The pretty little Nil Manel is in the eye of the storm once again.
A controversy is swirling around both the Nil Manel which is the declared National Flower and an imposter hybrid cousin due to both flowers being mentioned in the book ‘Flowering Plants commonly encountered in Sri Lankan habitats’ by Dr. Sriyanie Miththapala, Dr. Siril Wijesundara and Dr. Janaki Galappatti to be launched this week.
Earlier, the Nil Manel hit the headlines in November 2010 when Prof. Deepthi Yakandawala, Professor in Botany of the Peradeniya University revealed research establishing that although Nil Manel or Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea nouchali Burm f.) is the National Flower, the picture depicting it erroneously is that of Nymphaea capensis, Nymphaea caerulea or even a hybrid with Nymphaea micrantha. (The Sunday Times exclusively reported this in its issue of November 7, 2010, headlined, ‘The great pretender’.)
In the recent controversy, both scientists and environmentalists are divided whether the coffee table book which not only mentions the fact that Nymphaea capensis or a hybrid has “for several years been mistakenly publicized as Sri Lanka’s National Flower” but also carries a photograph along with a description and picture of the Nil Manel should or should not have given credit to the researchers (Prof. Yakandawala and husband Dr. Kapila) who brought to light this national faux pas.“There should have been at least a passing reference to this research as the couple has slogged for many years and sloshed in the muddy waters of tanks to bring to the fore this mix-up,” said a scientist.
Another who is familiar with the research paper put out by them in June 2011 explained that the facts mentioned in the book seemed very similar to those found in the paper.
“These deal with the identity of the wrong flower, the fact that it may be hybrid, that the imposter had been brought for ornamental purposes and that the imposter was posing a threat to the true Nil Manel,” he pointed out, adding that though the book did not use the exact words it seemed to have taken the content from the research. “As such, a reference to the research of Prof. Deepthi would have been justified and should have been given,” he stressed, a view echoed by several others as well.
However, another group was of the opinion that the Nil Manel’s picture being the wrong one had been known for a long time. While the latest researchers have done “diligent research”, it must not be forgotten that way back in 1988, the Atlas put out by Dr. Magdon Jayasuriya had the right picture, said a scientist-cum-environmentalist who declined to be identified.
Another pointed out that soon after this research came under the spotlight in November 2010, it had been brought to the notice of the public that Emeritus Professor B.A. Abeywickrama of the University of Colombo “very dutifully” pinpointed the mistake with regard to the picture as soon as it was displayed in the early days.
As was said in November 2010 about Emeritus Professor Abeywickrama’s attempts to right the wrong, this source explained, “it was a well-known mistake”. “Then why has this mistake not been corrected,” asked Prof. Deepthi when contacted by the Sunday Times. Currently she and her husband who is attached to the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Gardening of the Wayamba University are continuing the research on the Nil Manel with a grant from the National Science Foundation.
However, Prof. Deepthi declined to comment on the controversy with regard to the book, only adding that now that their research has also been mentioned in it, quick action is needed to rectify the mistake with regard to the picture.
Meanwhile, the three authors of the book in a statement issued to the Sunday Times say: “Our book – a book targeted at the layperson - illustrates and describes briefly, in simple language, some 170 flowering plants commonly found in Sri Lanka. Among these are descriptions and colour photographs of Sri Lanka’s national flower Nymphaea nouchali and another water lily, Nymphaea capensis. We noted that this latter flower (Nymphaea capensis) had been for several years mistakenly publicized as the national flower.
“Our book did not cite any research papers in the body of the text. The substance in the book is based on information available to the general public, our experience and some information we gathered from standard botanical literature. The references given at the end are for people to obtain additional information if needed.
“The essence of the complaint is that this misidentification was a scientific discovery made by the Yakandawalas and that we did not acknowledge that. In fact, this misidentification, which was reflected in an official publication, had been pointed out by senior biologists several years ago before the Yakandawalas also did so.
“The information used in this book was already available to the general public and we have not claimed that the facts about this issue were discovered by us.”
Decision on the imposter soon
|The imposter (left) and
Nil Manel (right).
The Expert Committee appointed to look into the issue of the Nil Manel being depicted by an imposter is expected to give its decision on April 2, an Environmental Ministry source said.
They will advise whether the pictures of the imposter should be replaced by the right photograph or Sri Lanka should change its National Flower, the source added.