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.

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