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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Notice of AGM MNS Kuching Branch

Dear Members

The Malaysian Nature Society Kuching Branch will hold its AGM 2015 as follows:

Date: 27 June 2015Saturday
Time: 3.30pm
Venue: Lot 10 Boutique Hotel, Jalan Ban Hock, Kuching


1. Chairman's Welcome and Address to Members
2. Secretary's Report
3. Treasurer's Report
4. Dissolution of MNSKB Committee 2014-2015
5. Nomination and Election of MNSKB Committee 2015-2016
7. Any Other Matters

Kindly indicate by replying to this email mnskuching@gmail.com  if you are able to attend the AGM.
Thank you
MNS Kuching Branch

Anthony Sebastian will be stepping down as Chairman of Kuching Branch

Dear Members

 This is to inform you that Anthony Sebastian will be stepping down as Chairman of Kuching Branch at the end of the 2014/2015 term.
 He will not be present for the forthcoming AGM to be held at Lot 10 Boutique Hotel, Jalan Ban Hock/Jalan Central Timur at 3.30pm on 27th June 2015.
As he is away most of the time due to work commitment, he has delegated his duties to me as Vice Chairperson from now until the end of the term. We hope to see you at the AGM to vote for the next Executive Committee 2015/2016.

 Rose Au Vice Chairperson
 MNS Kuching Branch

 p/s, for those who have not confirmed their attendance at the AGM, please do so by replying to this email mnskuching@gmail.com for the Secretary's record. Thank you.



Move to save sharks, rays in Sabah

Established since 1963

Move to save sharks, rays in Sabah
Published on: Saturday, May 16, 2015
Kota Kinabalu: A civil society collaboration to save sharks and rays in Sabah is on track with a successful first workshop that saw stakeholders sharing scientific data, new reports and research and the outcome of a variety of awareness activities. 
Other key topics discussed at the day-long workshop convened by the Sabah Shark Alliance (SSA) included the legal status of sharks and rays, the Malaysia National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (Plan 2) published last year and the need for responsible consumption of marine products. 
A session to gather feedback from participants was positive, with the idea of SSA entering into a partnership with the relevant government and security agencies to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for sharks debated, and the need for people to be able to understand the value of live sharks and rays in terms of what they provide to the environment and economy. 
The attendees arrived at a number of recommendations to protect sharks and rays ranging from locally managed marine areas to creating shark fin free regions, including a short-term restriction on catching manta rays. 
The session saw Sabah Fisheries Department represented by its head for Marine Resource Management Section, Lawrence Kissol, sharing that researchers from the Malaysian Fisheries Department, who will this year do a feasibility study on setting up a shark sanctuary in the State, would be keen to meet with SSA to gather information. 
Kissol also suggested a marine tagal (closing a certain section of the sea to fishing) system similar to what some communities in Sabah are implementing at rivers. 
SSA in a post-workshop statement said it is now assessing all suggestions and key points from presentations for it to further strengthen its three identified strategies on establishing new Marine Protected Areas and/or expanding such sites; banning the capture, trade and/or consumption of sharks and rays apart from promoting best practices in the fishing industry by strengthening law and policy; and increasing awareness on the plight of sharks and rays and the impacts from the shark fin trade. 
"It is clear from this workshop that all stakeholders are supportive of the need to protect sharks and rays. This support is timely because it is clear from the presentations that sharks and rays in Sabah are very heavily overfished and action is needed now to prevent further loss. 
"A number of ideas were brought up both through the question and answer session and at the end of the workshop. We are also pleased to see the active participation of the Sabah Fisheries Department in finding ways to further protect sharks and rays," SSA said. 
At the event, Ming Garden Hotel gave its commitment to not serve sharks fin soup, as part of an on-going effort to encourage more restaurants and hotels to make this bold step. 
The SSA is made up of the Malaysian Nature Society (Sabah branch), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Shark, Education, Awareness and Survival (SEAS), Scubazoo, Tropical Research and Conservation Centre (TRACC), WWF-Malaysia, Shark Stewards and Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP). 

