The Challenges of Botany

Self-taught amateur botanist, the distinguished Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat, gave a compelling talk on the challenges of botany and its conservation in Malaysia, with special reference to palms, gingers and pisang (bananas) that are endemic to Perak.

Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat is a trained architect and urban designer. Fascinated by the wonderful flora of Malaysia, Lim was also drawn into taxonomy by the challenges of errors and uncertainties encountered in precedent literature, records in herbaria, and by the depression in local botanical efforts.

Lim opened his illustrated lecture by questioning the origin of the name for the state Perak, which is said to be from the silvery colour of tin, a natural resource abundant in the state.

He asked, “Is it not more appropriate to say that the state derived its name from the Perah (Elateriospermum tapos Blume) tree, also known as Piah or Prai?”

As a conservationist with his self-funded ‘Palm Search Malaysia’ project which yielded many new species of palms, Lim also pointed out the urgent need to conserve as many species of plants as possible many of which are threatened mainly by deforestation.

“More efforts are needed for in situ protection and ex situ conservation of rare and endangered species. We need agronomists to propagate ex situ these threatened species,” he said.

As such, Lim’s Suriana Botanic Conservation Gardens in Penang, with the largest number of rare plants or endangered species in the country, not only conserves but also runs research programmes for Zingiberales in collaboration with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Putra Malaysia, among others.

The eight families of Zingiberales are CannaceaeCostaceaeHeliconiaceaeLowiaceae, Marantaceae, MusaceaeStrelitziaceae and Zingiberaceae.

Posing a challenge to those at the talk, Datuk Seri Lim called upon the rediscovery of the rarest missing species of Perak, Boesenbergia jahaiana and Alpinia denticulata, last known from Lumut in 1896.

The Perak Academy-sponsored talk, which was held at Symphony Suites, Ipoh on Saturday, February 28, was aimed at exciting the audience to look after our own flora. Lim insisted that everyone can botanise.

“We’ve to say no to second-hand botany, and be directly involved because much of the current information available could be misleading or outright incorrect. National botanists should do more fieldwork and be fully familiar, not only by sight but also through their sense of touch and smell, with living plants in situ, and their needs for survival and appreciation,” he concluded.


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