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The newly discovered Rhododendron astrophorum.

New Rhododendron species found in the Philippines

A botanist at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, has unveiled a new species of plant, Rhododendron astrophorum.

In a remarkable discovery, Dr Alastair Robinson, a botanist at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, has unveiled a new species of plant, Rhododendron astrophorum. This slender, canopy-growing epiphyte is exclusive to the montane moss forests of a single mountain range on Palawan Island in the Philippines.

The journey to this discovery began in 2015 during an expedition led by Robinson to the Victoria-Anepahan Mountain Range in central Palawan. It wasn’t until June 2022, however, that Filipino botanists from the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative and Palawan State University were able to make a herbarium collection, paving the way for the official naming of the plant in a newly released scientific paper.

Rhododendron astrophorum, aptly named ‘star bearer’ from the Greek words ?st??? (ástron = star) and -f???? (-phóros = bearing), features bright yellow corollas that resemble small clusters of stars adorning the forest canopy. This tropical beauty not only adds to the rich tapestry of the region’s flora but also underscores the close biological ties between Palawan and Borneo, islands historically connected by land bridges.

Rhododendron astrophorum

This discovery is part of a surge in botanical exploration in the region, leading to the documentation of dozens of new species. These recent findings emphasise the critical need for ongoing biodiversity research on the island and the implementation of conservation measures to protect this ecologically rich area.

The collaborative effort behind this research involved multiple institutions: Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative, Palawan State University, Texas Christian University, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (USA), and Universitas Samudra (Indonesia). Financial backing was provided by the US National Science Foundation, International Association for Plant Taxonomy, American Society of Plant Taxonomists, and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.

The discovery of Rhododendron astrophorum is a testament to the power of international collaboration in uncovering the hidden gems of our planet’s biodiversity. It’s a reminder of the wonders that still await discovery and the importance of safeguarding our natural world. 

The full details of this fascinating find are available in the recently published paper, accessible online.

Did you know the rhododendron is a low-allergy plant? Find out more about plants that are less likely to trigger hayfever here.