Two new plant species discovered

Two new plant species discovered
The Hanguana triangulata (L) and Hanguana rubinea (R) are two species of plants new to science discovered by Singapore researchers.

A RESEARCHER from the Singapore Botanic Gardens has discovered two new plant species - flowering herbs - that are unique to this country.

Biologist Jana Leong-Skornickova, together with staff from the National Parks Board (NParks), discovered Hanguana rubinea growing near streams in primary lowland forests in Bukit Timah, Mandai, Seletar and MacRitchie, and Hanguana triangulata in Bukit Timah and Seletar.

The findings were reported in the NParks-produced science journal Gardens' Bulletin Singapore.

In a blog post yesterday, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said the fact that both plants are found only here was "especially significant".

"The two new Hanguana plant species have red and white berries, our national colours," he wrote, adding that they are "nature's timely gift" to Singapore during its 50th anniversary.

NParks, which falls under the National Development Ministry, said in a statement yesterday that Hanguana species have not been studied extensively.

Botanists had assumed that Singapore had only a single such species, Hanguana malayana. This is often seen growing by the edge of water bodies and is occasionally used in the landscaping industry for its ornamental value.

But NParks researchers examining a group of forest herbs belonging to the genus Hanguana found differences in the plants, such as their size, flower structure, colour of ripe fruits, and seed shapes.

Dr Leong-Skornickova, a taxonomist who helps to identify and classify species, said: "Finding any new species in heavily urbanised Singapore is almost a small miracle, in part because of our land area and also because Singapore's flora has been so densely researched in South-east Asia. Yet, the discovery of these new Hanguana species shows that tropical floras, including that of Singapore, are richer and more complex than we generally presumed."

Both species are considered critically endangered.

NParks said it will look to conserve the Hanguana plant family, adding: "Priority for reintroductions will be given to nature reserves and parks with suitable habitats." The two new species follow last year's discovery of Zingiber singapurense, a ginger plant.

Singapore now has three plant species which can be found nowhere else in the world.

In his blog post, Mr Khaw added that 30 plant species thought to be extinct in the Republic have been re-discovered.

Forest surveys also found six species of plants new to Singapore.

"These discoveries testify to the importance of biodiversity research," he said. "It allows us to better understand our local flora and fauna."

audreyt@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 5, 2015.
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