Globba fragilis S.N. Lim (Zingiberaceae)
by Dr. Sam Yen Yen
© Sam Yen Yen

Globba fragilis is a small-sized ginger from the semi-evergreen rain forests in the northwest of Peninsular Malaysia. Its Latin name ‘fragilis’ means fragile, referring to the petite look of the plant. The plant was first named in 1972 and at that time, it was thought to be endemic to Pulau Langkawi, Kedah (Lim, 1972). Since then, it has been reported from other parts of Kedah and also in Peninsular Thailand.

In nature, G. fragilis is seen clinging to the boulders of small streams in the lowland forest. The plants grow less than 20 cm tall and usually form tight clumps comprising 7–10 leafy stems. Every stem has about 3–4 leaves at the upper half of the stem. The leaf blades are ovate and hairy on both surfaces.

The bright orange inflorescences are the most attractive part of the plant. They emerge from the terminal end of the stem and immediately bend downwards and continue to grow to about 3 cm long. Each inflorescence bears about 3–5 cincinni (branching) where individual flowers will appear one by one from the cincinus. A flower lasts only one day, but the inflorescence will thrive for 3–4 weeks under favourable conditions. The showy inflorescences of Globba fragilis and its adorable size make it a good candidate as an ornamental plant.

When flowering is over, bulbils will form at the base of the floral and sterile bracts. These bulbils are actually buds that will continue to grow and produce leaves and roots, until they become too heavy and eventually fall on the ground to form new plants. It is a very rare form of natural vegetative (non-sexual) reproduction, and the plantlets have the same morphologies and genetic properties as the mother plants.

During the drier months of December to March, the plants will die back and stay dormant. Once the drought is over, new shoots will sprout from the fleshy rhizome. Within a month or two, the flowers will start to emerge again.

Globally, Globba fragilis is listed as Least Concern in The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Leong-Skornickova, 2019). In Peninsular Malaysia, the species is confined to the semi-evergreen rain forests in the northwestern part. Nonetheless, it has a wider distribution in Peninsular Thailand with a number of subpopulations occurring in the protected areas.

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