Thursday, November 27, 2008

Of Pins and Bowling Balls

This blog is not about the game/sport of bowling. It is more about what goes into a game for you to enjoy it. Probably besides the lane and the player, the more important components of the game are the 10 pins and the ball. You would probably think that pinoy trees would not figure into the equation but it does, in a small - little and traditional way. It goes like this...

When I was researching about mangkono or Xanthostemon verdugonianus (yes a native plant) i encountered the fact that the hardwood of this Philippine species was used in making the hard bowling balls. Mangkono is an endemic plant found in Surigao in Mindanao and some other Visayan Islands. The lumber is the famed Philippine ironwood - dubbed as the hardest in the Philippine forest. A single grown tree could not be cut in a couple of days by lumberjacks. The pictures of mangkono are from Ime Sarmiento of Hortica Filipina.

Traditional bowling pins were also made from another Philippine native, supa or Sindora supa. The supa is a good lumber tree from the forests of Luzon and Mindoro. The Bureau of Plant Industries states that oil could be extracted from supa, which could be used as oil for lamps and as paint or varnish material.

So throw in the lane, which is probably made of narra, molave, yakal or any other hard wood then you could have a very Filipino bowling game. Probably why we produce a lot of bowling champions... nah. Hehehe.

ADDENDUM: A friend of mine, Ronald Achacoso, read this blog. He said that he heard from a native material specialist that old bowling lanes were also made from Sindora supa wood. The grain of supa, he said, is lovely, which is why some people still hunt down old abandoned bowling lanes in provinces just to salvage the wood for furniture making and architectural finishes.

Finding Pandans in the Montane Luisiana, Laguna

A preconceived notion of mine is that Pandanus is a lowland genus. I have seen beaches lined with a lot of specimens, from Zambales, Subic to Bataan, to Batangas and Palawan. So when we went up the Banahaw area to Lucban, I was surprised when Pinky Gendrano told us of an alternate route to Quezon lined with tall pandans. The said pandans were a source of cottage industries around the Laguna and Quezon area, weaving the leaves into banigs, sombreros, tampipis, bags, etc.

So after attending the Pahiyas activities last May we set off to the said Luisiana route to look for the pandans, and they were not that hard to find. Adding to the beauty of the view, the highway was lined with tall trees but not completely hiding the thick line of the tall pandans. The clumps of the plant are almost endless. I could not resist to get out of our vehicle to stand near a good group of the pandans. Similar pandan groves stretch from halfway from Lucban to Luisiana upto the next town of Cavinti. In Cavinti proper some of the houses hang dry the leaves to prepare for weaving into the different products.

In my trip to Coron I have learned of pandan dagat, which is either or Pandanus tectorius or Pandanus odoratissimus. Coron natives do the same with leaves, woven into mats or banigs. The Luisiana pandan is much bigger than the beach varieties I previously saw. I consulted my images of the pandan with PNPC's Leonard Co and he suspects this to be karagumoy or Pandanus simplex. Karagumoy is supposed to be widespread in Luzon up to Bicol. The fruits are eaten by the lone monitor lizard - bayawak species that eat plants in Polilio Island, off coast of Quezon Province.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Searching for the Elusive Samuyao

When I was searching for biyasong, Ponchit Enrile accounted the existence of samuyao, a dwarf citrus appearing like a cross between kalamondin (calamansi - Citrofortunella microcarpa) and makrut (kubot or kabuyaw - Citrus hystrix). He told me about a place in Cebu (where samuyao is endemic along with Bohol) where he as a youngster went and found plenty of samuyao. But when he returned to the exact same place some years ago, the samuyao could not be found anymore.

In references, samuyao was described as a small shrub used by locals as a shampoo or conditioner. Literary verses in Cebuano would carry romantic tones like ' her hair smelled of samuyao scent'. In Bohol, samuyao is famed the same way as biyasong (which comes from Mindanao).

Ponchit said Samuyao might have same uses as makrut, the kaffir lime (which a local variety of, kabuyaw , is also used as shampoo by the Tagalogs). It may have the same culinary potentials as kaffir lime. The makrut is sought after not only in kitchens but also as a garden specimen. thus if the dwarf counterpart could be found and propagated, it could be landscape valuable. So where can i find a specimen?

I sought the help of landscape architect friend Lena Joson, now Ong married to Jimson (who is Cebu-based). Both Lena and Jimson became passionate in looking for a samuyao upon learning it is a Cebu native and might be rare in its wild habitat. It was doubly difficult as only old folks have heard of the citrus. It was also hard to acquire a picture image of the plant. What i only know is how Ponchit described it, a dwarf looking makrut. Lena and Jim said that they will be happy to get me a specimen if only I could direct them where to look.