Flowers of the two brothers – Bauhinia

By: Anthea Phillips 

Bauhinia plants have beautiful flowers, (they are often called Orchid trees), as well as strange leaves, that look as though two leaves have been joined to form a pair – a distinctive characteristic for many, though not all, Bauhinia species. 
Swiss-French Brothers
The name ‘Bauhinia’ comes from two Swiss-French botanist brothers, Johann and Gaspard, the sons of a French physician, who had fled to Switzerland to escape religious persecution in France. 
The younger brother, Gaspard, who taught medicine at the University of Basel in Switzerland, described and published thousands of plants in his “Phytopinax” in 1596. The older brother, Johann, though also a physician, traveled widely in Europe studying plants, and became famous as the result of his work on plant classification, “Historia Plantarum Universalis”, which, however, was not published until 1651, more than thirty years after his death. 
Two-lobed Leaves
The genus was named after the Bauhin brothers in 1754 by Linnaeus, who remarked, “the two-lobed leaves or two as it were growing from the same base” recalled “the noble pair of brothers”. 
Bauhinia is a large group, (about 300 species), of shrubs, small trees and climbers, growing throughout the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world. 
In Sabah one of the most beautiful species is the lovely orange- to scarlet-flowered ‘bunga api’ (Bauhinia kockiana) or Fire Flower, that is occasionally seen climbing over trees along rivers or at the edge of forest remnants, and is found not only in Borneo, but also in Peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra. 
Fiery Flowers
It is widely grown as an ornamental plant over fences in Malaysia and South-east Asia, and increasingly across the tropics, for it is a fast and vigorous grower. 
It flowers in frequent flushes, producing masses of fiery orange with subtle hues, for the flowers are produced over several days, and the colour of each individual flower varies according to its age. 
Orange is the most common colour variety, but I have also seen paler and darker forms and even one that is almost scarlet, though this seems rare. 
Golden ‘Bunga-api’
There is also a gorgeous golden-flowered ‘bunga-api’ which we have seen only occasionally, and only in the wild. For some reason it appears that this has never been brought into cultivation and whether it is a new undescribed species, or merely a golden form of the ‘bunga api’ we are not sure, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful of our wild Bauhinias. 
It used to grow among the old trees on the side of Signal Hill near the HSBC and the Tong Hing Supermarket in KK, and though I have not seen it flowering for a while, I am hoping it is still there and that the current dry season will encourage it to bloom! 
Bunga-api leaf is not lobed!
Interestingly, ‘bunga-api’ is one of the few Bauhinia species that does not have the typically lobed double leaf, and is sometimes referred to the genus Phanera rather than Bauhinia, but its flowers are still those of Bauhinia, with open, spreading petals, easy for bees, wasps and particularly butterflies, to pollinate. 
‘Bunga-api’ was first collected sometime between 1831 and 1836, in Sumatra, by the Dutch botanist, Pieter Wille Korthals, who named it after Hendrik Merkus de Kock, the Dutch Vice-Governor-General of the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) between 1826 and 1830.  The ‘Illustrious’ Bauhinia
The other common species of wild Bauhinia in Sabah is very different. Bauhinia excelsa, also collected by Korthals, (but this time in Kalimantan), is found only in Borneo. It is one of the commonest wild Bauhinias in Sabah, growing over old secondary forest trees, even around KK, and is often seen in forest remnants along the roadside. 
‘Excelsa’ means “tall, eminent or illustrious”, and this species is a strong, woody climber, suitable for growing only in large gardens or parks with tall forest trees up which the vine can climb, producing its large inflorescences all over the canopy when it reaches the light. 
White and Yellow flowers
The flowers are enclosed and protected in tough buds covered in silky dark-golden hairs. These hairs are also found on the flower petals that open white, turning through cream to yellow as they age. We saw it recently up at the Kinabalu Park, smothering a tree in the Mountain Garden, just below the Liwagu restaurant, with scattered yellow and white flowers. Some forms have have white and red flowers. 
Telupid Bauhinia
Driving to Sandakan from Kota Kinabalu recently, we passed through a patch of what are known as ultramafic soils just after Telupid. 
Ultramafic soils are derived from ultramafic rocks, of which there are several outcrops in Sabah. These rocks and soils are generally high in nickel and magnesium, (toxic to plants in large quantities), and low in essential plant nutrients needed for growth, such as calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Many of the species found here are specially adapted to these conditions and will not grow elsewhere, though others seem somehow to manage. 
Pure white flowers
Here, scrambling over the roadside shrubs, was another vigorous Bauhinia climber with beautiful pure-white flowers contrasting with its dark, glossy green leaves. 
We have seen it nowhere else and so far we have not managed to discover its name. 
Cultivated Bauhinias
Small shrubby Bauhinias are occasionally seen in cultivation in Sabah, with white or yellow flowers, but these are introduced. 
The Hong Kong Orchid Tree
The commonest Bauhinia in cultivation is the Hong Kong Orchid tree, Bauhinia x blakeana, with striking purple flowers, which has been planted in several places as a street tree around KK. 
This plant has an interesting history having been discovered, (according to the Missouri Botanical Garden website), as a single natural hybrid, “collected in 1880 near the ruins of a house along the shore of Hong Kong Island near Pok Fu Lam. 
Cuttings were taken by a nearby French mission, with subsequent cuttings taken from the mission trees for inclusion at the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens. This hybrid is not only considered to have the best ornamental flowers in the genus but is also considered to be one of the most attractive flowering trees in the world. 
Hybrid Origin
Its parents are Bauhinia purpurea and Bauhinia variegata, both cultivated ornamental trees, but the hybrid itself is sterile and does not produce viable seed, so must be propagated from cuttings and marcots. 
It was given the name of ‘blakeana’ in honour of Sir Henry Blake, the British Governor of Hong Kong from 1898 to 1903 and Lady Blake, who enthusiastically supported the Hong Kong Botanic Gardens, and in 1997, a white stylized flower become the centre of the Hong Kong flag. 

