(UPDATED) A new species of Begonia previously discovered in El Nido, Palawan has been described and published recently in the scientific journal Phytotaxa.
Rene Alfred Anton Bustamante, who first documented the wildflower in 2017, in a phone interview with Palawan News on Thursday afternoon, said they named the new Begonia species Begonia cabanillasii, after a local naturalist, Will Cabanillas, whom they recognized for his contribution to field exploration and biodiversity conservation work in Palawan.
“We could choose other plants that we have discovered to name after him, but we chose this one because this is really attractive. We wanted to do something nice for him,” Bustamante said.
Cabanillas, who is also a “well-liked birdwatcher”, led on many occasions the research team to natural habitats in aid of the study of plants.
Presently, there are 23 Begonia species that can be found in Palawan. The most recent discovery was published in a global scientific journal, Phytotaxa, on Thursday (July 23) by a team of researchers composed of Yu Pin Ang, Danilo Tandang, John Michael Agcaoili, and Rene Alfred Anton Bustamante.
B. cabanillasii can be easily distinguished from the other related species having “distinct hair”, thickness of leaf, and “compact” habitat. Its staminate flower pedicel ranges from 15 to 25 millimeters, with four white and pink petals.
“If you combine all those features, it does not compare to the other [Begonia] species as a whole,” Bustamante added.
The researchers held several other scientific excursions throughout Palawan as initiated by Philippine Taxonomic Initiative Inc., a non-government organization (NGO) based in Barangay Maligaya, El Nido Palawan.
With its recent discovery, the new Begonia species is already threatened, having only a total of “less than 50 mature” plants observed in the wild. The research team cited water extractions, excavations, and water contamination within the “localized small area” of its discovery that posed an “imminent threat” to the new species. Human settlements, which are proximity to its endemic habitat, also showed signs of decline in its population.
Bustamante hoped that the recent discovery of B. cabanillasii could ignite the younger generations in a stronger bid to preserve and conserve the natural wonders of Palawan’s biodiversity.
“My hope is that the publication of this species helps to highlight the incredible and still poorly documented biodiversity of Palawan,” Bustamante concluded.