LEFT SET OF PHOTO: Helicia danlagunzadii sp. nov.: [A] matured twig with numerous inflorescences at different stages of maturity; [B] close-up photo of leaves showing the reticulate intercostal veins curving near the margin; [C] open flower with the yellowish perianth and elongated stigma; and [D] close-up photo of young inflorescence showing the small florets in pairs from the published research study on Philippine Journal of Science: "Helicia danlagunzadii (Proteaceae), a New Species from the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape, Palawan, Philippines". RIGHT PHOTOS: From Adriane Tobias (@adriane_tobias on Twitter).

A previously unknown tree species called Helicia danlagunzadii (Proteaceae) with ramiflorous flowering has been discovered by researchers of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños during a survey of the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape in southern Palawan.

The tree species, considered critically-endangered, was found in the mossy forest of Mt. Mantalingahan, the highest mountain in the province that forms part of the Beaufort Mountains Ultramafics

In their published scientific study in the Philippine Journal of Science, university researchers described that it “is distinct from other known species of Helicia in the Philippines because of its ramiflorous flowering, very short inflorescences (less than 4 cm), and yellow color.”

“Helicia danlagunzadii is the sixth species of the genus recorded in the Philippines. Following the assessment criteria of IUCN, the species is assessed as Critically Endangered,” they said. They are Pastor L. Malabrigo Jr., Arthur Glenn A. Umali1, Gerald T. Eduarte, John Ryan L. Navidad, and Adriane B. Tobias.

They indicated that even though fruits had not been seen, enough evidence existed to recognize the tree as a new species within the section Helicia. The data used to describe this species come from both in-the-wild observations and studies of preserved herbarium specimens.

“We just described a new species, Helicia danlagunzadii, found in the southern part of Palawan Island. It is related to species that produce the famous macadamia nuts in the Protea family,” Tobias, one of the researchers, tweeted on Tuesday.

The new species was identified on July 25, 2019, in Brgy. Ransang, municipality of Rizal, during a floristic survey supported by the Forest Foundation Philippines (FFP).

It grows on the edges of an upper montane rainforest that gradually transitions into a sub-alpine forest on Mt. Mantalingahan an elevation of 1,360 meters above sea level. The UPLB researchers said it was flowering when collected.

The study describes it as a “treelet up to four meters tall with branchlets that are asperulous sub-terete, slightly ferruginous at the tips, and greyish brown elsewhere. Its leaves are simple, petiolate, and spirally arranged.”

Helicia danlagunzadii is so far known only from a single population at the upper montane forest of the Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape (MMPL). They noted observing only three mature individuals, with an estimated occurrence area of less than 20 km2 and an occupancy area of less than 4 km2.

“The quality of its natural habitat remains pristine but the decline of the species’ population is suspected due to it being targeted during biological resource gathering, especially since it occurs at the transition zone between the mossy forest and subalpine forest. Because of its very small population and lone location, intertwined with the suspected threat to the
species population, we propose the species be assessed as Critically Endangered,” they said.

The study further said the epithet Danlagunzadii is a commemorative name given to the species in recognition of the great Filipino systematist and ecologist Dr. Daniel A. Lagunzad, who was the first author’s mentor.

“Dr. Lagunzad worked as a Professor at the Institute of Biology, University of the Philippines Diliman. His passion and interest in native plants inspired many of his students to pursue the very challenging field of taxonomy. He was the best doctor to cure plant blindness among his students,” they said.

By virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1815 signed on June 23, 2009, the MMPL is a protected area in southern Palawan. It encompasses a total area of 120,457 hectares within the municipal boundaries of Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, Quezon, Rizal, and Sofronio Española.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.