Neither of the parent species grows in Borneo and though the flowers of the Hong Kong Orchid tree are pretty, they do not flower at their best in our hot, muggy climate, preferring slightly cooler temperatures – the ‘bunga-api’ is a much better choice if you want a Bauhinia in your garden!


Begonias Part II - Borneo’s wild varieties

By: Anthea Phillips 

LAST week I wrote about begonias in general – common pot-plants that can be easily grown on your porch, a shady windowsill, or in a damp corner of your garden. 
The commonest begonias grown in Sabah are cultivars belonging to the Begonia rex x cultorum group that I mentioned last week, often with beautifully patterned leaves, whose ancestors are tropical Asian species. 
There are, however, many wild species of begonia in Sabah as well. According to the recently published “A Guide to the Begonias of Borneo” by Ruth Kiew, Julia Sang, Rimi Repin and Joffre Ali Ahmad, almost 200 species have been described from Borneo. 
Eighty-two of these are recorded for Sabah and almost half of those were only described in April this year in the journal of the Sabah Forestry Department, “Sandakania”! 
Celebration of Sabah Begonias!
Sabah’s begonias are diverse and beautiful plants. Many of them are also rare, found in very restricted localities. While several are found on sandstone soils in the mountains, others prefer acid limestone soils and are found only on one or two isolated limestone outcrops, where they are already endangered due to hill quarrying and other habitat destruction. 
These wonderful species deserve to be better known in the hope that they will be protected in their natural habitats as well as in cultivation, at our native orchid centres such as Poring Hot Springs, Kipandi Park, the Sepilok Discovery Garden and the Tenom Agricultural Park. 
This, then, is a celebration of some of the Begonias of Sabah! 
The Sharp-leaved Begonia
Discovered in 1984, the Sharp-leaved Begonia, (Begonia amphioxus), is an unmistakeable, shrubby species, found only on two limestone outcrops in the remote Batu Punggul area of southern Sabah. It has distinctive, narrow, bright green leaves, pointed at both ends, which are covered in striking crimson spots. The name ‘amphioxus’ is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘sharp at both ends’. 
The Pink-spotted Begonia
The Pink-spotted Begonia, (Begonia malachosticta), with leaves covered in bright pink spots, (though these can turn white in older leaves), comes from the Gomantong caves (better known for their bird nests!) on the east coast, while the name comes from the pink flowers of the Mediterranean Mallow, (‘Malacho’), and ‘sticta’, meaning ‘spotted’. 
Dewol’s Begonia
Begonia dewollii, with its delicate pale pink flowers, is from limestone hills along the Kinabatangan river, also in eastern Sabah. The round fleshy leaves, plain green above and red beneath, with slightly wavy margins, grow tightly pressed against the rock surface. 
This species is named after Dewol Sundaling, a former Senior Herbarium Officer at the Forestry Department in Sandakan. 
Lamb’s Begonia
Lamb’s Begonia, (Begonia lambii), though rare, has a more widespread distribution, having been found both on the limestone of the Batu Punggul area and on the sandstone of the Maliau Basin in southern central Sabah. 
It grows as a low rosette, with deeply ridged leaves, dark green on top, red underneath, densely covered in purplish hairs. The small white flowers with distinctively narrow petals are also hairy. 
The plant was named after Anthony Lamb, who has contributed much time and effort to begonia research in Sabah. 
Governor Gueritz’s Begonia
