This discovery serves as reminder that Malaysia’s forests still contain undiscovered species of flora that stand the risk of never being found, appreciated, and protected, largely due to unchecked development and mass logging.
While trekking through the Hulu Nerus Forest Reserve in Terengganu back in 2019, Malaysian photographer and independent researcher Suzairi Zakaria stumbled upon an a rare species of flora that has since caused quite a stir in the world of botany.
Suzairi Zakaria, also known as Dome Nikong, presented his find to Dr Siti-Munirah Mat from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia for further analysis before collaborating and sharing collected data with Dr Chris Thorgood from Oxford University. The flower has been identified as a “fairy lantern” plant (scientifically grouped in the extremely rare genus Thismia), and has been named Thismia sitimeriamiae, after Dome Nikong’s own mother Siti Meriam, who has been buoyed with pride over her son’s discovery.
“I feel so happy to be able to name this new plant in honour of my mother,” Dome Nikong said. “She was very touched when she found out.”
The T. sitimeriamiae is the third discovered flowering plant from the Thismia genus that’s endemic to Terengganu. A statement from Oxford University after studying the plant, has proclaimed it “among the most extraordinary looking of all flowering plants.”
The plant was noted to have peculiar characteristics such as an orange, lantern-like flower with pillars supporting an umbrella-like structure called a “mitre.” The function of the mitre is still very much a mystery, and the plant’s overall architecture has raised questions about how the flower gets pollinated.
“The plant’s unique and remarkable ‘mitre’, colour and surface texture make Thismia sitimeriamiae among the most eye-catching plants ever described from Peninsular Malaysia,” Oxford said in its statement..
A TREASURED FIND
Oxford botanists have gone on to explain that Thismia are leafless flowering plants that thrive in the darkest parts of remote rainforests and flower for extremely brief periods, often underneath fallen leaves. Because of this, sightings of such plants are close to to impossible, making it that “so few people are lucky enough to encounter them,” the university added.
Adding to its extreme rarity, researchers involved have already categorised T. sitimeriamiae as critically endangered (CR) according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) criteria.
Scientific data gathered from studying the plant has been published in the journal Phytokeys, and researchers involved are pushing for further studies to be conducted on fairy lantern plants in order for conservation authorities to have a better understanding of them, and how to best protect and preserve this mysterious species.
This discovery serves as reminder that Malaysia’s forests still contain undiscovered species of flora that stand the risk of never being found, appreciated, and protected, largely due to unchecked development and mass logging. Dome Nikong has urged researchers to be more proactive in studies related to the country’s diverse biomes because they all stand the risk of disappearing.
“The search for new species needs to be carried out aggressively as there are many forests in our country that have been destroyed on a large scale,” he said. “It would be a great loss if we lose a species before we are able to scientifically describe it.”
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