IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

'Extinct' orchid resurfaces in Bukit Timah reserve

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 29, 2014

AN ORCHID species thought to be extinct in Singapore has been found in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve after more than 80 years.

Researchers from Singapore and the Netherlands found a single specimen of the Vrydagzynea lancifolia - named for its lance- like leaves - growing on a rock in the reserve last October. Their discovery was detailed in a paper last week in the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research's online journal Nature In Singapore.

A sample of the orchid was first collected in 1889 in Bukit Timah and its last appearance was in the same area, in 1931. In Singapore, it has been recorded only in Bukit Timah and Seletar.

Previous researchers had attributed the native orchid's loss to a reduction in natural forest habitats caused by land use changes.

Of the 226 native species of wild orchids, only 55 remained as of last March. Some specimens of species that are extinct in the wild can be found at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

The researchers who found the orchid want the species to be declared critically endangered here in the upcoming edition of the Singapore Red Data Book, which lists threatened wildlife.

They added that since only a single plant was found, and it was not fruiting, there should be an extensive survey of the Bukit Timah and Central Catchment nature reserves to look for other mature individuals that can be used for its propagation.

Two weeks after the plant was found, another group of researchers from the Singapore Botanic Gardens combed the area near it but found no other specimens.

Mr Reuben Lim, 25, a research assistant at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Department of Biological Sciences' Botany Laboratory, said the team was originally looking for another type of plant. The researchers were from NUS, National Parks Board, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science, and the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands.

The team also said in the paper that the orchid's rediscovery underscored the need to preserve the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, which was established in 1883 and became legally protected in 1951.

"Despite the many pressures and disturbances it has undergone, it still supports an immensely rich flora... Various species thought to be extinct are likely to still persist in this refuge," the paper said.

FENG ZENGKUN

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 29, 2014

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