File Photo: Buddhist monks tie a saffron robe around the trunk of the only known specimen of a legume tree to symbolically ordain it in an attempt to stop it from being felled to make way for a motorway in Colombo, Sri Lanka on February 10, 2021

This tree was declared extinct until the surprise discovery in 2019 of a lone tree near Colombo

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 CB Rathnayake said construction workers were told to spare the plant.

“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 controversial 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 Hiran Amarasekera, professor in Forestry and Environment Science at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura.

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