KUCHING: It is estimated that some 100 species of begonia in Sarawak have yet to be identified and named.
Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) researcher Julia Sang said there are about 200 begonia species in Sarawak, with over 90 per cent found only in the state.
“Same goes for Sabah, most of their species can only be found in Sabah and you cannot find them here,” she said during a talk on begonias during Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC)’s ‘Biodiversity Day’ recently.
Non-horticulturists might find it difficult to identify begonias as they come in many shapes and are known to mimic other plants – leading them to be mistaken for orchids or lilies.
“When we try to classify begonias, not only do we greatly depend on the shape of the leaves, but also the characteristics of the inflorescence,” said researcher Dr Ruth Kiew from Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM).
“You can actually identify a begonia from the leaves, where one side is bigger and wider while the other is narrower,” she added.
Borneo is a hotspot for begonias, with over 90 species native to Sarawak named and identified.
Variations here include the Begonia piring (named after the saucer-like leaves) and Begonia roseopunctata, which has pink spots on its leaves.
All begonias are protected under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance (1998) and cannot be plucked or taken away from the wild.
Under the law, “any person who collects, cultivate, cuts, trims, removes, burns, poisons, in any way injures, sells, offers for sale, imports, exports or is in possession of any protected plants or any recognisable parts or derivative thereof, except under and in accordance with the terms and conditions of a license issued under the Ordinance, shall be guilty of an offence”.
The penalty is a jail term of one year and RM10,000 fine.
Currently less than 50 per cent of begonia species are contained within Totally Protected Areas (TPAs), leaving the rest susceptible to damage or human contact.
The Mulu National Park is a TPA with14 identified begonia species.
One of the most protected begonias is the Begonia hulletti, which can only be found on one particular hill — kept secret from the public in order to protect it.
To learn more go to www.sarawakforestry.com.