A new species of one of the largest flowering plant genera Begonia was recently discovered in El Nido, Palawan.
The discovery was published in a global scientific journal Phytotaxa by a group of researchers under the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative (PTI): Rene Alfred Anton Bustamante, Yu Pin Ang, Danilo Tandang, and John Michael Agcaoili.
Begonia cabanillasii, the new species of Begonia, can easily be distinguished by its “compact rosette growth” and “shorter flower stalk with comparatively larger flowers.”
Agcaoili, field biologist at the PTI, said Begonia cabanillasii’s features also “does not compare” to its closest allies, B. suborbiculata or B. quinquealata.
“It has a unique 5-winged ovary which is the type of characteristic that can only be found in Palawan species. This is also the third species known to have such character within Section Baryandra,” he told Manila Bulletin in an exclusive interview.
“This particular species is currently known only to occur in El Nido, Palawan with a very narrow population,” he added.
Begonia cabanillasii is among the six Begonia species which are endemic to El Nido. Other species are B. blancii , B. elnidoensis , B. mindorensis Merr., B. suborbiculata, and B. woodii Merr.
The flower is usually found “exposed limestone with deeply shaded moist forest,” according to Agcaoili.
Bustamante, co-author of the journal, said many parts of El Nido have natural limestone formation which is also why there is high endemism of flora in El Nido.
In December, 2018, Agcaoili said he and fellow researcher Ang were invited by PTI’s executive director Raab Bustamante to “look for more populations of Begonia” which the latter saw in 2017 near a water community resource in El Nido.
The following year, Ang went back to El Nido to conduct a more “in depth study” on the Begonia cabanillasii and “to document two variations of B. suborbiculata to make a good comparison of two related species.”
Agcaoili also said that the Begonia cabanillasii’s population was very small when they started the study, stating there were only less than 50 matured plants which they can document.
Initially, they named the flowering plant “Begonia pavoides” which means peacock, because the species had “patterns on its leaves that resemble Palawan Peacock-Pheasant’s tail.”
The group, however, renamed the species to honor naturalist and citizen scientist William “Will” Cabanillas, who, according to Agcaoili, “played a significant role that led to several discoveries of new species that is also endemic to Palawan.”
“We realized that this novel species will boost the pride of Palawan to value their unique biodiversity as it is coined as the last frontier of the country,” Agcaoili said.
To date, Palawan has 23 Begonia species. (With a report from Aira Magdayao)