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Zamboanga – It’s Not just About the Birds

Text by Gina Mapua
Photos by Riza Melicor and Beng Ricarte

As we birded Zamboanga on our club trip in October, we could not help notice the interesting flora and fauna along the roads, forest paths and private gardens. Here are some of those we were able to identify.

A native oak tree

Identified as Lithocarpus llanosii by a DENR staffer that accompanied us in Upper La Paz, but an online check indicated that L. llanosii is a synonym for L. celebicus, whose native range is from the Philippines to New Guinea.

Lithocarpus trees are evergreen trees with leathery, alternate leaves, which may be either entire or toothed. The seed is a nut very similar to an oak acorn, but with a very hard, woody nut shell, hence the genus name, from Greek lithos, stone, + carpos, seed.

Dendrobium sp.

This orchid was growing from the trunk of the tree in full view, but at some distance, from the road. We hope no one ever has the gumption to remove it from its habitat.

Dendrobium is a genus of mostly epiphytic and lithophytic (grow on rocks) orchids in the family Orchidaceae. It is a very large genus, containing more than 1,800 species that are found in diverse habitats throughout much of south, east and southeast Asia. Orchids in this genus have roots that creep over the surface of trees or rocks, rarely having their roots in soil.

Yes it is! It has been identified as belonging to the genus Freycinetia, one of the five extant genera in the flowering plant family Pandanaceae. The genus comprises approximately 180–200 species, most of them climbers and are distributed through the tropics and subtropics of South Asia and the western Pacific Ocean. They have been found growing in tropical forests, coastal forests, humid mountain forests and associated biomes, from sea level to mountains cloud forests.

Dillenia is a genus of about 100 species of flowering plants in the family Dilleniaceae, native to tropical and subtropical regions of southern Asia, Australasia, and the Indian Ocean islands. Dillenia are easily identified from their large wide leaves with their distinct venation pattern. Several species are native to the Philippines. Most notably the species known as katmon, Dillenia philippinensis, used as a souring agent in food.

Begonia sp.

We found this begonia in the garden of a house along the road. The occupants were not around but we could not resist taking photos of this begonia and the following orchid flowering profusely in the garden.

Begonia is a genus of perennial flowering plants in the family Begoniaceae. With 1,831 species, Begonia is one of the largest genera of flowering plants, and are native to moist subtropical and tropical climates. Some species are commonly grown indoors as ornamental houseplants in cooler climates. In cooler climates some species are cultivated outside in summertime for their bright colorful flowers, which have sepals but no petals.

Phalaenopsis stuartiana

P. stuartiana is an orchid endemic to Mindanao. However, this orchid was not blooming in the wild. We found it and the begonia (above) blooming in the garden of a house, whose occupants were not around.

Centrosema molle

Centrosema molle is a perennial herb that can reach a height of 45 cm. with a root system that can reach up to 30 cm in depth, frequently in association with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Stems grow and branch rapidly, producing a dense mass of branches and leaves on the soil. Leaves are trifoliate, with elliptical leaflets, flowers are generally pale violet with darker violet veins.

C. mole is widely used as forage and a source of protein to grazing cattle from southern Mexico to Colombia. In the nineteenth century it was cropped in Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula and must have arrived in the Philippines soon after. It is well adapted to tropical conditions and altitudes below 600 m from sea level. It is grown as a cover crop because it naturally suppresses weeds and is very tolerant to drought, has very low soil and rainfall requirements. This plant is not suitable for human consumption but provides benefits through soil fertility and animal health.

So it’s not just some pesky weedy vine that lies in wait to trip you up.

Note: Although, this species was previously almost identified as C. pubescens, its correct name is C. molle. The former C. schiedeanum (incl the released cultivar Belalto centro) is now C. pubescens.

Philippine Ground Orchid

Spathoglottis plicata, commonly known as the Philippine Ground Orchid, or large purple orchid is an evergreen, terrestrial plant with crowded pseudobulbs, three or four large, pleated leaves and up to forty resupinate (upside-down), pink to purple flowers. It is found from tropical and subtropical Asia to Australia and the western Pacific including Tonga and Samoa. The fruit is a capsule about 3 mm long, green and cylindrical. After the flower is fertilized, the seeds take about six weeks to develop. When ripe, the capsule splits open and thousands of tiny seeds are carried away by the wind.

Spathoglottis plicata was previously listed as “vulnerable” under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 but was delisted in 2010.

Bambusa sp.

This bamboo was growing in a bambusetum in the Pasonanca Park. The upright and very straight culms are very attractive to the eyes. Culms still wrapped in their covers mean they are this season’s production.

