Geostachys penangensis Ridl.
by Mr. Lau Kah Hoo
Geostachys penangensis Ridl.
by Mr. Lau Kah Hoo

Geostachys penangensis is a moderate-sized ginger that reaches about 1.3 metres tall. Supported firmly by dense stilt roots up to 30 cm high above the soft layer of ground, this species has glabrous elliptic leaves measuring 39 × 2.2-6.5 cm. The inflorescences are decurved with individuals flowers arranged on one side. The labellum is pale yellow with transparent fine lines and the margin is smooth. Mature fruits are ellipsoid and brownish black.

As the name suggested, G. penangensis is to be found in Penang Island and most abundantly up on Penang Hill where it thrives along trails at several historical spots, among others at Government Hill, Tiger Hill, Western Hill and Moniot Road West. Even the type specimen came from one of these locations. As abundant as it is in its confined niche, the distribution of G. penangensis is, however, restricted only to Penang Island. Therefore, it is a species endemic to Penang. Under IUCN criteria it is categorised as Endangered.

Between 1898 and 1923 when the species was most frequently collected by famous plant collectors of that era, H.N. Ridley, I.H. Burkill and C.X. Furtado would not have realised that one day, the ginger they encountered growing luxuriously up the hill is now being threatened in the name of development. During a population survey carried out in 2004, many clumps both small and large that were thriving along the Summit Road (Jalan Tuanku Yahaya Petra) were observed to have been bulldozed by road widening. It is very unfortunate to witness the imbalance between development and biodiversity. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that conserving the remaining forest areas on the hill should be a top priority to provide a better environment for the survival of this species.

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