The tallest begonia species in all Asia found in Tibet, China

Chinese researchers have discovered the tallest Begonia recorded in Asia. The plant belongs to a new species aptly called Begonia giganticaulis and was described in the open-access journal PhytoKeys. In Tibet’s Mêdog county, China, the team found a Begonia so tall that they had to stand on top of their vehicle to measure it. The plant was 3.6 meters tall, with the thickest part of its ground stem close to 12 cm in diameter.

With over 2050 known species, Begonia is one of the largest plant genera. Since most begonias are small weeds, a begonia taller than a human is a very unusual sight. However, the newly discovered Begonia giganticaulis is one of the few exceptions.

In 2019, Dr. Daike Tian and his colleagues initiated a field survey on wild begonias in Tibet, China. On September 10, 2020, when Dr. Tian saw a huge begonia in full bloom during surveys in the county of Mêdog, he got instantly excited. After checking its flowers, he was confident it represented a new species.

From a small population with a few dozens of individuals, Dr. Tian collected two of the tallest ones to measure them and prepare specimens necessary for further study. One of them was 3.6 meters tall, the thickest part of its ground stem close to 12 cm in diameter. To measure it correctly, he had to ask the driver to stand on top of the vehicle. In order to carry them back to Shanghai and prepare dry specimens, Dr. Tian had to cut each plant into four sections.

A Begonia giganticaulis plant is cut up for easier transportation
A Begonia giganticaulis plant is cut up for easier transportation. Photo by Daike Tian

To date, this plant is the tallest begonia recorded in the whole of Asia.

Begonia giganticaulis, recently described as a new species in the peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys, grows on slopes under forests along streams at elevation of 450–1400 m. It is fragmentally distributed in southern Tibet, which was one of the reasons that its conservation status was assigned to Endangered according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

The research team pose with a specimen of Begonia giganticaulis at the first Chinese begonia show in Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden.
The research team pose with a specimen of Begonia giganticaulis at the first Chinese begonia show in Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden. Photo by Meiqin Zhu

After being dried at a herbarium and mounted on a large board, the dried specimen was measured at 3.1 m tall and 2.5 m wide. To our knowledge, this is the world’s largest specimen of a Begonia species. In October 2020, the visitors who saw it at the first Chinese begonia show in Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden were shocked by its huge size.

Currently, the staff of Chenshan Herbarium is applying for Guinness World Records for this specimen.

Research article:

Tian D-K, Wang W-G, Dong L-N, Xiao Y, Zheng M-M, Ge B-J (2021) A new species (Begonia giganticaulis) of Begoniaceae from southern Xizang (Tibet) of China. PhytoKeys 187: 189-205.https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.187.75854

World’s smallest of giant flowers discovered in the Philippines

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.

Image 2 IMG_9892.JPEG Photo by Edwino S. Fernando

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).

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Original source:

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

Tiny, record-breaking Chinese land snails fit almost 10 times into the eye of a needle

Minuscule snails defy current knowledge and scientific terminology about terrestrial “microsnails”. While examining soil samples collected from the base of limestone rocks in Guangxi Province, Southern China, scientists Barna Páll-Gergely and Takahiro Asami from Shinshu University, Adrienne Jochum, University and Natural History Museum of Bern, and András Hunyadi, found several minute empty light grey shells, which measured an astounding height of less than 1 mm.

The single known shell of Angustopila dominikae, named after the wife of the first author, was measured a mere 0.86 mm in shell height. Thus, it is considered to be perhaps the World’s smallest land snail species when focusing on the largest diameter of the shell. With very few reported instances of species demonstrating this degree of tininess, the team have described a total of seven new land snail species in their paper, published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Another of the herein described new species, called Angustopila subelevata, measured 0.83-0.91 mm (mean = 0.87 mm) in height.

Two of the authors have previously described other species of tiny land snails from China and Korea in the same journal.

In their present paper, Dr. Pall-Gergely and his team also discuss the challenges faced by scientists surveying small molluscs, since finding living specimens is still very difficult. Thus, the evolutionary relationships between these species, as well as the number of existing species are yet little known.

“Extremes in body size of organisms not only attract attention from the public, but also incite interest regarding their adaptation to their environment,” remind the researchers. “Investigating tiny-shelled land snails is important for assessing biodiversity and natural history as well as for establishing the foundation for studying the evolution of dwarfism in invertebrate animals.”

“We hope that these results provide the taxonomic groundwork for future studies concerning the evolution of dwarfism in invertebrates,” they finished up.

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Original source:

Páll-Gergely B, Hunyadi A, Jochum A, Asami T (2015) Seven new hypselostomatid species from China, including some of the world’s smallest land snails (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Orthurethra). ZooKeys 523: 31-62. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.523.6114