Rare flower found in Aurora shows wider scope of species’ existence in PHL-A A +A
Saturday, October 12, 2013
MANILA – A species of the world's largest flower, also known for its pungent rotting flesh odor, was found in the mountains of Sierra Madre in Aurora, confirming the Philippines as a hotspot of Rafflesia biodiversity, scientists said.
Dr. Jeanmaire Molina, a Filipino biologist based in the United States, told SunStar in an email, “(This) brings the number of Rafflesia species unique to the Philippines to 11.”
Rafflesia is a parasitic flower-plant without a stem, leaves or true roots. It is also known for its distinct pungent odor similar to a rotten flesh. There are about 30 species of this flower, all of which are found in Southeast Asia.
“The Philippines currently is the hub of Rafflesia diversity. It used to be Borneo. We now have 11 species, all unique/endemic to the country, something that we should be extremely proud of,” said Molina.
On Tuesday, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released a statement saying that a team of biologists had found Rafflesia manillana in Aurora. But there has been some debate among scientists about exactly which variety was discovered.
Molina said based on recent work by a New Zealand researcher and his colleagues, the plant collected in Aurora was not a rafflesia manillana but a species known as rafflesia lagascae.
Pieter Pelser of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand together with a team of researchers came out with a paper titled, “Mt. Banahaw reveals: The resurrection and neotypification of the name Rafflesia lagascae (Rafflesiaceae) and clues to the dispersal of Rafflesia seeds” published in the botanical taxonomy journal Phytotaxa on September.
According to the study, they found rafflesia lagascae in Mt. Banahaw – San Cristobal Protected Landscape. The photos in the study showed that the manillana is distinct from lagascae. For one, lagascae has darker red petals with white marks while manillana’s petals are orange-brown with white spots. The DENR considers most of the rafflesia species in the Philippines critically endangered, including rafflesia manillana and rafflesia magnifica. However, the discovery of lagascae only sustains the richness of biodiversity in the Philippines, something every Filipino could boast of.
“Thailand only has one but whenever their species blooms, it is showcased to tourists. Same is true with Malaysia and Indonesia. I got a mug from Starbucks in Indonesia and it has the picture of rafflesia,” shared Molina.
“It's definitely a source of pride for them. In Malaysia, farmers who live by the edge of the forests alert the local government once a rafflesia blooms and they open the site to tourists. The farmers then earn additional income, at the same time take care of the forests to make sure their rafflesia populations live, so they've learned to appreciate the value of their unique biodiversity,” she continued.
But she also said that rafflesia is not so much a source of pride in the Philippines compared with our neighbour countries.
“Most Filipinos have not never even heard of rafflesia and would rather decimate their forests for their lumber without considering the repercussions, like severe flooding, erosion, drought, etc,” said Molina.
Molina also studies rafflesia. Her current study is about the sequencing of the genome of two of the species of rafflesia found in the Philippines. Asked about why she liked to study rafflesia, she said, “To me, the combination of these characteristics in a plant: gigantic flowers, parasitic, foul-smelling make it an evolutionary marvel, and the fact that it may be the first plant not to have a chloroplast genome is equally astounding. I can't think of any other plant with these features. It is definitely the panda of the plant world!” (Sunnex)