By Vina Medenilla
The rich biodiversity of the Philippine flora is again demonstrated in the recent discovery of two endemic Begonia species in Palawan.
Begonia Tandikan and Begonia obscuribracteata were discovered and identified in previously unexplored areas of Central Palawan.
The preservation of these two species and their habitat is crucial, especially since they are found in unprotected sites, making them easy targets for poaching.
Begonias, according to the researchers and authors who published the discovery, “are one of the fastest-growing genus and the sixth-largest genus in the world of plants, with about 2000 species worldwide.”
Begonia Tandikan is an endemic plant that was first found in the Balsahan River in Puerto Princesa. It thrives all year round due to its habitat’s high humidity and shade coming from the forest canopy.
The newfound species is named after the Palawan peacock-pheasant (Polyplectron napoleonis), aka “tandikan,” a Philippine endemic bird with exquisite feathers that match the foliage of this Begonia.
Begonia Tandikan is characterized by its striking, mottled leaves that have “crenate to shallowly serrate margins.”
According to the research article, “In overall morphology, Begonia tandikan closely resembles B. beijnenii, a species that is also endemic to the island of Palawan.”
Begonia obscuribracteata is another addition to Palawan Begonias that is spotted in an isolated riverine area of Dumaran.
This particular species can be easily pointed out due to its matted circular leaves and six ovary wings, which is twice the usual amount seen in most Philippine Begonias.
Begonia obscuribracteata is the fourth species of its kind from its section Baryandra with at least five ovary wings.
Its existence is only reported in two barangays in Dumaran: Barangay San Jose De Joro and Barangay Santa Maria. As stated in the research paper, “Begonia obscuribracteata is not locally abundant at either site and occurs only near a body of water.”
Following the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categories and criteria, Begonia Tandikan and Begonia obscuribracteata are deemed Critically Endangered (CR) and Endangered (EN), respectively.
From the researchers’ perspective
The Begonias were discovered and/or published with the support of the Palawan State University and Philippine Taxonomic Initiative (PTI), a non-profit, independent scientific organization dedicated to the advancement of the discovery and identification of plant and animal species in the country.
Yu Pin Ang, William Cabanillas, and Lea Magarce-Camangeg are the people behind this research.
Cabanillas, the lead guide, was the first one who discovered the plants before the pandemic. He subsequently brought his findings to the crew.
The group describes their botanical exploration as unconventional and arranged because of the travel and movement restrictions brought about by the pandemic.
“The discovery is a short walk in the wild to destress from the events of the pandemic.”
Conservation and reproduction
According to the research team, recognizing and describing unknown species is the first step toward raising awareness of the island’s rare and endemic flora.
“The best way to protect these species is by habitat conservation. This will ensure that the entire gene pool is preserved.”
They continued, “Reproduction naturally occurs via seeds for these plants. However, it is possible to introduce such Begonias into cultivation with the regulated collection and artificial propagation methods. Unlike commercial Begonias, these species often require specific conditions and thus are harder to cultivate.”
These wildlife findings underline the need to conserve and explore uncharted areas in the Philippines, which are likely home to a plethora of species that have yet to be named and found.
Photos courtesy of William Cabanillas/Yu Pin Ang’s Facebook.