Frerea indica is an endangered succulent restricted to Maharashtra in western India.
About this species
An attractive succulent with star-shaped flowers, Frerea indica is the only species in the genus Frerea. It was first described by Nicol A. Dalzell in 1865 from the Junnar hills of the Pune district of Maharashtra state in India. Dalzell dedicated the new genus to Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere (1815-1884) as a mark of esteem and respect, and to encourage scientific research in India.
Based on differences in habit, Dalzell concluded that F.indica should be treated under the genus Frerea rather than in Caralluma (although the alternative name C. frerei is used by some).
Geography & Distribution
Restricted to Maharashtra in western India, at 750-1,347 metres above sea level. The distribution of Frerea indica in the wild is restricted to six localities, comprising only a few individuals in each population. The extended distribution of the wild populations has been reported only from the neighbouring districts of Pune: Satara and Raigad (all parts of Maharashtra state).
Mature dehisced follicle with seeds ready for dispersal (Image: Dr. P. Tetali)
A fleshy, hairless perennial with branches up to 50 cm long, spreading on barren rocks or hanging from rock crevices. The elliptic-oblong leaves appear during the monsoon, and are up to 7.2 cm long. The star-shaped flowers are crimson to cherry red, and have different patterned markings in different populations. The flowers are solitary or in pairs; the corolla is 2-3 cm across.
Frerea indica is unusual amongst its close relatives in having leafy stems, however the succulent leaves are shed in dry conditions to conserve water. F. indica is often found growing alongside Euphorbia neriifolia, another succulent in the same habitat.
Threats & Conservation
Natural habitat of Frerea indica (Image: Dr. P. Tetali)
The main threats to Frerea indica populations are grazing and natural disasters such as landslides, fire, and insect infestation.
Although endangered in the wild, F. indica can easily be propagated in a greenhouse using stem cuttings, especially the rooted branches. Using this method, ex-situ conservation is being carried out in India, especially in the greenhouses of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI, Pune), the Naoroji Godrej Centre for Plant Research (NGCPR, Shindewadi), Satara district, Maharashtra, and the Botanic Garden of the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI, Lucknow).
It is thought that the natural pollinators of F. indica are now extinct, so fruit does not set in the wild. When cultivated in greenhouses, pollination is carried out by insects such as houseflies and black ants and fruit-setting is common. The plant produces a foetid-smelling secretion, which attracts pollinating insects. Seeds germinate readily under nursery conditions. Plants multiplied from cuttings can be planted out in the natural habitats of the species in Maharashtra.
Frerea indica is sought after by succulent-plant enthusiasts, and makes an unusual subject for the greenhouse in temperate climates. A number of hybrids have been developed with Caralluma species.
This species at Kew
Flower of Frerea indica (Image: Dr. P. Tetali)
There are three Herbarium specimens of Frerea indica in Kew including one type collected by Dalzell. Three alcohol-preserved specimens are held in the Spirit Collection of the Herbarium and the Spirit Collection details can be seen on-line in the Herbarium Catalogue.
The Tropical Nursery, another behind-the-scenes area of Kew, houses eight hanging baskets of live F. indica plants.
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