Saving emilianum

Published November 13, 2022, 1:00 PM

by Jules Vivas

Spared from extinction, the new orchid variant honors the late philanthropist Don Emilio T. Yap

Dendrobium sanderae var. emilianum Foto/photo: V. Usita

There is so much to be gained in the pursuit of preserving orchids and their role in biodiversity. The nonwoody perennial herb is worth conserving for its aesthetic and intellectual value, hiding in its genomes and distribution the secrets of evolution.

Interconnected with other organisms in its surroundings, the monosymmetrical flora is a canary in the coal mine, indicative of the dangers of the environment and a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

The most evolved of flowering plants, orchids are also among the most vulnerable, threatened by various elements from climate change to habitat destruction and human depredations.

In the international botanical scene, the eighth volume of Die Orchidee, a German journal on orchidology, features how a new Dendrobium variant in the Philippines has been discovered and kept from being lost forever.

The article “A spectacular new variety of Dendrobium sanderae saved from extinction,” under the Taxonomic Notices section of the e-paper by the German Orchid Society, contains important details on the Dendrobium sanderae var. emilianum, including its origin story. 

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, the Philippines has more than a thousand orchid species, of which 90 percent are endemic. Helping keep these unique blooms alive and relevant in the country is the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the University of the Philippines, as well as private collectors and growers, to name a few. One of the most active in promoting orchid growing locally is the non-profit organization, Philippine Orchid Society (POS).

In 1990, the Aetas of Zambales province in Western Luzon gifted the late lecturer, conservationist, and POS co-director Andres Golamco Jr., Jun as he is fondly called, a few Dendrobiums.

After learning that the species in his possession were unrecorded, Jun passed on the new plants for cultivation and propagation to his fellow conservationist Dr. Emilio C. Yap III, Emil as he is called by his peers, the president of The Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp.

A year later, the explosion of Mount Pinatubo, the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, changed the landscape of Zambales and neighboring provinces forever. The native orchids from the disaster zones were seemingly gone for good.

Don Emilio T. Yap

As luck would have it, progenies have been produced from the dozen or so original orchids in Dr. Emil’s horticulture and tissue culture facility. The laboratory-produced offspring is a homage to Dr. Emil’s grandfather, the late Emilio T. Yap, more commonly addressed as Don Emilio, hence the varietal epithet, emilianum.

The Filipino-Chinese businessman, Don Emilio, was the chairman The Manila Bulletin Group, where Emil is now vice chairman. Among Don Emilio’s many legacies is the conservation of Philippine plants realized through his grandson Emil.

Dendrobium sanderae is closely related to Dendrobium sanderae var. emilianum, different only by the number of morphological features. The stiffly erect stems of the latter reach lengths of over 60 cm by 0.5 to 2 cm.

The leaves of the emilianum are oblong-ovate to oblong-lanceolate. Its sepals are slightly recurved. The lateral lobes of the labellum are elliptic, short, upright, and faintly curved. The mid lobe is flabellate-obtuse, a little curved downward. The spur of emilianum is short and narrowly acute.

Dendrobium sanderae var. emilianum Foto/photo: M. D. Leon

Over three decades have passed since the calamity. Now Dr. Emil plans to reintroduce the species to its former habitat. Miguel David De Leon, Derek Cabactulan, Villamor T. Usita, and Jim Cootes are co-authors of “A spectacular new variety of Dendrobium sanderae saved from extinction,” published in the Die Orchidee journal.