A STUDY done by the University of Michigan involving more than 100 scientists from across the globe and the largest forest database assembled estimates that there are about 73,000 tree species on Earth, including about 9,200 species yet to be discovered. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study says that most of the undiscovered species are likely to be rare, with very low populations and limited spatial distribution. It is possible that those unknown tree species will become extinct even before they are discovered.

On the other hand, there are about 391,000 species of vascular plants currently known to science, of which about 369,000 species (or 94 percent) are flowering plants, according to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the United Kingdom. About 2,000 new plant species are discovered or described every year, many of which are already on the verge of extinction. Based on the best available estimate, scientists say that 21 percent of all plant species is likely threatened with extinction.

The Philippines is home to more than 10,000 plant species, many of which are endemic. Even now, new plant species are still being discovered. One of those was found here in Pampanga. In 2020, a new plant species, Pyrostria arayatensis, was discovered in Mount Arayat, hence, the scientific name arayatensis. Last year, botanists have discovered an endemic tree species that can only be found in the Dinagat Island. The new tree species was named Tristaniopsis flexuosa.

A total of 11 new plant species were discovered in the Philippines in 2020.

This proves that the Philippines is rich in biodiversity. In fact, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Philippines is one of 18 mega-biodiverse countries of the world. Our country contains two-thirds of the earth’s biodiversity and between 70 percent and 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species.

The Philippines ranks fifth in the number of plant species and maintains five percent of the world’s flora. Species endemism is very high, covering at least 25 genera of plants. Sadly, the Philippines is also one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots with at least 700 threatened species, thus making it one of the top global conservation areas.

In 2007, an administrative order issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources established a national list of threatened plant species, indicating that 99 species were critically endangered, 187 were endangered, 176 vulnerable as well as 64 other threatened species. The balacat tree, from which our city Mabalacat was named, is on that list. This is one of the reasons why I started a balacat tree awareness and propagation project in 2007, and established my own balacat tree nursery. Today, we have many full grown balacat trees in the city.