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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Walking with palms.by Mary Margaret. Posted on April 13, 2014

Kubah National Park is home to 86 species of palms.
PALMS, palms, palms …
The cool diffused light filtered through the tall trees onto the forest floor. It played games with the understory plants, flung shadows here and there.
The palm fronds in unexpected shapes, sizes and colours bathed in the muted light.
Dark green, lime, jade, emerald, olive, sea and bottle green leaves basked in the filtered light. Palm fronds of a multitude of shapes and sizes waved in the gentle breeze. The large circular palm fronds, sprouting directly from the ground, pulled me from the boat-shaped leaves.
The palm, Licuala orbicularis or parasol palm, truly looked like a round umbrella. Its name orbicularis means circular, perfectly describing this stunning palm. I wondered if during heavy tropical rainstorms this leaf would be sufficient to prevent a soaking. (Later I found out that it was used as an umbrella.)
This spectacular stemless palm, a member of the palm, Arecaceae, family, with large fan-shaped leaves is endemic to Sarawak and grows only in a few locations including Kubah National Park.
Biru bulat, biru ruai or berupat, as it is known locally, is adapted to rainy weather and is an understory species in Mixed Dipterocarp Forests requiring indirect light. It is found at altitudes from 30 to 330 metres in well-drained slightly acidic soils.
The leaves are used for wrapping, making umbrellas and as atap roofing. Pearce in her 1992 report ‘The Palms of Kubah National Park’ indicated that this palm is endangered due to habitat destruction as the forest is logged or the land use changed. Another threat is the collection of seeds for plant nurseries.
An online search for Licuala orbicularis leads to websites from around the world offering seeds for sale and / or giving advice on growing this exotically beautiful plant. It is a visually pleasing, unusual palm that would be a stunning addition to any garden. However, as mentioned, this industry is a threat to wild populations. If seeds are collected from these populations, the palms have reduced chances of successfully reproducing.
The writers of the websites also mention the difficulty encountered in growing these palms in controlled environments — so imagine the slim chance of a seed landing in a spot in the jungle which meets water and soil requirements, is not eaten by a hungry animal, germinates, as well as has exactly the right amount of light required. What are the odds of a seed landing in the right place at the right time? Very slim. This explains why the collection of seeds from wild populations endangers the survival of the plant in the wild.
Malaysia hosts 33 genera and 398 species — 86 species from this family are found the in 2,230ha Kubah National Park. A total of 18 palm species endemic to Sarawak are found in or near the park. Kubah National Park, 22km west of Kuching, was established in 1989 and opened to the public in 1995.
Kubah National Park and its surroundings have long been recognised as a species diverse area with a high number of endemics. Odoardo Beccari, during his travels in the 19th century, spent 1865 collecting palms and other plants in the area. When he returned to Italy, he described several new species. The diverse ecological niches, geological history and range of altitudes are believed to have enabled species to evolve.
The ecologically diverse and important Kubah National Park should be visited several times over time. The Main or Palmetum Trail introduces visitors to the wonders and the variety of the palm species that inhabit the forests of Kubah and Sarawak. We can touch and reconnect with the natural world and its wonders.
For more information on Sarawak’s national parks read ‘The National Parks of Sarawak’ by Hans Hazebroek and Abang Kashim Abang Morshidi, which was published by Natural History Publications in 2000 or the Sarawak Forestry Corporation (SFC) website at www.sarawakforestry.com. Dr K Pearce’s 1992 report ‘The Palms of Kubah National Park, Matang, Kuching Division’ can also be found online.
Kubah National Park is known for its palms and frogs. The Bornean Frog Race 2014 is being jointly organised with Universiti Sarawak Malaysia and SFC at the national park on April 26. It provides a perfect opportunity to visit the park and become acquainted with its frogs and palms.
To learn more about the Bornean Frog Race or to register visit theinternationalborneanfrograce.weebly.com.
Palm fronds are used for wrapping, making umbrellas and as atap roofing.
The Malaysian Nature Society
Established in 1940, the Malaysian Nature Society is the oldest scientific and non-governmental organisation in Malaysia. Our mission is to promote the study, appreciation conservation and protection of Malaysia’s nature heritage. Our 5,000-strong membership, spread across 12 branches nationwide, come from all walks of life, bound by a comment interest in nature. For further information on membership or our activities in Kuching contact us at mnskuchinggmail.com. For information on our activities in Miri contact Musa Musbah (sammua@yahoo.com). You can also visit www.mns.org.my, http://mnskuching@blogspot.com or www.facebook.com/mnskb.
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