Flora of Borneo: The vascular plant genera

From Firenze University Press Journal: Journal of Plant Taxonomy and Geography (Webbia)

University of Florence
7 min readMar 29, 2024

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Wong Sin Yeng, Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak

Borneo, with a total land area of c. 740 000 km2, is the third largest island and second largest tropical island, composed in the north by the eastern states of Malaysia — Sabah and Sarawak together with the Malaysian Federal Ter-ritory of Labuan Island, and the Sultanate of Brunei, while the remainder, a little more than 73% of the land area, is Indonesian Kalimantan. Borneo is recognized as one of the twelve mega biodiversity centres of the world, conservatively estimated to harbour between 12 000 and 15 000 species of flowering plants of which about 3 500–5 000 are tree species (Soepadmo 1995; Soepadmo and Wong 1995; Soepadmo 1999; Soepadmo et al. 2006).

There is no recent overall survey of Bornean plant families. The most recent attempts at complete enumera-tion are those of Merrill (1921) and Masamune (1942, 1945). The aim of the current publication is to give cur-rent information on the genera of vascular plants occur-ring on Borneo. This is a first step towards a comprehen-sive treatment of the plant families for the island.The history of the exploration, cataloguing, and published accounts of the extraordinarily rich and diverse flora of Borneo has been well-summarised on previous occasions, beginning with Moulton (1915) and Merrill (1915, 1931, 1950), and de Wit (1948), and from the 1950s especially by the extraordinary efforts of Maria Johanna van Steenis-Kruseman, the wife of the botanist and biogeographer Cornelis Gijsbert Gerrit Jan van Steenis (van Steenis-Kruseman 1950, 1958, 1974; see www.nationaalherbarium.nl/FMCollectors/). In 1995 Wong Khoon Meng provided an excellent synopsis and update (Wong 1995). During this current project obscure and overlooked records came to light such that some notes additional to Wong (1995) are judged useful. Of particular interest are references for Georg Müller, the earliest of those to gather botanical samples from Borneo, later used by Blume and Miquel, and whose life was cut short in an ambush in the Ulu Kapuas, and for the similarly ill-fated James Motley, a civil engineer-cum-naturalist. Additionally, references for Pieter Korthals, and for Hubert Winkler’s four published parts of his Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Flora und Pflanz-engeographie von Borneo are included; perhaps the most intriguing are the published portions of a now seemingly forgotten work initiated in 1927 by Irmscher.The start of botanical exploration in Borneo can be traced back to the 1820s with Georg Müller, a German-Dutch engineer and explorer who, having served in the French army during the Napoleonic wars, came to the then Dutch East Indies towards the end of 1816 to enter the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army as captain of the infantry. Müller accompanied a military expedition to Sambas in West Borneo in September 1818 and was later that year appointed Acting Resident for Sambas. In late 1819 or early 1820 he was appointed Inspector of the nutmeg and clove plantations in Banda, but owing to considerable problems was unable to reach the island before the end of 1820 or early in 1821, and even then, at his own expense! In 1822 following his appointment as Inspector of the Interior he sailed for West Borneo to begin natural history and topographical investigations. From about 1821 Müller undertook several exploration and mapping trips, during which time he made botani-cal collections for Carl Ludwig Blume who had arrived in Jawa (Java) two years earlier and was at the time at the start of his botanical career (van Steenis 1984). Müller’s work was cut short when he was ambushed and killed while on an expedition to explore the upper Kapuas River early in 1826 (Blume 1843; Helbig 1941; Hoëvell 1849; Müller 1843a,b,c). Pieter Korthals together with Salomon Müller and Ludwig Horner arrived in SE Borneo in July 1836 and for five months were more-or-less continuously in the field. The first scientific publications for Borneo resulted largely from this work (Korthals 1837), including those of a specifically botanical nature (Korthals 1839, 1839–1842, 1848a,b,c,d, 1851a,b, 1851, 1854a,b). Both Georg Müller and Pieter Korthals were employed specifically to undertake exploration. The next significant botanical work, however, was undertaken as a hobby by James Motley, the Leeds-born civil engi-neer who went to Labuan in 1849 in connection with coal-mining and after considerable problems with his employers resigned and in 1854 was appointed Superin-tendent of the coal-mining operations of a private com-pany’s mine ‘Julia Hermina’ in the territory of the Sultan of Bandjermasin in SE Borneo. As with Müller, Motley’s time was curtailed by murder (Bastin 1987; Burkill 1918; Walker 2005).Although Johannes Gottfried ‘Hans’ Hallier, the botanist attached to Nieuwenhuis’ 1893–1894 Borneo expedition (Sellato 1993), is often credited as being the first to attempt a general flora of Borneo, his 34-page Beiträge zur Flora