The Palawan Expeditions- a coastal forest in Quezon

June 6, 2017

Quezon is a rather nondescript coastal town in Palawan but is the site of a mining operation that has since been shut down, according to the locals, by then DENR Sec. Gina Lopez. Soils here, like in many parts in southern Palawan, are ultramafic, or containing concentrations of heavy metals used in a wide range of industries, hence its attraction to mining firms. However, despite the destructive activities of man, a treasure trove of species still persist on one of its low peaks, giving us an idea of what we may possibly lose in the near future now that mining is in full gear again.


Here's a young dog playing the role of chaperone to a group of piglets:


 A Tagbanua child with his toy truck. The Tagbanuas have largely left their ancestral lands and settled instead as workers for mining companies.



 The owner of this house appears to collect Coleus, or mayana in Tagalog.

 The rocky shores of Quezon:

 These bumpy, epiphytic plants are Hoya imbricata (Family Apocynaceae), a species endemic to the Philippines. Such a pleasure seeing these unusual plants in the wild, although no opened flowers were found.


 The species name imbricata, refers to the imbricate, or shingle-like leaves. The leaves of Hoya are in pairs, opposite one another. But in this species, they are fused to become one concave organ that shelters the roots from desiccation during prolonged periods of dryness. Incidentally, the leaves also attract and harbor ants that use the leaves as shelters. In return, the ants provide nutrients to the roots from the food they bring to larvae and the wastes they produce. Hoya imbricata therefore, is both an epiphyte and a myrmecophyte- a plant that has developed mutualistic relationships with ants. 

 On cliffs, populations of the slipper orchid Paphiopedilum philippinense are found. Regrettably, none were found to be in bloom in time for this visit.

 Similar in appearance to Hoya imbricata and also belonging to the same family as well as in being myrmecophytic, are these Dischidia. Like in H. imbricata, they do have imbricate leaves too but are not fused together and these grow in typical pairs. The plants shown below belong to Dischidia section Conchophyllum, characterized by such concave leaves appressed to the substrates they grow on. Identification at the species level can be tricky though, as there is a complex of species revolving around D. imbricata.


 These are orchids, possibly from the genus Cleisostoma; without flowers I cannot be certain. The very narrow and fleshy leaves are adaptations to reduce transpiration in hot and dry days, allowing the plants to tolerate even drought, at least for a short time.

 As we walked further, the rocks gave way to boulders:

 This Dischidia is exposed to the sun, which encouraged the production of anthocyanin pigments

 Hoya palawanica:

 A species of Cycas, possibly C. edentata, which is known to occur on sandy beaches. Cycads are very primitive plants, and the ancestral species may have formed a good part of herbivorous dinosaurs' diets.

 A clump of Cirrhopetalum nutans (Bulbophyllum othonis, if you are botanically inclined and prefer to treat Cirrhopetalum under the unwieldy genus Bulbophyllum). I arrived to early; the plants are still in bud. The creamy flowers are nodding (source of the species name which was derived from the Latin nutare, which means 'nodding') and born in umbels, that is, they all grow from more or less the same growing point. Plants in full bloom are a majestic sight. The leaves are very thick and succulent, again an adaptation to endure dry periods.

 An orchid from the genus Pomatocalpa.

 That straggly-looking plant is an orchid, possibly Flickingeria fimbriata.

 A flowering vine from the genus Phanera (Family Fabaceae):


 On the way to the forest, we passed by a plantation of oil palms. The planting of this species is responsible for the massive destruction of forests especially in Asia. Oil from this palm is ubiquitous in so many products; it is likely that you use or consume around 10 products containing palm oil each day.

 A Bulbophyllum (Family Orchidaceae) with yellowy leaves:

 This cat appeared from nowhere and began following us.

 An Ixora (Family Rubiaceae) with blazing flowers:

 Very few species of Begonia are known from Palawan. This plant does not fit any known species and could be new.

 A root climber with wing-like leaves:

 This could be Alocasia culionensis (Family Araceae):

 This terrestrial orchid is possibly Acanthephippium javanicum or a closely-related, still undescribed species: 

 This orchid is possibly a new and undescribed species of Euphlebium:

 A flying species of stick insect. Unfortunately, it flew away just as I was preparing to take a better shot.

 A mossy log...

 ... that served tired Menzie's purpose:

 This is possibly Bulbophyllum recurvilabre, an orchid with carrion-scented flowers:

 Cystorchis aphylla is one of those bizarre mycoheterotrophic orchid species that parasitize saprophytic (organisms that break down organic matter) fungi for their nutritional needs. Even my Tagbanua companions know that these plants never bear leaves at any stage of their growth.

 A species of Pleocnemia (Family Tectariaceae) with its purple new frond:

 And then suddenly, a plant of Paphiopedilum fowliei was encountered on the steep trail:

 Adiantum stenochlamys (Family Pteridaceae). The old fronds are plain green: 

 At last, a flowering example of Paphiopedilum fowliei, a slipper orchid found only on Palawan.

 This specimen is about to bloom too, soon:

 An even better example of the species, with undamaged floral parts. These plants only seem to grow on slopes:

 Some examples of Nepenthes philippinensis, a species endemic, though widespread, in Palawan. Future work may merit the recognition of new species or subspecies within this taxon:






 A view of the surrounding lowlands from a small clearing. If you look hard enough you will see a hill denuded by mining.

 A small stream with clear, potable water. Rivers and small bodies of water in mafic sites typically have pristine waters.

 Slash-and-burn agriculture evident on the slopes:

 This is the same peak seen from the picture of a clearing above:

 The locals call this fruit 'kandis'; both the rind and pulp are edible, with a pleasantly tarty flavor. I haven't been able to take photos of the leaves, which are possibly more that 20 meters above our heads.


This peak, possibly also ultramafic in nature, may not stay the way it is today, no thanks to the all-powerful forces behind mining companies operating on the country's so-called 'Last Frontier'.

 Gratitude is being given to Derek Cabactulan for identifying the ferns shown in this post. 


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