One of the most widespread species in Sabah, Begonia gueritziana, is also found in both limestone and non-limestone habitats, but is much commoner. It was discovered by Miss Lillian Gibbs, the first lady, (and a botanist), to climb Mt. Kinabalu in 1910. She named it after the then Governor of North Borneo, Edward Peregrine Gueritz, “for his great kindness and hospitality” during her expedition. 
Sabah also has ultramafic hills, with toxic soils low in nutrients, which many plants do not like, but more than one begonia has exploited this niche in Sabah. 
One of the most unusual is the small, shrubby Begonia vaccinioides, found only on 2570m high ultramafic Mt. Tambuyukon, growing in the stunted, open, vegetation near the summit. 
In fact, I remember seeing plants on an expedition to Tambuyukon, more than thirty years ago, and noticing it as something unusual, as we explored the scrubby vegetation just below the summit. A few years later, a botanist friend, climbing Tambuyukon in search of Rhododendrons, re-found it and collected the specimens from which it was named. 
The name ‘vaccinioides’ comes from the resemblance of its small tough leaves, 2cms, or less, in length, to those of a Vaccinium in the Rhododendron or Blueberry family. 
Mrs Moulton’s Begonia
Other species grow in the montane oak-chestnut forests on sandstone soils, and the Mountain Garden at the Kinabalu Park HQ is a good place to see them. 
At least five species grow here, the commonest being the velvety-leaved Begonia beryllae, with delicate white flowers and dark green pointed leaves, with darker red veins. The pale undersides are also veined in red and young leaves are pink to red as well. 
This species is named for Beryl Moulton, the wife of the curator of the Sarawak Museum, John Moulton, who collected it on a trip to Kinabalu in 1914. 
The Kinabalu Begonia
Kinabalu’s own begonia, Begonia kinabaluensis, has dark green leaves similar to Mrs Moulton’s Begonia, but its stems and flowers are clothed in distinctive bright red hairs, contrasting with the deep green of the leaves and the delicate pink petals. 
The Red-fruited Begonia
Then there is the darker green, velvety-leaved, Begonia erythrogyna, with large clusters of small pink flowers, also common in the Mountain Garden. ‘Erythrogyna’ comes from the colour of the red fruits. 
Ruth Kiew’s Begonia
One of the most beautiful of all Sabah’s species, however, has to be Ruth Kiew’s Begonia, (Begonia ruthiae), another rosette species, but only described in April this year. 
This is found along the trails of the Danum Valley – one of the last remaining areas of unlogged lowland dipterocarp forest in Borneo. 
With its shiny, very dark green, puckered leaves, edged with a pale green rim, contrasting with the delicate white flowers, this species is stunningly beautiful. 
It was named after Dr Ruth Kiew, who has spent many years studying the limestone flora of both Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia and is author of “Begonias of Peninsular Malaysia” as well as a co-author of “A Guide to the Begonias of Borneo”. 
The Iridescent Begonia
The Iridescent Begonia, Begonia rotundibracteata, with a beautiful blue sheen to its leaves was also described only in April this year, and is also from the Danum Valley. 
The iridescent blue sheen develops best in plants in more shaded locations, and may help to reflect the intense light from sun-flecks moving across the dim forest floor, thus preventing damage to leaves used to very low light levels. 
Lack of space does not allow me to include any more species, and my selection has been dictated by available photographs, but the Native Orchid Centres mentioned above have collections of many more species than are illustrated here. 