Every now and then I consult with Ray Ong of the Philippine Star regarding plants in general. It was him who always give stories about species, like a very beautiful Alocasia species found only in the mountains of Luzon, or how the endemic Alocasia sanderiana is still plentiful in hidden parts of Mt. Apo, or how he had just eaten an alukon (Broussenetia luzonica) for lunch and the tree is just a weed. So I told him I was looking for samuyao. His response was to look for a certain grower who took interest in old citrus. when I told Lena about it, turned out the grower was a family friend and a few days after, Jimson shipped me a specimen.

The samuyao specimen was small. The fruit is smaller with wrinkled skin , much like a makrut's but the shape of calamansi. the grower has neglected the citrus so when Lena asked about it, they only had 3 specimens left. She spared one for me. Now i have the obligation to propagate and learn more about this vanishing Cebuano native.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Looking for the Elusive Biyasong

In August 2007, I went to Davao and got introduced to local lime called biyasong. Initially I found the fruit to be inferior in taste compared to calamansi (Citrofortunella microcarpa) and it has a peculiar smell and after taste ( i equate the smell to anghit and gilik but Minnie Rosel, my boss in Heritage Park, blurted out the right word for it, amoy ipis). The succeeding dozes of its sub acid taste eventually led to my developed liking for the fruit. I got more interested when I found out that the biyasong is commonly used in Visayan and Mindanao kinilaws).

Biyasong is said to be a native lime. Ponchit Enrile gave me the scientific name Citrus hystrix var. micrantha for it. But some horti people I asked would equate it to to Citrus micrantha. Ponchit also told me of another citrus lime from Cebu named samuyao (Citrus micrantha var. microcarpa).

Early 2008 I got the chance to return to Davao, hoping to see glimpses of actual trees of some fruits, including biyasong. Through the kindness of Ronnie Serrano, I got to snap pics of durian and some other trees. But the biyasong was nowhere in sight. Ronnie said that biyasong seedlings are usually available during garden shows, but it seems on a january day biyasong is a rarer occurence than marang, durian or suha (all of which are commonly available September and August come Kadayawan Festival). Ponchit Enrile says that biyasong in Davao is usually brought in literally by sacksful to palengkes. I thought that my last resort is to see if biyasong is sold in the local market.

Ronnie obliged us with a visit to the biggest market in Davao, Bankerohan. The seasonal (not in season that time) durian and suha were sold there along with marang, pakwan, mangga, papaya and some other minor fruits. We also saw dry goods, candied durian and mangosteen, plastic utensils. There were no biyasong in the fruit stands so we decided to go deeper into the market place - to the vegetable section.

Bangkerohan Market was made up of large selling sections. At the far end of the roadway there was the large veggie area. The colors green, red and orange came to our field of vision. Scanning through all the sold produce (and after a lot of squinting) we finally spotted the biyasong fruit. Note: there was only one stand selling biyasong at that moment. I thought it was common fare in davao markets, but it seems a few of the sellers know about the local lime. I bought the few pieces available with a cheap price of 3 pcs per 5 pesos.

The veggie section of Bangkerohan was brightly colored with red and orange produce. There was less greens that afternoon. Majority of the stalls were selling tomatoes and sili. A capsicum variety that caught my eye was the green medium sized chili pepper called espada. I inquired how much they were and the price was 5 per 'guhit'. I curiously bought 20 pesos worth and surprisingly I got a very generous portion. Maybe it has been too long since i have been to a market place. I thought I wouldn't spend time toiling under the sun, tending the pepper plants just to harvest that much espadas for 20 pesos. We really don't give much credit to the people who fill our food baskets.

The espada chili however got much rave in our house, eventhough I brought back malongs, tubaws, coconut wood vases, a small pearl bracelet, suha, marang, durian and mangosteen candies and a lot of hoyas (aside from the biyasong loot).

The next week i showed biyasong to my graduate classmate Angie (who used to work as a landscape architect for MMDA) which she easily recognized and said is popularly used for kinilaw dishes in their native Surigao. I thought that i looked at the wrong place to find the biyasong tree. I asked Minnie Rosel if she heard of biyasong (since her parents also hail from Surigao). She couldn't recall but she tells me of the local lime she tasted in Cagayan de Oro with the strange cockroach smell. But she can't remember it being called biyasong. i am assuming it is the same plant.

I just had to content myself with biyasong fruits I bought from Bangkerohan. I planted the seeds and 10 months after, I now have seedlings about a foot in height.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Towering Toog Trees

Have you seen the toog trees in UPLB? They are located near the mouth of the Mt Makiling Forest Reserve. We were following the almost impossible mud trail going to the Makiling mudsprings when we stumbled upon the majestic towering trees. They are a sight to behold. It reminded me of the artificial forest of tall mahoganies in Bohol - but the toogs of Makiling is just a small cluster comprised of about ten or a little more trees while the artificial forest of bohol extend a few hundred meters. AND... toog is a native species and mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is NOT.

