Conduct basic research on taxonomy, systematics, conservation and economic use of Philippine plants; Collects, preserves and maintains botanical reference collection; extends technical assistance and disseminates scientific information to students, teachers, researchers, and scientists.
The Botany Division came to life in 1901 as the former Bureau of Government Laboratories and later the Bureau of Science. An American named Dr. Elmer Merrill gave form and substance to its first 20 years of existence, with the establishment of the Herbarium and Botanical Library and the conduct of numerous botanical expeditions all over the country. He was also responsible for many important publications, the most popular of which were the "Flora of Manila" and "An Enumeration of Philippine Flowering Plants".
Dr. Merrill likewise effected the creation of the Bureau of Science Herbarium, which later became a center for taxonomic research in the Southeast Asian Region, with more than a million specimens, of which several thousand species were described from the Philippines. The local specimens were mostly collected by Mamerto Sulit, G.E. Edano, G. Ramos and Americans Adolf Daniel Edward and Andrew Drew Elmer. For collection and study purposes, Dr. Merrill sent duplicates of these specimens to other foreign herbaria.
When Dr. Merrill returned to the U.S. in 1924, distinguished Filipino botanist Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing took over the Herbarium and Botanical Library and became the first Director of the Philippine National Museum. Unfortunately, the Second World War broke out in 1941 and completely destroyed all collections including the building itself.
After the war, Dr. Quisumbing started the big task of rehabilitating the Philippine National Herbarium, now under the National Museum. This necessitated the conduct of collecting expeditions, as well as exchanges, donations and purchases of new specimens. Within a span of 15 years, he was able to put up a modest botanical library through the purchase of three private libraries of famous botanists, namely: Beccari, Rehder and Gagnepain. With its rebirth, the Philippine National Herbarium (PNH) became the heart of the Botany Division, a repository of classified and identified Philippine plants and a rich source of working materials and references'for the intensive study of the plant resources of the country. Dr. Quisumbing likewise scored success in retrieving 76,983 specimens that were sent to foreign herbaria by Dr. Merrill before World War II.
After Quisumbing's retirement in 1961, Demetrio R. Mendoza was appointed Officer-In-Charge of the National Museum, until the appointment of Professor Galo B. Ocampo as Director the following year. At this time, activities of the Botany Division were focused mainly on the classification and identification of plants (taxonomy). Additionally, an experimental public exhibition on "The Role of Plants in Our Everyday Life" was presented in layman's language and attended by over 30,000 visitors. The permanent exhibition of Philippine Flora in colorful dioramas in 1985 is also worth citing.
Meanwhile, botanical explorations mostly initiated by Mendoza and the triumvirate team of Museum Researchers Romualdo M. del Rosario, Paciente Cordero, Jr. and Hermes Gutierrez were sustained around the country. The most notable of these postwar expeditions were the field work at Batan and Sabtang Islands in the Batanes province, the first ever known effort since pre-war years; the field work at Dalton Pass, an area never before represented in PNH, which proved that this area is an excellent collecting ground despite its rough topography; the iield work at Mt. Victoria, Palawan where collections were undertaken at an elevation of more than 3,000 feet, a point never explored before; and a multi-divisional exploration work at Mt. Concord and Mt. Apoy in Southern Samar, wherein duplicates of the collected specimens were sent to foreign herbaria such as the Rijksherbarium, the United States National Museum, Kew Herbarium, Harvard University Herbarium, to name a few.
Such successful expeditions eventually led to the addition of 96,000 specimens to the PNH, of which 60,000 are of foreign origin.
The following decades from the 1970s to the 1980s witnessed the beginning of the glorious years of the Botany Domingo Basic research, taxonomic Journal of the Society for the Bibliogra- such equipment was the Palynological studies and field explorations were undertaken on a massive scale. These produced a host of publications that captured the interest and attention of local as well as international institutions. Funding and technical assistance, which previously came in trickles, started to pour, thus elevating the stature of Philippine botanical work to international standards.
One of the most highly-publicized and well-noted researches and publications was the "Studies on the Malaspina Exhibition" which is a comprehensive account of the various aspects pertaining to the l8th century scientific expedition conducted by Captain Malaspina and his men around the world, with particular emphasis and reference to their botanical-historical significance to the Philippines.
