Some of the world’s giant flowers, those of the parasitic plant genus Rafflesia, can reach up to a meter and a half in diameter. Therefore, what could be more impressive about them are ‘dwarves’ such as the record-breaking one that was recently discovered by scientists from the University of the Philippines Diliman and the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Its average diameter is only 9.73 cm and has been named consueloae. The study is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.
Curiously enough, the discovery happened after a field assistant accidentally tripped over a pile of forest litter to expose a decayed flower. Later on, lead researcher Prof Perry S. Ong would describe the novel finding as “serendipitous”.
The new species is named Rafflesia consueloae in honor of Ms Consuelo ‘Connie’ Rufino Lopez, lifelong partner of Filipino industrialist Oscar M. Lopez. “With her demure, but strong personality traits, which Rafflesia consueloae also possesses, she provides the inspiration for Mr Lopez’s pursuit of biodiversity conservation in the Philippines,” Prof Ong says.
“Rafflesia flowers are unique in that they are entirely parasitic on roots and stems of specific vines in the forests and have no distinct roots, stems, or leaves of their own,” explains co-author Prof Edwino S. Fernando. “Thus, they are entirely dependent on their host plants for water and nutrients.”
In Sumatra and Borneo another species of the same genus, Rafflesia arnoldi, holds the record of being the largest single flower in the world with a diameter of up to 1.5 meter. In the Philippines, Rafflesia schadenbergiana, found only in Mindanao, is still large with a flower diameter of 0.8 meter. Professor Fernando, added that Rafflesia consueloae is the 6th species from Luzon Island and the 13th for the entire Philippine archipelago.
The new species has been classified as Critically Endangered, based on IUCN criteria as it has less than 100 km2 extent of occurrence with its two small populations. The continued protection of the populations of this species is important as some local people still hunt wildlife within the area and forest fires are likely in the dry season, factors which might threaten the survival of R. consueloae.
The field and laboratory work of the field scientists are part of the Comprehensive Biodiversity Conservation Monitoring Program of Pantabangan-Carranglan Project, funded by the First Gen Hydro Power Corportation (FGHPC) and Wildlife Forensics and DNA Barcoding of Philippine Biodiversity of the University of the Philippines Diliman – Department of the Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB).
Galindon JMM, Ong PS, Fernando ES (2016) Rafflesia consueloae (Rafflesiaceae), the smallest among giants; a new species from Luzon Island, Philippines. PhytoKeys 61: 37-46. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.61.7295