Toog or Petersianthus quadrialatus is a native of the Philippines, said to be still abundant in the Caraga region of Mindanao, in provinces of Agusan and Surigao. The large tree could grow to as much as 60 meters with more than a meter trunk diameter. The wood i hear is good lumber. from what i heard is that a full day would not be enough for two lumberjacks to fall a fullgrown toog tree.

I first heard of toog from Susan Topacio who manages Jardin Isabel over at CP Garcia. She is a resident of Surigao and remembers the toog interrupting the landscapes of her youth. She gives the adjectives beautiful, very tall and majestic to simply describe the tree. I keep on imagining the tree species lulling over the Subic rainforest (which to this day i still have not had time to confirm the identity). So it was quite surprising to find toog near Manila (in Makiling) and finally give a definite image of the species.

Toog is not native to Makiling. Some UPLB people planted the trees years ago in the forest reserve to give forestry students an idea of its scale. I just heard that the Makiling Toogs has recently been considered as a UPLB Heritage tree along with the famous Leaning Dao. A marker was installed to signify the importance of this natural Philippine wonder.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Last Remaining Forest of Manila

I grabbed the chance to join the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society in their trip to the La Mesa watershed last September. This is not the part of the park that is open to the public but the one that has all the trees covering about 2700 hectares of land - being protected by Bantay Kalikasan to safeguard 1 of 4 watersheds serving Manila's water needs.

The watershed is already secondary growth with most of the trees young. But the etent of coverage is quite lush. In fact, the PNPCSI was there to assess the available native species, and ball out some dipterocarps for transfer to a possible nursery or botanical park development in Q.C. Balling out would be a welcome move to allow the dipterocarps to grow better as roots of the proximic trees are becoming crowded.

We actually went to the site early at 8 am but waited in the park for offices to open. Turned out our resource person was waiting for us in another part of the watershed. We found our right way and by 10 am we were already exploring the ins and outs of the vast wooded area.

It was a surprise to learn from the native plant enthusiasts that native species of orchids and other flora still abound La Mesa. There are areas where native lumber species like yakal, palosapis, tangile, white lauan and kamagong grow. The effort of Bantay Kalikasan is noble and they safeguard the watershed from threats like cutting and squatting. If you go to the area you'll be amazed how such thick growth could still be found in the metro. To further ensure supply of the native flora, a nursery was even established growing the likes of malaipil. ligas, betis, lipote, banaba, malapapaya etc.

Leonard Co was giving us identification especially the trees and vines. But the fern and orchid enthusiasts needed no coaching in identifying species, they were quick to exclaim the botanical names of plants as soon as they spot them. As for me, I got good photos of some native trees for my thesis, and an additional dozen plants to add to my growing list (I plan to reach 200 for my thesis). Anthony Arbias would utter uno shot for every tree pic I take. Long way to go till my goal but because of exploration trips like this one, I am confident I'll get there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Plight of our own Philippine Teak

Have you ever seen a teak tree? Wikipedia states that teak is good quality lumber suitable for ship building because the wood is not susceptible to rot. Through out the years teak has been harvested in quantity for its wood and even now a lot of teak has been planted as reforestation species.

I heard a story that recent studies of ancient wood found from Mt. Ararat in Turkey, believed to be Noah's Ark, turned out to be teak (not acacia as documented). But i have not confirmed this yet.

The most common teak used is tekla or the common teak Tectona grandis. This has large leaves and showy sprays of flower. Its flowering season was just these past months. Maybe you could still catch some in bloom. If you get the chance to get out of Manila and spot trees with wide leaves along the countryside, good chance you are looking at a teak tree...or another species Gmelina arborea. But on a sad note, the grand common teak, and the gmelina for that matter, are not native species. This tree, though very much visible in our landscapes, is a native of India and Indo-China.

The irony is that we have our very own endemic teak, Tectona philippinensis. Endemic ... meaning it could not be found wild in any other part of the world, just here and only in the Philippines. Our Philippine teak or vernacularly called bunglas is a great find for the Spaniards when they arrived here in Manila. The tree was abundant in the forests around Manila. They discovered that the bunglas wood is not only good for ship building but is resistant to cannonball attacks. Thus the teak in the forests ranging from Cavite to Batangas were harvested. To date, there are only less than a hundred recorded full grown trees in the provinces of Cavite, Batangas, Lubang Island and Mindoro. So to some collectors and conservationists it is great joy and responsibility to rear a specimen of bunglas.

I first heard of Philippine teak from Swiss man Martin Zoller who maintains the Botolan Wildlife Park in Zambales. He takes pride in his 10 ft specimens (he had 3). It was from him that I learned the bunglas's state of existence. My second encounter with bunglas was in the UP Marine Science Institute where there are also 3 trees (of same size as Martin's) planted by the good Prof. Ed Gomez. I also saw a lone specimen in the Makiling Botanic Garden. I have not had anymore sightings of bunglas since then.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To Where the Sambal Pitogos are...

