Saturday, January 29, 2011

Another unknown Begonia

Found this rather interesting herb at growing on large boulders about 10-50 metres from a mountain stream in Pahang, Peninsula Malaysia.

There appear to be 2, or 3 colour forms. The nicest is perhaps the very pale green one with red veins.
With its 2 tepals in the male flowers, it does not look like anything mentioned in Ruth Kiew's book "Begonias of Peninsula Malaysia". Any advice is much appreciated.

Addenda: Appears to be Begonia holttumii.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I have seen these the Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris in the wild several times, but only manage to capture the image of this bird in Thailand with my new tele lens. Its hand held so its not perfect but its my first decent shot of this bird.

These iconic creatures actually make adoring pets. A friend once kept a bird that upon seeing me, would pressed its body next to the cage so that I can tickle it....and as I do so, scratching its chin, crest and down the back of the spine, it half closed its eyes and quivering, made a low grunting sound!

I nicknamed it Horny....corny I know but it stuck.

Alfred Wallace (if I remember correctly) noted seeing them picked fruits from their oversized beak and pop them into its owner's mouth .... I would have wanted to try that on Horny had I not known that the same beak was used to pick naked new-born mice, a special treat which it swallowed with an audible gulp.

One day while cleaning its cage, my friend inadvertently left the cage door opened and Horny was handled an option of either a good life with five-star massages or freedom. He chose the latter ..... and as if undecided, lingered near the vicinity for a few more days before disappearing altogether.

Good luck, Horny.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Zebra stripped

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw specimens of the Heliconia zebrina being sold out at US$80 in a show in New York. It reminded me of a rather similar plant I had seen while wading in the small forest streams in Peninsula Malaysia 10 years ago. The impressive plants, up to about 2 metres tall, stood up amongst the uniformly green undergrowth in the cool shady banks due to their large stripped leaves. My first impression was that it was a garden escape - probably a type of Calathea from the New World ....except that we were at least 1 hour drive from the nearest village.

About a year later, I made another trip to the habitat but was dismayed that the forest had been cleared, for oil palm plantation, but that would be another story ....

About this plant.... the black bands in the Heliconia were broad and sunken while that in the local species were protruding and narrow. Calathea zebrina would be a closer match but that was a much smaller plant. And of course, both Calathea and Heliconia are not found in this part of the world. After a quick check with "Malaysian Wild flowers" by M. R.Henderson, I established that it was probably some type of Phrynium or Donax and did not go further. More years later. through another ginger enthusiast, I got the photos across to Dr Helen Kennedy who solved this mystery for me, identifying it as Phrynium villosulum Miquel. Of course by then I had the photos of the inflorescence as well, which consisted of white flowers extruding from a basal stumpy mushy bract and looked nothing like a Heliconia at all.

Actually I was not the first to notice the vegetative similarity - Rodigas made a painting of this plant with stripped leaves and described it as Heliconia triumphans in 1882 from collections in Sumatra.

Although not common in trade, this plant is quite widely distributed from Malaysia to Borneo and Sumatra. It appears to favour shady wet stream banks or muddy places.

Notes on Malaysian Marantaceae and the Identity of Heliconia triumphans
Helen Kennedy
Kew Bulletin
Vol. 41, No. 3 (1986), pp. 725-731

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