This study was conducted by Domingo A. Madulid and featured in the Journal of the Society for the Bibliography of Natural History (London) in August 1980. Soon, many other local foreign researchers initiated their own studies on the Malaspina Expedition, following the successful attempt of the Museum.
Inspired by these achievements, key Division staff, namely, Hermes G. Gutierrez, Romualdo M. del Rosario, Paciente A. Cordero, Jr., Domingo A. Madulid, and Lolita J. Bulalacao, pursued post-graduate studies in the Philippines and abroad. By the turn of the century, the Division had produced ime Doctorate degree-holders, two of whom became curators and three were appointed scientists in the Scientific Career System of the Philippines. Meanwhile, the rest of the Division researchers and staff, with practically the same zeal and spirit as the senior staff, continued to undertake more intensive and challenging studies in their respective areas of interest. Hence, the names of Mamerto Sulit, Ernesto J. Reynoso, Rogelio A. Espiritu, Wilfredo Vendivil, Luis T. Evangelista, Odelon Fernando (recipient of Dangal Award from the Civil Service Commission), Francisco dela Cruz, Delia D. Adefuin have made indelible marks in the scientific arena. In the last decade, a new breed of botanical experts and researchers has emerged and now play a respectable role in the Botany Division. These are Dr. Julie Barcelona, Lourdes Valerio, Noe Gapas, Ruben Meralon, Ver Reyes, Jimmy Cabalquinto, Edwin Tadiosa, Mercelita Y. Bangis. Support staff are Emmanuel Loyola and Casimiro Yungca.
Another significant reorganization of the Division led to the creation of eight sections namely: Phanerogamy; Ethnobotany or Economic Botany; Pteridology; Bryology; Mycology; Phycology; Palynology; and, Herbarium (PNH). This strategic organizational move, which is still in effecf to this day enabled the Division to function more systematically and with greater mastery. Thus, the research and development agenda of the Botany Division flourished.
Believed to be yet another major event in recent years is the use of advanced technological equipment in the study of pollens. The scanning electron miscroscope or SEM was used for the by Dr. Bulalacao in her research on “Pollen Flora of the Philippines” and the first institution that allowed her to use such equipment was the Palynological Laboratory, Swedish Museum of Natural History in 1987. This was followed in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London in 1996 and 1997 when she was introduced to their light microscopy and SEM equipment.
The “Flora of the Philippines Project” was initiated in 1990 as a collaborative activity of the Philippine National Museum and the Bishop Museum of Honolulu, Hawaii. Dr. Domingo A. Madulid, in charge of the Philippine National Herbarium, and Dr. Seymour H. Sohmer, then Chairman of the Botany Department of the Bishop Museum, were co-principal investigators of the project. Dr. Sohmer later transferred to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas at Fort Worth. Divided into three phases, i.e., plant inventory, collections management and writing/documentation phases, the project received financial support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. A.I.D. and the MacArthur Foundation. A total of 17,049 specimens, mostly in 10 duplicates, were collected from 1990 to 1995. The specimens were distributed in Philippine, Malesian, European and American herbaria. A total of 10,759 backlog PNH specimen records were entered in computerized database, and a total of 331,206 herbarium specimens were processed and curated. The third phase of the Flora project is about to begin. Funding from the American sponsors have been consumed and efforts are now directed at seeking more funds to continue the writing phase.
A Broader Role
The affairs of the Botany Division generally gravitate around the conduct of basic and applied researches in plant sciences. And if numbers were to be strictly used as a measure of productivity, the Division certainly qualifies as a top contender, as it has undertaken a significantly high number of researches throughout its lifetime, and many more are still in progress. This huge effort has led to the production of a cache of literature.
Its most important and scientifically acclaimed researches and publications in the last five years include: "Pollen Flora of the Philippines" by Dr. Bulalacao and "A Pictorial Cyclopedia of Philippine Ornamental Plants" by Dr. Madulid; and "Moss Endemism in the Philippines" by Dr. del Rosario.