Last May I got a text message from Ron Achacoso. He was in Zambales then, would go back to Manila to get some stuff and return to Iba on a Sunday. He asked if I would want to come to Zambales so we could go on that long planned hike to see where the newly described species of pitogo, Cycas zambalensis, grows wild. Since I am at the business of finishing my masters next year - with my thesis focusing on native landscape plant potentials, I didn't hesitate go on the impromptu trip.

So I accompanied Ron and his family back to Iba that Sunday morning. We left Manila past 9 am and with the recent road developments from Clark to Subic and eventually Zambales proper, we reached iba at around 130 pm. Shortly we set for botolan to arrange the next morning's impending hike.

Botolan was then celebrating its town fiesta. I was lucky to see and experience the parades and street dancing, not to mention the chance to take pictures of the sta monica church. The main road had a makeshift tiangge with a lot of natives and aetas selling different merchandise.

As early as then we got an early encounter with our plant goal. An old aeta woman was at an obscure corner selling a sack of the zambal pitogos. we checked out the specimens which were off-shoot plantlets which the lady was selling for a few pesos. we asked her the location where she got the plants.

Even before this trip we already inquired the wheraouts of the pitogos. From what we gathered there were 2 sites where they grow prolific. We were planning on hiking to one of these sites. But the aeta woman revealed that was another, ither than the 2 we know. It was actually a welcome information to know that at least there are other wild populations of the pitogo and not limited to 2 finite clumps. we reminded the seller not to over harvest the pitogos telling her not to cut the mother plant and take only a few offshoots and better yet - rear and grow seedlings from fruits so as not to significantly disturb the wild pitogo population.

We were excited about the new found knowledge aswe arranged for an aeta guide the next day. Before we called it a night to get some sleep for the long next day journey, Ron took me to the Botolan Wildlife Park owned by a Swiss, Martin Zoller. Martin is a resident of Botolan since 1988. He has established himself a nice home with a large garden (which eventually became the wildlife park) housing a few of his wildlife collections as well as some native zambales flora.

It was in martin's garden that they discovered that cycas zambalensis is a distinct species from the Pampanga pitogo, Cycas chamberlainii (the Philippines is said to have more than 10 pitogo species and Central Luzon is fortunate to have at least two). From what I gathered, Professor Maribel Agoo was researching on C. chamberlainii when she stumbled upon Martin’s large specimens of pitogo thus the find. Martin had been growing the cycad in his garden for the longest and was already having plant propagations.

At 530 am the next day, we were at the river looking for our aeta guide. We were to cross the bed by renting a carabao cart but turned out they were more expensive than what we bargained for the previous day. Natives advised us to cross on foot instead (the water is supposed to be ankle deep) and opted to get 2 more porters to carry our backpacks. Plus they told of us of another pitogo population, nearer to what our guide knows. So we set on foot to cross the very wide (really very wide, open and wet mind you though it seems dry) lahar-stricken river basin.

Looking at our native guides we were quite sure the water was ankle deep. Our aeta counterparts were gliding over the surface but Ronald and I kept on sinking knee deep into the lahar (it was very tiring ). Crossing this wet part of the river stretch took about an hour for us to traverse. The latter two thirds of width is dry lahar bed. At a distance we spotted a solitary bamboo patch. We referred to this bamboo patch as measure of distance but it never seemed to get near.

Finally after an hour and a half of river crossing, we got to a patch of agohos at the other side. Plants abound so it was pictures galore. We entered the greens beyond the lahar clearing. After some instance the trail became rocky and inclined - again I was falling behind everyone. Halfway up the slopes I was already short of breathe and running out of drinking water. So I decided to continue on with them in spirit- hehehe - which meant sit it out at the slope till they came down. I contented myself sketching the balinghay tree under which I took shelter from the sun’s heat. It was a full hour after that Ronald and our companions came back. My only consolation is that they got me a handful of seeds and a chipload of pitogo pictures.

As we made our descent, we had the opportunity to examine the other flora of the Zambales foothills. There were Canariums, Dioscoreas, banabas, ground orchids, Ardisias, Melastomas, etc. The lowland woods of Zambales were still interesting in terms of plant finds. We found a shrub with small cashew like fruits and succulent leaves. We showed pics to other plant enthusiasts and till now we have not gotten any confirmation on its identity.

I didn’t get to see the cycads up close. But Ronald took pictures of the wild pitogos. The small patch we saw from afar turned out to be about a hundred full grown individuals. Thus it is reassuring that the pitogo population is not restricted to two finite patches. But even all this could be all gone if they are not to be protected responsibly by the locals.