This Rare Fire Orchid Was Accidentally Discovered on a Mountain in the Philippines
Twnety-five-year-old University of the Philippines botanist Maverick Tamayo was doing reconnaissance fieldwork on Mt. Komkompol in Bokod, Benguet when something caught his eye’s attention. A fiery-red flower hanging from a tree.
“I was checking for plants that attach themselves to tree trunks when I noticed a very small orchid blooming among the greenery of the mossy forest,” Tamayo tells Esquire Philippines.
“I carefully checked on the details of the flower of this orchid, and immediately, to my surprise, the morphology of the flower appears a little special.” His heart raced, knowing it could be a new discovery.
Dendrochilum ignisiflorum, aka Fire Flower
The lip or labellum of the flower is distinct from all known species, and it does not resemble any of the common forms exhibited by members of the genus. “I vouchered some specimens of this orchid species and carefully studied it at UP Baguio.”
When the flower was examined in the laboratory, Tamayo’s initial suspicions were confirmed: It was an entirely new species of orchid endemic to the Philippines. They still don’t know whether it exists on Mt. Komkompol alone.
Mt. Komkompol, Benguet
The orchid is a part of the mega-diverse genus Dendrochilum. The genus name was derived. Tamayo and his team named it Dendrochilum ignisiflorum—a fire flower. In Latin, ignis means fire, and flores means flower. The name was chosen because of the orchid’s slightly spreading, yellow to deep-orange flowers.
A Little Flower in Danger of Disappearing Forever
Unlike most ornamental orchids, the fire flower is significantly smaller, and has tiny petals. But despite its size, the fire flower stands out in the mossy forest of Mt. Komkompol because of its fiery color, which led to its accidentally discovery.
Dendrochilum ignisiflorum is endemic to the Philippines and is currently only known to inhabit the mossy forest of Upper Agno River Basin Resource Reserve. Tamayo and his team assigned it a conservation status of Vulnerable.
“I would say that the orchid is rare even in its type locality as very few individuals were seen flowering,” says Tamayo.
Deforestation for farming is common across the Cordillera range, and remains the leading threat to the survial of the fire flower. If left unchecked, habitat loss could lead to the extinction of not just the newly discovered orchid species, but thousands of other plants and animals that have yet to be named and discovered.
The Upper Agno River Basin Resource Reserve is a crucial watershed that feeds the major dams of Luzon. According to Mongabay, locals still clear primary forests in the area for planting vegetables despite it being declared a protected zone.
Maverick Tamayo (left) and Colleague Patrick Penales at Mt. Komkompol
Maverick Tamayo is a Biology instructor at the Department of Biology College of Science, University of the Philippines Baguio. He chairs the UP Baguio Native Plants Committee and heads the research committee of the Philippine Taxonomic Initiative, Inc.