In response to the growing and changing research and development issues and concerns, the Division has taken a broader stance. It channels part of its efforts and resources in the following activities:
1. Enhancing the research capabilities of young scientists, and offering consultative advisory services and facilities.
2. Furthering linkages with local and foreign scientific institutions such as the DOST, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. National Scientific Fund, MacArthur Foundation, Rijksherbarium of The Netherlands, etc.
3. Maintaining an advocacy role on problems of environmental concern. An example is the presentation of technical advice/papers on the Conservation and Protection of Wildlife Resources and their Habitats and the Establishment of a Regulatory Framework for the Prospecting of Biological and Genetic Resources.
4. Providing the public with more scientific technological services through lectures, seminars, symposia, and publications.
In the last couple of years, research has been re-directed towards the broader community. Botanical research and activities focused on the application of knowledge to contemporary societal and environmental concerns - from conducting workshops on plant collection and management, pollen allergy and floristic inventory to conservation of endangered species, documentation of herbal remedies, and understanding ethnic practices and establishment of botanical gardens.
The Botany Division has long felt the need for a botanical garden system in the Philippines. While the National Museum does not have any appropriation for the establishment and maintenance of botanical gardens, technical assistance from the Botany staff headed by Dr. R. M. del Rosario led to the existence of the now well-developed La Union Botanical Garden managed by the city government of San Fernando City and the University of Santo Tomas Botanical Garden.
The Biodiversity Information Center, headed by D.A. Madulid and funded by John and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, maintains a database of Philippine flowering plants which includes data for taxonomic, bibliographic, and economic use. The specialized botanical library has served at least 600 individuals from various universities, government agencies and non-government organizations.
Quest for Excellence
Owing to its relentless thrust in pursuing continuing research and development programs, the Botany Division has received a number of important recognitions from local and international scientiiic bodies. Last year, for instance, Dr. del Rosario received the First Best Technology for Dissemination Award, for the project "Sudsod" and "Bagtok" for the TalaAndig's Handicraft Industry, in Bukidnon by the Northern Mindanao Consortium for Agriculture and Resources Research Development (NOMCARRD). He also won Third Place in the Development Paper Award Category for the same project given by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources (PCARRD). Dr. del Rosario was also recognized for his discovery of new plant species and new name combinations from 1966 to 1986, all named after him.
Dr. Madulid was awarded the Book of the Year Award for Natural History by the Manila Critics Circle in 1995. Another important botanical reference is to be published this year entitled: "A Pictorial Cyclopedia of Philippine Ornamental Plants: A Dictionary of Philippine Plant Names." He also earned credit for being the Chair of two plant research groups; namely, the Philippine Plant Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, which is tasked to promote and undertake research and management activities pertaining to plant conservation in the country and the Red List Authority for Plants of the Philippines, whose rnain function is to list and assess the conservation status of threatened and endangered plants of the Philippines. Dr. Madulid is a member of the board of the Flora Malesiana Foundation.
In Palynology, Dr. Bulalacao received scholarship and fellowship grants abroad. These were given by the Palynological Laboratory, Swedish Museum of Natural History in 1987; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London in 1996; the Tohoku University and Hokkaido Forest Tree Breeding Center in Japan last year. Recently, the National Herbarium,The Netherlands, Leiden University Branch also invited her. Those host countries were more than generous to allow Dr. Bulalacao the use of advanced microscopic equipment such as the scanning electron microscope and light microscopy for her research projects.
The Division was also a recipient of technical/scientific training abroad such as the 1997 International Diploma course in Herbarium Techniques organized by Kew Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens in England, where the Philippine delegate was Mercelita Y. Bangis.
Far more important than scholarship, fellowship grants and foreign training is the financial assistance extended to the Botany Division by prestigious international scientific and non-governmental organizations. Agencies like the U.S.A.I.D., MacArthur Foundation, US N.S.F., and many others are considered as the prime movers in the successful conduct of research by the Botany Division.
With calculated risks, the Botany Division has managed to sustain 97 years of productive existence. But through increased collaborative action, more persevering involvement and adequate support services, the next 100 years is certainly going to be another fruitful and rewarding century.
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