Thammasat University lecturer discovers a new plant species

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A name has been initiated and a botanical description has been written in accordance with the international rules for determining the scientific name of plants (ICN) by Dr Thiwthawat Napiroon, Lecturer in the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science and Technology, Thammasat University with Mr Arun Sinbumroong, Forestry Technical Officer, Professional Level, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and Mr. Manop Phuphat, Forestry Technical Officer, Professional Level, Office of the Forest Herbarium, Department of National Parks.

“Cute Star Flower” has the scientific name Lasianthus ranongensis Sinbumroong & Napiroon, which was named in honour of Ranong Province, the area where it was first discovered, and the study team. It has been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Plant Biology PeerJ (Plant biology section), where part of the research was supported by the cooperation in the Flora of Thailand project.

Dr. Thiwthawat Napiroon, Lecturer in the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science and Technology, Thammasat University who examined the genetics of this plant, said that from researching scientific evidence, this plant had never been reported or discovered before. It has been first discovered here in Thailand, in a tropical rainforest of the Andaman Sea at Namtok Ngao National Park, Ranong Province.

“The time of collecting this plant was right at its flowering period of around this April to May, using the laboratory of the Department of Biotechnology, Faculty of Science and Technology, Thammasat University. It took about a month to prove all of the plant genetic identification,” said Dr Thiwthawat.

Cute Star Flower is one of the members of the Lasianthus Jack genus. Various Rubiaceae species within this genus are wild medicinal plants that are rich in important phytochemicals such as scopoletin of a high amount. From the number of petals according to plant biology or botany, the number of petals is not within the range of 4-5 petals or is a multiple of that number according to the common dicotyledon, but appearing in the tropical forests of Thailand.

With the characteristics of the reproductive organs that are different from neighbouring species within the same genus, including other plant components; such as leaf morphology, monofilament-like strings corolla surface covering, beaded calyx, calyx, auricle morphology, etc. These traits are genetically controlled and they vividly indicate the uniqueness of a species in evolutionary biology and botany.

“I have discussed with the Department of National Park on the ongoing research and Namtok Ngao National Park in relation to the application of plant biotechnology or tissue culture to increase the number of plants in equilibrium or reduce the risk of disappearance which will be made into an area-specific model to keep plants in an environment where they can settle and later increase the chance of survival. In other areas, if the environment is suitable or similar to what was discovered, there is a chance to be found as well,” said Dr Thiwthawat.

Currently, it is kept at the Office of the Forest Herbarium, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (Forest Herbarium-BKF), Bangkok. The study of the preserved prototypes of the flower is available, including the dried samples of the staff specimens.