Mounts Bolokbok and Pantabangan spring to the headlines this week with the discovery of, as the Philippine Star puts it,
the world’s smallest biggest flower. Mindful of the way we all mistreat plants by neglecting their new species, this Rafflesia consueloae puts the record straight by becoming our latest pop plant.
Rafflesia are well known compared to most of our new species. Named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, they are the largest flowers on earth. Parasitising Tetrastigma vines, only the flower really shows their presence. We can forgive the Filipinos for regarding this creamy-white Luzon endemic as just a small example of its larger relatives. It is merely 9.73cm (just under 4 inches) across, hanging on to life in a 100km2 disappearing habitat within the islands’ lowland evergreen rainforest thickets, found only 300-500m high on these 2 mountains!
These stinking flowers attract flies for pollination and can be therefore quite easy to locate, or avoid. Kew Gardens have a large Rafflesia arnoldii from Sumatra which occasionally flowers in London, but visitor numbers tend to go down at that time. They know it there as the
corpse flower, either because they know some dead people or the smell is otherwise indescribable. The 2 locations for the new species will need protection from forest fire in the dry season as well as regular hunting expeditions in the area. It is not known how either the plant propagates or how infection of the host takes place, with small mammal such as tree shrew participation suspected. Conservation measures for the critically endangered plant have been suggested by the authors, John Michael M. Galindon, Perry S. Ong and Professor Edwino S. Fernando of University of the Philippines, Quezon City and Los Baños. They publish their open access paper in PhytoKeys using the title, Rafflesia consueloae (Rafflesiaceae), the smallest among giants; a new species from Luzon Island, Philippines.
We only note the Philippines occasionally such as with reports of their iconic giant eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi, on Mindanao but each island has many endemic reptiles, amphibians and mammals as well as invertebrate and marine species that thrive in the tropical maritime climate and unique habitats. Isolation has some benefits apart from the more obvious difficulties of island species.