The Philippines is a tropical country that is home to about two-thirds of the world’s biodiversity. It is ranked fifth in the world for housing five percent of all the earth’s plant species.
This megadiverse country is made up of several isolated islands with an ideal tropical climate. Thus, it is not really surprising that the Philippines is well-recognized for having such a high number of unique flora and fauna species.
So, what are some of the rare plants that call the Philippines home? In this article, we have listed eight of the rarest plants that can only be found in this country. Read on to discover what these species are and what makes them exotic and unusual!
1. Rafflesia consueloae
Rafflesia consueloae is a parasitic flowering plant that can only be found on Luzon Island in the Philippines – specifically in Pantabangan Watershed, Pampanga.
Rafflesia flowers are known to be the largest in the world. The largest Rafflesia species is Rafflesia arnoldii, which measures about 40 inches in diameter. Rafflesia consueloae, on the other hand, measures about four inches across and is considered the smallest among these largest flowers.
Like all the members of the Rafflesiaceae family, Rafflesia consueloae is entirely dependent on its host plant since it does not have its own roots or leaves. The only part of this plant you will ever see are its five petals.
Once the flower fully blooms, it releases a disgusting odor that smells like rotting flesh. Now, you might think this repulsive stench is used to repel dangerous predators or bugs – but it is not! The offensive smell has an important role in the plant’s reproduction process, and that is to attract pollinators like flies, which actually like the stench. Once these insects carry the pollen to another plant, the Rafflesia species has successfully reproduced.
2. Philippine teak
Also known as Tectona philippinensis, Philippine teak is a species of small forest tree endemic to the Philippines. Its natural habitat, more specifically, is Ilin Island, Mindoro, and the lowland forests and cliffs of San Juan and Lobo, in Batangas province.
This rare Philippine tree can grow up to 80 feet high and 20 inches in diameter. It produces pale green leaves that measure about five inches long and two inches wide. Philippine teak also produces bright purple blooms, as well as small fruits enclosed in a large calyx with a thin exocarp and a bony endocarp.
What makes the Philippine teak well-known is its highly valuable timber. The light-yellow wood is very durable and dense, making it an excellent material for furniture and heavy-duty structures such as bridges, beams, and posts. Unfortunately, this popular tree is decreasing in population due to its direct exploitation, as well as agricultural land use and urban expansion.
Kabantigi, also called Pemphis acidula, is a small, heavily branched tree or shrub native to the Philippines. Some kabantigi trees grow as high as 33 feet, while there are also some that are dwarf creepers. Because of the latter’s petite height, they are commonly grown as bonsai trees in Asia. These trees have small, thick, silvery leaves and their branches are adorned with clusters of flowers in the springtime.
Kabantigi trees are not found everywhere; they mostly grow along rocky coastal areas or near the edges of mangroves. These trees are quite heavy and tough – they can withstand even the harshest weather conditions. They have rugged, low-lying trunks to survive the strong winds and big waves of the Philippines typhoon season. But, once the summer months arrive, they begin to grow in an upright direction again.
Aside from being popular as a bonsai tree, the Kabantigi is also popular among woodcarvers due to its heavy weight and natural twisted shape. It is also harvested by the locals for medicine and food.
Unfortunately, Pemphis acidula is included in the list of threatened species as its population continues to decline due to habitat loss and continuous collection for the bonsai trade.
Ziziphus talanai, also known as balakat, talanai, or aligamen, is a species of tree native to the islands of Luzon and Visayas in the Philippines – specifically in the Philippinean Limestone Forest ecoregion.
These large trees belong to the Rhamnaceae family and can reach up to 100 feet high and 40 inches in diameter. In the province of Antique, this tree is widely used as medicine to treat urinary tract infections and ringworm, due to its antimicrobial properties.
5. Jade vine
Another Philippine plant, well known for its spectacular blooms, is the jade vine, or Strongylodon macrobotrys. Other names assigned to this perennial woody vine are emerald creeper, emerald vine, and tayabak.
The jade vine is a tropical climber whose twisting stems are embellished with dangling clusters of claw-shaped flowers. While the vine can reach up to 70 feet long, its beautiful, greenish-blue blooms can measure up to five inches. The flowers are usually in full bloom from early spring to summer.
Jade vines grow best in tropical rainforests where the soil is moist, alkaline, and nutrient-dense. Hence, these plants will not thrive in areas with cold temperatures or drought. So, if you are interested in growing one of these beautiful and rare species, then you should be living in an area classified as USDA plant hardiness zone 10 or 11.
6. Kris plant
Alocasia sanderiana, or the kris plant, is another unique plant native to the Philippines – in this case, to the region of Northern Mindanao. This tropical perennial is a member of the Araceae family. It typically grows up to two feet in height and produces large leaves of about 12 inches long and six inches wide.
What is impressive about the kris plant is its alien-looking foliage. The dark green leaves resemble a v-shape, or an arrowhead, with white or yellowish veins protruding on the surface. They also have wavy edges that give them an exotic look.
Aside from its stunningly unique foliage, the kris plant can also produce a few flowers, albeit occasionally, during the hot summer months in the Philippines.
7. Cebu cinnamon tree
The Cebu cinnamon tree, or Cinnamomum cebuense, is a medium-sized tree that is endemic only to the Philippine island of Cebu. However, some trees have been found growing on the neighboring islands of Siquijor and Camotes. Locally, this species of plant is called kaningag.
Cinnamon species are valued mostly for culinary and medicinal purposes, thanks to their aromatic leaves and bark. The pharmaceutical industry collects the leaves of certain Cinnamon species to produce camphor and essential oils. The locals chew or boil the bark of the Cebu cinnamon tree to treat gastrointestinal discomfort, and some people use its leaves as an aromatic spice for cooking.
In total, the Philippines is home to eighteen Cinnamomum species. The country’s three different seasons, namely, the dry season, rainy season, and cold season, are the most important factors that allow these plants to thrive on the tropical islands. Unfortunately, however, the population of Cebu cinnamon trees on the island has been declining due to urbanization, over-exploitation, and deforestation for agricultural encroachment.
8. Nepenthes sibuyanensis and Nepenthes peltata
The tropical pitcher plants Nepenthes sibuyanensis and Nepenthes peltata are two more rare plant species endemic to the Philippines.
Nepenthes sibuyanensis is a carnivorous pitcher plant that can only be found on Mount Guiting-Guiting on Sibuyan Island. Nepenthes peltata, meanwhile, is a rare pitcher plant unique to the upper slopes of Mount Hamiguitan, Mindanao.
Pitcher plants are typically known for their globulous, pitcher-shaped flowers that are used to trap small insects or even animals like rats and lizards. They come with toothy peristomes and a waxy pitcher body that can be orange, cream, pink, or iridescent red. One species even grows lower pitchers hidden in the ground to more easily target its prey.
The lush islands of the Philippines are home to some of the rarest plant species on earth. These include Rafflesia consueloae, Philippine teak, kabantigi, balakat, jade vine, kris plant, Cebu cinnamon tree, and the tropical pitcher plants Nepenthes sibuyanensis and Nepenthes peltata. Sadly, most of these plant species are on the red list due to deforestation and increasing urbanization.