New 'critically endangered' tree species discovered in Palawan

Rowegie Abanto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2023 09:40 PM | Updated as of Feb 01 2023 06:38 AM

MANILA — Researchers from the University of the Philippines Los BaΓ±os have discovered a new "critically endangered" tree species in Palawan.

The new species, Helicia danlagunzadii, was found in Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape in southern Palawan, the researchers said in their scientific paper published in the Philippine Journal of Science, where they formally described and illustrated the discovery. 

"The new species is distinct from the other known species of Helicia in the Philippines because of its ramiflorous flowering, very short inflorescences (less than 4 cm), and yellow color," they said.

"Helicia danlagunzadii is the sixth species of the genus recorded in the Philippines," added the researchers, namely Pastor L. Malabrigo Jr., Arthur Glenn A. Umali, Gerald T. Eduarte, John Ryan L. Navidad, and Adriane B. Tobias. 


The new tree species was "encountered" in Mt. Mantalingahan Protected Landscape during a floristic exploration funded by Forest Foundation Philippines. 

It was flowering when its specimen was collected on July 25, 2019. 

According to forester Tobias, one of the researchers, the new species is related to the species that produce the famous macadamia nuts. "It's our contribution to [the] Philippines' biodiversity," he said.

The tree was assessed as "critically endangered" because of its "very small population and lone location, intertwined with the suspected threat to the species population," the study said.

While the quality of the new tree species' natural habitat remains "pristine," the researchers suspected that the decline of its population was due to it "being targeted during biological resource gathering, especially since it occurs at the transition zone between the mossy forest and subalpine forest."


The researchers said the species epithet danlagunzadii is a "commemorative name in honor of" Daniel A. Lagunzad, who served as a mentor of the study's first author, Malabrigo Jr.

A Filipino systematist and ecologist, Lagunzad worked as a professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman Institute of Biology.

"His passion and interest in native plants inspired many of his students to pursue the very challenging field of taxonomy," the study said.

"He was the best doctor to cure plant blindness among his students."

The new species was found in Palawan, often called the Philippines' "last ecological frontier." 

The province, which is rich in natural resources, is home to 105 out of the 475 threatened species in the country, according to UNESCO, citing the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

"Of the 105 threatened species, 67 are endemic to the Philippines, while 42 of the 67 Philippine endemics are Palawan endemics," the UN agency also said.

A study published in early 2022 estimated that there are significantly more species of trees on Earth than currently known, with more than 9,000 species yet to be discovered.

—With a report from Agence France-Presse