More than 100 species (134) out of the almost 200 (194) recorded for Borneo, have been described and illustrated in the recently published “A Guide to the Begonias of Borneo”, another of the wonderful, meticulously produced, books on Borneo’s wildlife and its diversity, for which Natural History Publications is so well known. This is indeed a beautiful book showcasing much more of the amazing diversity of Borneo’s wonderful begonias than I am able to do here!

Begonias Part I – an introduction

Begonias Part I – an introduction 
By: Anthea Phillips 

BERGONIAS are familiar plants to most people, often grown as pot plants in shady parts of the house. They are found from tropical America and the islands of the Caribbean, (where the first begonia was discovered in 1690), across the Atlantic to Africa and Asia. World-wide there are thought to be around 1500 species or more. Most can be recognized by the fleshy stems and the succulent leaves which have a distinctive uneven (asymmetric) base, where they join the stem. 
The First Begonia
The first begonia introduced to cultivation in Europe, was Begonia nitida, from Jamaica, in 1777. With the lovely name of the Shining-leaved Begonia, it was described as bearing “….large copious showy flowers during most of the summer months when it makes a fine appearance with its pink panicles and large glossy foliage”. 
The Wax Begonias – “Begonia x semperflorens”
It was not until the 1800’s, however, that Begonia cultivation in Europe really took off, starting from the chance introduction of seeds of Begonia cucullata, (originally described as B. semperflorens), from Mexico, sent with other plants, to Jean Linden of the Berlin Botanic Garden in 1821. 
Very easy to grow, this is an ancestor of the “Begonia x semperflorens” group, known for its continuous flowering. These begonias are also called Wax Begonias, because of the waxy, shiny leaves. 
Tuberous Begonias – “Begonia x tuberhybrida”
A second group of Begonias, cultivated in cooler climates, for their showy flowers, (which include huge double-flowered varieties, up to six inches across), are the Tuberous begonias, or the “Begonia x tuberhybrida” group, developed from species originally from the mountains of South America. 
These are used mainly as potted house-plants or to create garden beds of brilliant, brash colour, but they have a dormancy period when both leaves and flowers die back. These are not really grown in Sabah, and are included here only for the sake of completeness. 
The Leafy Begonias – “Begona x rex-cultorum”
There is a third major group of cultivars as well – mostly of tropical Asian origin, and these are the ones of most interest to people living in Sabah. 
These form the “Begonia x rex-cultorum” group, and are grown mainly for the, “almost endless variety of speckled, painted, swirled, tucked and scalloped leaves in shades of green, chartreuse, mauve, merlot, white, and almost black”. 
The “Rex-cultorum” begonias have their main origin in Begonia rex, a species from northern India, that was discovered in 1826, in a consignment of orchids, again sent to Jean Linden of the Berlin Botanic Garden, and described in 1859 by the Director of Kew Gardens as, “…certainly the most lovely of the many lovely species of Begonia with which we are acquainted”. 
The “x” in all the group names above signifies that these are all cultivars, bred by man, producing hybrids and varieties seen only in cultivation, often much fancier than anything found in the wild! There are now more than 10,000 begonia cultivars grown world-wide! 
Edible Begonias
