Sri Lanka saves last legume from expressway axe

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lankan authorities on Wednesday agreed to save the world’s only known wild specimen of a species of tree that was due to be chopped to clear the way for a four-lane expressway.

The Sri Lanka Legume (Crudia zeylanica) – a flowering tree from the legume family whose pods are not known to be eaten by humans – was first classified in 1868 and last found in 1911.

In 2012 it was declared extinct until the surprise discovery in 2019 of a lone tree near Colombo.

But the eight-metre plant was set to be felled this month to allow the construction of a motorway, sparking uproar from environmentalists as well as politicians and the country’s influential Buddhist clergy.

On Wednesday, Wildlife and Forest Conservation Minister C B Rathnayake said construction workers were told to spare the plant.

In 2012 the species was declared extinct until the surprise discovery in 2019 of a lone tree near Colombo. PHOTO: AFP

“The tree will not be cut and the work will go ahead by passing it by,” Rathnayake told reporters in Colombo.

Giving a major boost to efforts to save the plant, a group of Buddhist monks last week “ordained” it, tying a saffron robe around the trunk and declaring it a “sin” to cut it down.

Buddhism enjoys widespread respect in the island nation of 21 million people, where it is the majority religion, and the clergy a major backer of the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A top forestry expert welcomed the government decision and said the case underscored the need for proper environmental impact assessments before undertaking major construction.

“We now have a chance to study this tree as well as its environment and step up conservation,” said Professor in Forestry and Environment Science Hiran Amarasekera at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.