Researcher uncovers rare plant in Solomon Islands

Staff writer, with CNA

Sat, Jun 22, 2013 - Page 3

A Taiwanese researcher studying biodiversity in the Solomon Islands said earlier this week that he has found a rare plant traditionally used in Chinese medicine in the South Pacific nation.

The discovery of Gastrodia solomonensis, which belongs to the orchid family and grows on rotting plants, could contribute to Taiwan’s understanding of gastrodia, which is used to treat headaches and dizziness, but has never before been found in a tropical climate.

Most gastrodia grow in temperate climates, but the species found in the Solomon Islands prefers heat and humidity, which means it could be introduced to Taiwan, said Hsu Tian-chuan (許天銓), the National Tsing Hua University doctoral student who made the discovery.

Hsu said his team might bring seeds from the plant back to Taiwan later this year to grow and study. He said the grown plants could provide raw materials for gastrodia-based Chinese medicine so it no longer has to be imported from China.

“It is really exciting,” the 30-year-old said. “Local botanists haven’t had a chance to examine the plant thoroughly to see if it has any further applications in Chinese medicine.”

The discovery shows the Solomons’ rich botanic resources have not yet fallen victim to deforestation and global warming, Hsu said, giving scientists the chance to draw up preservation projects as new species are found.

Taiwan can share its experience in plant preservation with other countries, Hsu said.

The plant was just one of the 2,522 plants that researchers from the National Museum of Natural Science and Japan’s Kochi Prefectural Makino Botanical Garden have found in the Solomons since June last year.

Among the plants found is one suitable for the production of paper, which could one day reduce the need to cut down trees for papermaking.

During their five-year project, the teams hope to fully catalogue the flora of the Solomon Islands, which has more than 7,000 indigenous plant species.