A String of Pearls in the South Pacific: The Solomon Islands

Located in the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands is a country made up of nearly a thousand islands. The country spans 18 degrees of latitude, and 7 of degrees longitude. The highest elevation is 2484 meters! The islands have abundant natural resources. In addition to lush forests and minerals such asgold, nickel, copper, cobalt, and bauxite, it is also a major fishing ground in the region. The Solomon Islands are like a string of pearls scattered across the South Pacific!

On June 2012, the National Museum of Natural Science (NMNS) took over this project from Tetsuo Koyama, director of the Makino Botanical Garden, then signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding with the Solomon Islands Government Ministry of Forest & Research (MOFR). Starting in July of that year, the NMNS in cooperation with Taiwanese plant taxonomists began the five-year Census and Classification of Plant Resources in the Solomon Islands project. Funding came from Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) and the Dr. Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation and Environmental Protection Foundation (KBCC). As of April 2017, the project has dispatched 73 personnel in research teams to collect nearly 13000 herbarium specimens, nearly 10000 samples of dried DNA plant materials, and around 4500 live specimens (stored in screen houses in the capital of the Solomon Islands, and at KBCC).

This exhibition will introduce the origin of this project; the location of the Solomon Islands, their plant ecology, and diversity of plant species; and live specimen preservation, dried specimens, and current results. There will also be exhibits on local culture, traditions, and cuisines, to provide you with a deeper understanding of the Solomon Islands. If you have the chance, make sure to visit these pearls in the South Pacific and see them for yourself.

Below is an introduction to some valuable species present in this exhibition:

Arachnis beccarii var. imthurnii

The species was acquired for the first time in the Malaita Province of the Solomon Islands in 1910. A live specimen transplanted to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was referenced by orchid expert R.A. Rolfe for publication in 1917. This project comprises however the first available report on the field habitability of the species (the original report was on erect orchids). Its leaves, up to 3 meters in length, suspend downward from trees at least 20 meters tall. Its inflorescence is about 2 meters long; blossoms are approximately 5 centimeters in diameter, white in color with light bluish violet spots, and fruits are about 13-14 centimeters in length. The species demonstrates great potential for use in exhibitions, science education and gardening as well as in scientific research and species conservation developments.

Phlegmariurus dalhousieanus— also known as “Blue Tassel-fern”

Growing up to 3 meters long, this species is the largest of the Phlegmariurus genus in the family Lycopodiaceae. The white powdery substance that covers the plant’s surface provides it with a silver blue sheen, and is the reason why it is also known as “Blue Tassel-fern.” However, it is also referred to as “Phlegmariurus dalhousieanus” due to change of taxon. Also suspended from places of great height, the strobili of the Phlegmariurus dalhousieanus are engendered at the tip of its frond. Due to its specificity, the species shows great potential toward future developments in scientific research, exhibition, science education and gardening.

Macodes cominsii

At first sight, it is easy to mistake Macodes cominsii for a magnified version of Anoectochilus formosanus despite its more brilliantly colored leaves. It is verified that the two species do not belong to the same genus but are indeed under the same subtribe Goodyerinae. Anoectochilus formosanus is therapeutically effective toward lowering blood glucose and blood pressure, alleviating pain, protecting liver health, inducing diuresis, and preventing arteriosclerosis; it will therefore be extremely interesting to see whether Macodes cominsii exhibits similar medicinal effects. After the species is withdrawn from habitat segregation, tissue culture can possibly be conducted for further analysis so as to discover the presence or extent of its medical efficacy.

Publication of New Species Extracted from the Solomon Islands:

Our team members, Mr. Cheng-Wei Chen and Mr. Tien-Chuan Hsu, published respectively in 2015 and in 2016 the new species they collected from the Solomon Islands: Antrophyum solomonese C.W. Chen & J.H. Nitta as well as Gastrodia solomonensis T.C. Hsu and Gastrodia isabelensis T.C. Hsu.

Using the essential “paraphyses” that define the genus Antrophyum as an indicator, Mr. Cheng-Wei Chen redefined the once mistakenly identified species from the Solomon Islands as a new species with its boot-shaped paraphyses. This species was published officially in 2015 and renamed as: Antrophyum solomonense C.W. Chen & J.H. Nitta.

A member of the Orchidaceae family, Gastrodia is well-known in the academia for its particular living capability as a myco-heterotrophic plant. The Gastrodia is moreover of great value as Chinese herbal medicine, and has for this reason undergone artificial cultivation and breeding in numerous countries. During the process of plant collecting from 2012 to 2014, Mr. Tien-Chuan Hsu acquired these two myco-heterotrophic orchids from Kolombangara, Western Province and Isabel, Isabel Province, respectively. After careful comparison and analysis, both were verified as new species. Research on the two species was officially published in 2016, in which it was stated that the species had been named Gastrodia solomonensis T.C. Hsu and Gastrodia isabelensis T.C. Hsu. Through further research, such as tissue culture and component analysis, the two Gastrodia species may also prove to be valuable medicinal plants with high development potential.

The aforementioned Arachnis beccarii var. imthurnii, Phlegmariurus dalhousieanus, and Macodes cominsii all demonstrate great potential for use in gardening, science education and exhibition. Gastrodia solomonensis T.C. Hsu, Gastrodia isabelensis T.C. Hsu, and Macodes cominsii also exhibit high potential in pharmaceutical developments. All of these prospects illustrate the main focus of this project: conducting vegetation resource survey in the Solomon Islands. Potential vegetation resources are plant species that humans can utilize for food, crops, medicine, gardening, fibers, and furniture, or for any purpose that fulfills any aspect of our daily needs, such as food, clothing, accommodation and transportation. To explore, discover, and record more vegetation resources is the aim of the next five-year project. These endeavors will benefit not merely Taiwan in the present but our future generations as we continue on our mission to search for and record natural resources that ensure and sustain human existence and wellbeing.