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About This Web Site

by Dan Nickrent and Julie Barcelona

Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines is actually a checklist of vascular plants native to the Philippine archipelago.  Leonard Co worked his entire life updating the checklist produced by Merrill in the 1920s.  As such, it is not an actual flora where one typically finds keys and descriptions of each species.  Many species entries are also accompanied by other information such as distributions within and outside of the Philippines, flowering and fruiting times, and economic uses.  We have called this a Digital Flora because the checklist is supplemented with thousands of photographs of the plants.  These photos often contain sufficient information for the user to make a positive identification of the plant.  Thus, in lieu of actual keys and descriptions (which could be added later), we feel this is an expeditious approach to making information on the Flora available to many users.

The Philippine Flora encompasses a diverse group of plants including ferns and allies, gymnosperms (cycads, conifers and gnetums), and flowering plants. Our tabulation shows that there are ca. 10,000 native plant species in the Philippines, with high number of novelties expected (in the form of new species and range extensions to the country) if only the magnitude of botanical inventory comparable to that of Peninsular Malaysia or Java were to be attained.  Possibly, a quarter more of this remain to be described as new species if the remnant rainforests were to be further explored.  Of the flowering plants, at least 40% are found nowhere else in the world (i.e. endemics).  The bulk of floristic richness as we know it today was documented during the so-called “Golden Age of Philippine Botany” during the US colonial administration.  This renaissance of Philippine botanical explorations from the early 1900s to the 1920’s was characterized by vigorous explorations, discoveries, and collections that resulted in the ultimate establishment of the biggest herbarium in the orient, the Herbarium of the Bureau of Science (BS).  This herbarium housed more than a million voucher specimens of plants under the direction of Elmer D. Merrill.  Merrill and his associates left the country in 1923.  World War II brought havoc to Manila and the Bureau of Science Herbarium was reduced to ashes. Many indispensable types, especially of Philippine endemic plants, were lost to oblivion. Fortunately, Merrill exchanged Philippine plant specimens with many herbaria around the world. After the war, Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing was able to repatriate over 70,000 botanical specimens and through crucial purchases (Beccari, Rehder and Gagnepain) recreate a modest working library.

There has long been a need for a comprehensive flora of Philippine vascular plants.  The works by Merrill (1912, 1926) are the last published accounts for this region, although florulas of specific areas in the Philippines have appeared.  Treatments of particular plant groups such as the Moss Flora of the Philippines (Bartram 1939) and the three-volume Fern Flora of the Philippines (Copeland 1958-1961) are available but very outdated.  James V. LaFrankie Jr. published a book on Trees of Tropical Asia: an Illustrated Guide to Diversity (LaFrankie 2010).  This book, richly illustrated with over 3000 photographs and illustrations, comprehensively covers  887 genera in 157 families of the trees and shrubs of SE Asia, including the Philippines.

With the internet and digital cameras came the ability for the masses to post photos of plants on myriad web sites. Unfortunately, these photos are spread across many web sites and are often not scientifically verified nor are the specimens in the photos vouchered.  In addition, a number of private photographic collections exist but these are not publicly available.  One collection in particular, that of Leonard Co, is large and the taxonomic identifications extensively researched. Moreover, he had compiled an annotated list of Philippine plants that remained unpublished.  With his untimely death in November 2010, the authors of this web site felt the urgent need to use this list, with links to representative photographs, to document the Philippine flora. 

At present the photos on this site are mainly assembled from those taken by Leonardo L. Co, as well those from the website authors. Most of these are of plants in their natural habitats in the wild.  Our goal, however, it to see photographic contributions from many people.  Through this web site we hope to introduce the complexity and beauty of the Philippines’ indigenous flora to the general public, most especially to Filipino plant enthusiasts and students of botany.  We further aim to popularize natural history study and the appreciation of wild plants and their shrinking habitats, and more importantly, to enjoin fellow plant enthusiasts to become crusading conservationists in the defense of these priceless but much imperiled wonders of evolution, the very life-support system that sustains us, and the material basis of indigenous knowledge and culture of Filipinos.

To read more about the development and content of this web site, see:

Barcelona J. F., D. L. Nickrent, J. V. LaFrankie, J. R. C. Callado and P. B. Pelser. 2013. Co's digital flora of the Philippines: plant identification and conservation through cybertaxonomy. Philippine Journal of Science 142: 57-67.  Pdf file available HERE.

Pelser, P. B., J. F. Barcelona, and D. L. Nickrent.  2013. Co's digital flora of the Philippines.  Association of Tropical Biology & Conservation. Web site HERE.


Recommended Citation: Pelser, P.B., J.F. Barcelona & D.L. Nickrent (eds.). 2011 onwards. Co's Digital Flora of the Philippines. www.philippineplants.org

Copyright 2012, Co's Digital Flora of the Philippines

Last updated 20 October 2016