Bambusa is a large genus of clumping bamboos. Most species of Bambusa are rather large, with numerous branches emerging from the nodes, and one or two much larger than the rest. They are native to Southeast Asia, China, Taiwan, the Himalayas, New Guinea, Melanesia, and the Northern Territory of Australia.

Fiddlehead of an unknown fern.

Fiddleheads are the furled fronds of a young fern, harvested for use as a vegetable. Left on the plant, each fiddlehead would unroll into a new frond.

Fiddleheads have antioxidant activity, are a source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and are high in iron and fiber. However certain varieties of fiddleheads have been shown to carcinogenic. Many ferns also contain the enzyme thiaminase, which breaks down thiamine. This can lead to beriberi, if consumed in extreme excess. In addition, ferns that are frequently harvested for their fiddleheads increase their toxicity as a protective measure. Therefore, it is not advisable to eat commercially available ferns late in the season.

Biggest damselfly I have seen so far

Damselflies are insects of the suborder Zygoptera in the order Odonata. They are similar to dragonflies, but are smaller, have slimmer bodies, and most species fold the wings along the body when at rest. An ancient group, damselflies have existed since at least the Lower Permian, and are found on every continent except Antarctica.

All damselflies are predatory; both nymphs and adults eat other insects. The nymphs are aquatic, with different species living in a variety of freshwater habitats including acid bogs, ponds, lakes and rivers. Their presence on a body of water indicates that it is relatively unpolluted, but their dependence on freshwater makes them vulnerable to damage to their wetland habitats.

Some species of damselfly have elaborate courtship behavior. Many species are sexually dimorphic, the males often being more brightly colored than the female. A mating pair form a shape known as a “heart” or “wheel”, the male clasping the female at the back of the head, the female curling her abdomen down to pick up sperm from secondary genitalia at the base of the male’s abdomen.

Conservation of Odonata has usually concentrated on the more iconic suborder Anisoptera, the dragonflies. However, the two suborders largely have the same needs, and what is good for dragonflies is also good for damselflies. The main threats experienced by odonates are the clearance of forests, the pollution of waterways, the lowering of groundwater levels, the damming of rivers for hydroelectric schemes and the general degradation of wetlands and marshes. The clearance of tropical rainforests is of importance because the rate of erosion increases, streams and pools dry up and waterways become clogged with silt. The presence of alien species can also have unintended consequences. In Hawaii, the introduction of the mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) was effective in controlling mosquitoes but nearly exterminated the island’s endemic damselflies. Uh oh…

Striped Ringlets – Ragadia melindena melindena

Ragadia is a genus of brush-footed butterflies (family Nymphalidae). This genus is one of those commonly called ringlets.

Brush-footed butterfly, also called four-footed butterfly, are any of a group of butterflies that are named for their characteristically reduced forelegs, which are frequently hairy and resemble brushes. The insects’ alternative name derives from the fact that there are only four functional, or walking, legs.

Electra’s tree-nymph – Idea electra

The Electra’s tree-nymph, Idea electra, is a species of nymphalid butterfly in the Danainae subfamily. It is endemic to the Philippines.

Danainae is a subfamily of the family Nymphalidae, the brush-footed butterflies.

Common Bluebottle – Graphium sarpedon pagus

Graphium sarpedon, the common bluebottle is a species of swallowtail butterfly, that is found in South and Southeast Asia, as well as eastern Australia. There are approximately sixteen subspecies with differing geographical distributions.

G. sarpedon is primarily an inhabitant of moist, low-level rain forests (below 1600 m (5000 ft)). In these elevations it is usually seen flying just above the tree canopy. The larvae of the common bluebottle feed on trees of the laurel family, which includes the cinnamon tree, and have expanded their range to include cinnamon tree plantations. The males are known for their habit of feeding by the edges of puddles, often at the roadside. Occasionally, as many as eight will be seen at the same puddle. They have also been known to be attracted to animal droppings, carcasses and rotting insects.

The adult common bluebottle feeds on nectar from a variety of flowering herbs. The larvae feed primarily on the leaves of trees in the families Lauraceae, Myrtaceae, Sapotaceae, and Rutaceae.

Symbrenthia, commonly called jesters, is a butterfly genus in the family Nymphalidae found south-eastern Asia
Symbrenthia lilaea, the common jester, found in South Asia and Southeast Asia, forms a superspecies with Symbrenthia hippoclus. There are numerous regional forms, and the taxonomy of the group is not well resolved.

A dying butterfly which Cheta found. A sad note to end this article.

Many thanks to Adri and Trinket Constantino for the insect identification, and Ronald Achacoso for the plant ID confirmation.

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