Focal Taxon


The picture above is a very distinct ginger planted in Forest Research Centre, Kuching, Sarawak. Gingers, from the family Zingiberaceae, are one of the most amzing components of the plant wealth in Malaysia, Singapore and neighboring countries. Gingers are an unmistakable life form and their diversity and biology have still not been completely understood or well documented. For non-specialists, like me, it is very hard for me to find an
y easily accessible published material, outlines of their botany and their fascinating development form. The word "ginger" truly refers to the edible ginger of commerce known in Malay language as halia and botanical name as Zingiber officinale. Whilst "gingers" is a general term for members or species of the Zingiberaceae family. This family comprises about 1200 species of which about 1000 species occur in tropical Asia. By far the richest area is the Malesian region, a floristically distinct rich region, which include Borneo, place that we have visited during the course. Gingers in Borneo are still very insufficiently known and largely under explored, therefore many new species were found each years, thus increases the total species of gingers in this region.

Family Zingiberaceae are part of the order Zingiberales, which form an unique isolated group among the monocotyledons. The main difference among the eight generally recognized families within Zingiberales, is their morphological character, with five stamens or one stamen. Musaceae, Lowiaceae, Heliconiaceae and Strelitziaceae are the four families with five stamens, regarded as an older line of evolution. While, Zingiberaceae, Costaceae, Cannaceae and Maranthaceae are more advanced groups, which the non-functional stamens have been developed as petaloid staminodes, with only one sterile stamen. Until lately, family Costaceae were classified as Costoidae, a subfamily of the family Zingiberaceae. Generally, the presence of essential oils and the distinct arrangement of leaves (spirally), apparently well differentiate the Zingiberaceae from the Costaceae. Below is a picture of Costus sp. taken from Maliau Basin Conservation Area, on our first day hike to Ginseng Camp.

Zingiberaceae vary in height and size, with sometimes can grow up to 8 m high, others can be as small as 10 cm or less. All ginger species are perennial herbs and rhizome (modification of stem underground) present in all species. In some cases, the rhizome is raised above the ground forming stilted-root, such as Hornstedtia sp. Almost all gingers have alternate leaves arrangement (on the same plane), shealth below the leaf base, bracts arise from the main axis or branches, one fertile stamen and inferior ovaries. However, within the family, leaf blade symmetry or asymmetry, present of leaf hairs, colors of leafy shoot and leaf blade, inflorescence location, bract shape and arrangement, lip shape and divided lip, present of elongated anther crest or filament, and dry or fleshy fruit capsules can be used to differentiate between genera and species. This morphological feature have been used to classified all the gingers recorded from the course into genera or species if possible.

One of our task for the course was to choose a focal taxon, which we have to look carefully at a group of related species to become an amateur taxonomist and field naturalist. For my focal taxon, I chose family Zingiberaceae. The reason why I chose this family because, I have never knew that ginger that I ate everyday produced such an attractive flower. All together 36 species of either flowering or fruiting gingers were observed from each forest site (Lambir, Niah, Gaya, Sepilok, Deramakot, Kinabalu and Maliau Basin). Digital records and detailed field descriptions and drawings, for each observed species were recorded for latter use. Observations were made according to the species distributions, habitats, ecological, behavioral, morphological phylogeny and also their taxonomic. For many cases, inflorescence of gingers is a very important character in order to classified gingers into genera or species. Only either flowering or fruiting gingers were used in the cladistic analysis and treeview. Fortunately, 26 species with sufficient field character recorded were listed out and a mesquite matrix were build for analysis on their ancestral evolution relationships by using Mesquite software. A phylogeny tree, based on morphological characters, for all chosen gingers were build by using phylip 3.67 software and analysis by using Mesquite to see their ancestral evolution and cladistic analysis.

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