnoidea and Pamburus missionis is botanically significant; Polyalthia suberosa is a rare taxon found only within the groves. The persistence of the groves until the present time is a testimony to the sacred grove status enjoyed by them.