von Borneo (Hallier 1916), is pre-ceded by Korthals’ botany volume for the Verhandelin-gen over de natuurlijke geschiedenis der Nederlandsche overzeesche bezittingen (Korthals 1839–1842), the three volumes of Beccari’s Malesia (Beccari 1877–1883, 1884–1886, 1886–1890), and the 156 pages of the four pub-lished parts of Hubert Winkler’s Beiträge zur Kenntnis der Flora und Pflanzengeographie von Borneo (Winkler 1910, 1912 , 1913, 1914). While checking dates of a reference in Robbins (1958), a biographical memoir of Merrill, two publica-tions by Merrill dealing with Myrtaceae and Rubiaceae for Beiträge der Kenntnis der Flora von Borneo edited by Irmscher (1927a,b, 1928, 1931, 1937a) in Mitteilun-gen aus dem Institut für allgemeine Botanik in Hamburg attracted curiosity since this was the first reference to this account I had ever seen although, on further check-ing it was mentioned by de Wit (1948: CXLVI), but sub-sequently seems to have been completely forgotten — cer-tainly Merrill (1950) makes no mention of it despite hav-ing contributed two families (Merrill 1937a,b) while Wong Khoon Meng, one of the leading researchers for the Rubi-aceae had never encountered the publication (WKM pers. comm.) Other published accounts are for Selaginellaceae (Alston 1937), mosses (Brotherus 1928), Nepenthes (Dans-er 1931), Annonaceae (Diels 1927), Magnoliaceae (Diels 1937), liverworts (Herzog 1931), Combretaceae (Irmscher 1937b), Gentianaceae (Irmscher 1937c), plankton (Kolk-witz 1931), Gesneriaceae (Kränzlin 1927), Gnetaceae (Markgraf (1937), Euphorbiaceae (Pax & Hoffmann (1931); Cyperaceae (Pfieffer 1928), Poaceae [as Gramineae] (Pilger 1928), Podocarpaceae (Pilger 1937), Urticaceae (Schröte & Winkler 1937), Apocynaceae (Schwartz 1931a), Ascle-piadaceae (Schwartz 1931b), Melastomataceae (Schwartz 1931c), Meliaceae (Schwartz 1931d), Piperaceae (Schwartz 1931e), Simaroubaceae (Schwartz 1931f), Symplocace-ae (Schwartz 1931g), Amaranthaceae (Schwartz 1937a), Bixaceae (Schwartz 1937b), Asteraceae (as Compositae) (Schwartz 1937c), Opiliaceae (Schwartz 1937d), Polygal-aceae (Schwartz 1937e), Sapindaceae (Schwartz 1937f), Orchidaceae (Smith 1927), and a report on Winkler’s fieldwork in Borneo (Winkler 1927).Concerning this Beiträge der Kenntnis der Flora von Borneo nothing further seems to have been produced after 1937 (there is nothing in Heft 8, 9 and 10 of Mit-teilungen aus dem Institut für allgemeine Botanik in Hamburg), and after Heft. 10 (1939) the journal ceased publication until 1957, by which time Irmscher, although continuing to publish (mostly on Begonia) until 1967, seems to have never rekindled his interest in general Bornean botany.The first attempt at a comprehensive preliminary catalogue of the entire Bornean flora is that of Merrill (1921) in the introduction of which Merrill (1921: 12–13) writes: “In the present list 4,924 species of flowering plants are credited to Borneo, yet judging from the 5,000 species of spermatophytes from the much smaller island of Java, and the great number known from the Malay Peninsula and the Philippines not more than 50 or 60 per cent of the actual Bornean flora is now known… With about 5,625 species of pteridophytes and sperma-tophytes reported from Borneo to-day… an estimate of 10,000 species for Borneo, for these two groups, would be a conservative one.” Merrill (1921) was simply a bib-liographic task, as Merrill (1921) only had access to only a limited amount of Bornean species of flowering plants that he could locate in the literature available in Manila and limited amount of Bornean botanical material. The publication, however, apparently justified itself, as it brought together in compact form all the then-known references to those species described from, or credited to Borneo. The total then recorded, plus the 120 additional species of orchids described by Ames & Schweinfurth (1920), and mentioned in the postscript to the volume, p. 590, was about 5050 species, distributed into about 1162 genera and 156 families (Merrill 1950).The subsequent enumeration by Masamune (1942), listing 7,201 species of seed plants, reproduces Merrill’s list with additional data gleaned from the intervening period, in particular that of Endert (1927). Masamune (1945) also published a list of Bornean pteridophytes which enumerates 963 species of ferns and fern-allies. Taken together, Masamune’s lists amount to 8,164 spe-cies of vascular plants (Merrill 1950).Since 1940 a considerable literature has appeared on the tree flora of Borneo. Up to 2014, a total of 2,223 spe-cies in 78 families and 332 genera have been revised and published in eight volumes of the Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak (Tan et al. 2009, Tree Flora of Sabah and Sarawak vols. 7 and 8). These publications coupled with the Kalimantan volume of the Tree Flora of Indonesia (Whitmore et al. 1989–1990) and checklist by Coode et al. (1996) are the only available references in recent years coupled with several monographs (refer to individual families in text).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/jopt-15282

Read Full Text: https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/webbia/article/view/15282

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