Begonias are not just beautiful. The Wax Begonia, mentioned above, (B.cucullata), has edible leaves, said to have a crunchy texture and slightly acidic, lemony flavour – in its homeland of Mexico the leaves are commonly eaten as a vegetable, and are sold in local markets. It is also commonly grown in villages around Kinabalu Park as an ornamental but I do not know if the leaves are eaten here. 
Salads and Sandwiches
In Europe and America, sliced petals are used in salads or sandwiches, or whole petals dipped in yoghurt and served as an appetizer. Make sure the plants have NOT been treated with pesticides if you want to try them yourself! 
There are other edible begonias – Green Deane’s blog, “Eat the weeds and other things too”, tells us, “There are reports of numerous other Begonias being consumed in several countries, from Mexico to India. They are a good source of food and medicine and vitamin C. Begonias have been cooked up as potherbs in Japan, India, Indonesia and Myanmar. They are used to make a sauce for meat and fish in Indonesia, salads in China, Indonesia and Brazil. In Java, the Philippines and Brazil they are also flavoring ingredients. In northern Mexico and China they are a favorite wild snack for children.” 
Sabah’s Edible Begonias
In Sabah, Begonia lazat, discovered along the Kinabatangan in 1995, by the conservationist Reza Azmi, has leaves that are eaten raw in salads or cooked with prawns and chilli by the local Orang Sungei – the name ‘lazat’ is derived from the Orang Sungei name. Other wild begonias are sold as vegetables in local markets in Sarawak and Brunei. Cultivated Tuberous begonias also have edible flowers, but these are said to contain large amounts of oxalic acid and should not be consumed by individuals suffering from gout, kidney stones, or rheumatism. 
Medicinal Begonias
Many Begonias are also used for treating a variety of illnesses. A Chinese species, Begonia grandis, has, in China, “long been valued as an ornamental, medicinal, edible and cultural plant”, at least since 1400, and is illustrated in Chinese paintings and on porcelain. 
Because it grew in damp, shady places it was classified as a ‘cooling’ plant and used especially for treating fevers, but also to disinfect wounds, as a painkiller and to improve blood circulation. So highly valued was it, that it was introduced to Japan sometime around 1641. 
Purple-tea Begonia
The leaves of another Chinese species, Begonia fimbristipula are made into a bitter, purple-coloured tea, still popular in parts of China, and supposedly good for rheumatism and coughs. 
In India, the use of B.malabarica has been shown to have an effect on glucose levels in rats, echoing its use in the treatment of diabetes in people. 
Leech Bites & Toe Wounds
In India and Nepal, Begonia picta is used widely to treat respiratory tract infections, and in Nepal for preventing leech bites. It is also said to be a very effective cure for toe wounds caused by standing for long periods in the paddy fields during the rainy season, planting rice. 
Red Dye

In western Nepal, people use the stems and leaf stalks of Begonia picta to make a red dye used for painting hands and feet during the festival of ‘Srawane Sankranti’, which is celebrated to mark the end of the rice-planting season. More than 30 species of begonia are recorded for their edible or medicinal use in Asia. There are doubtless many more, both in Asia, Africa and tropical America, with medicinal properties, used for a variety of complaints, though the most common use seems to be to treat digestive problems and stomach-ache. You may like to try a Wax begonia leaf, (making sure it has NOT been treated with pesticides or chemical fertilisers), next time you have indigestion!