World's Second Largest Flower Thought Extinct 'Rediscovered' in Region X

By Mike Baños

In an event similar to the discovery of the "extinct" coelacanth off the coast of South Africa in 1938, a species considered the world's second largest flower previously though to be extinct has been found in a forested area of Northern Mindanao.

Two weeks ago, reports of a strange flower blooming in the mountains of Region 10 reached the Protected Areas and Wildlife Division, Region 10 office (PAWD-10). A team dispatched by Director Malou Clarete verified that the large bloom was indeed that of the Rafflesia schadenbergiana Greppert, named after German botanist Alex Schadenberg who discovered it in Mt. Apo with fellow German Otto Koch in 1882 (The Snows of Mt. Apo, from History Against the Landscape by Miguel A. Bernad, S.J., 1968).

It was the first and last time people would see the giant flower for the next 125 years. At 80 centimeters across, it is considered to be the second largest flower in the world. According to Fr. Bernad's account of the Schadenberg expedition, "We are told that young buds of this plant, growing together on one stem, were found on one occasion to weigh as heavily as a double-barreled gun and six solid bullets. (Bernad, 1968).

The latest sighting is not just of one flower but rather what PAWD-10 calls a "population." It is the only known population existing in the Philippines of R. schadenbergiana that is actively flowering.

The cluster was found in a community-based forestry management (CBFM) area and includes six more flower buds which have not yet bloomed. It could take from 9-10 months after they first appear for buds to bloom. Not all buds bloom into flowers, with many decaying unopened. Too much rain can cause buds to rot, too little cause them to shrivel and dry up.

The first flower which blossomed was measured at 70 centimeters across and has been taken by Dr. Julie Barcelona of the Philippine National Museum to Manila for preservation. Together with the PAWD-10, the National Museum has sat down with the local government where the R. schadenbergiana population is found, the Department of Tourism, DENR and the academe to develop a protection and management plan for the "resurrected species."

"We can still not divulge the exact location of the population at this time pending the declaration of the area as a critical habitat by Environment Sec. Angelo Reyes," Ms. Clarete said. "DENR is still conducting a site assessment of the area which a requisite of its declaration as a "critical habitat" for the specimens.

"We fear people might stampede to the area and adversely affect the fragile flowers, their buds or host-vines," said tourism director Catalino Chan III. "We first want to establish the carrying capacity of the area before we allow visitors, considering the specie in question is considered critically endangered."

Section 27 of Republic Act 9147 prohibits the collection, possession, transport and trading of all Rafflesia species listed as a critically endangered species under DENR Administrative Order #2007-01 on pain of 6-12 years imprisonment or a P100, 000-1,000,000 fine.

The PAWD says the Philippines has the highest density of Rafflesia in the world relative to land area. Unfortunately, the lowland rainforest it calls home is under siege from deforestation and conversion to other uses.

The first species identified as Rafflesia manillana Teschem was found in Basey, Samar in 1841. Other species subsequently discovered in the Philippines include R. cumingi (1845), R. philippensis Blanco (1845) and R.lagascae Blanco (1879, now both considered the same as R. manillana), and more recently, R.baletei Barcelona & Cajano, Camarines Sur; R. lobata Galang & Madulid, Panay Island; R. speciosa Fernando & Ong (2002) Sibalom, Antique, and R. mira. Fernando and Madulid (2005) Mt. Candalaga, Compostela Valley. All species are endangered or threatened. Rafflesia species are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rafflesiales, family Rafflesiaceae.

What could be the smallest Rafflesia in the Philippines (measuring 12-13 cm in diameter) was recently discovered in Mt. Asog in Camarines Sur,. The researchers from the Camarines Sur State Agricultural College who discovered it has proposed the species be named Rafflesia irigaenses.

According to wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, Rafflesia is a genus of parasitic flowering plants discovered in Indonesia by an Indonesian guide working for Dr. Joseph Arnold in 1818, and named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, leader of the expedition. It has some 20 recognized species, all found in southeastern Asia, on the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, Sumatra and Kalimantan, West Malaysia, and the Philippines. Many of the species are extremely rare, and have been recorded in only a handful of localities.

The plant has no stems, leaves or true roots. The flower is a parasite which grows within its host, the tetrastigma vine, and appears as a tangle of fibers in its early stages. It only starts manifesting itself during its reproductive cycle. Outgrowths appear on the root vine, which develop into cabbage-like buds, followed by the blooming of a fully open flower which later bears fruit.

Its largest species, the Rafflesia arnoldii found in Malaysia, has a flower over a meter in diameter and weighs up to 10 kilograms. Even its smallest recognized species, R. manillana, has 20 cm. diameter flowers.

The survival of the sensitive Rafflesia depends on a lot of factors—its seeds need to find the right host, the buds need to receive the right amount of water and nutrients, and flowers of the opposite sex must be nearby so that pollination can occur.

Park authorities in Malaysian natural parks where the flowers have been star attractions for years have instituted measures to minimize the impact of tourism on the survival of the flowers. A lot of buds reportedly failed to bloom when disturbed. Cultivating the flower has met little success.

The PAWD says the most significant threat to the Rafflesia is the destruction of its rainforest habitat. Every year, 100,000 hectares of rainforests across the country are being felled due to logging, mining, and the conversion of forest lands for commercial and residential uses.

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