Sunday, December 7, 2008

Probably the Most Beautiful Philippine Palm

Palms are garden hits, as they have a particular distinct structure that is both attractive and unique. Most palms have either the familiar pinnate or palmate (palm leaves are also unique in shape, some equate it to looking like the 'palm' of your hand). A big fraction of palms come from the tropics with a small number of species thriving in subtropical climate. Southeast Asia has its big share of the palm selection.

I hear from collectors that the most attractive palms come from Malaysia, which is a stone's throw away from the Philippines. I asked El Roos, a palm enthusiast, if the Philippines do have its share of the beautiful palms you could find in Malaysia. He said that our palms are mostly ordinary with the exception of a recent find. He told me his version of its discovery. He accounted that the palm was discovered by Mr. Emiliano Sotalbo in one area of Mt. Apo in Mindanao. Mr. Sotalbo backed up on the palm discovery while documenting another find, a prehistoric tree of the anacardium family.

El didn't give any decriptions of the palm other than it is a member of the genus Heterospathe, the sagisi palm. Most heterospathes are sleek looking palms with pinnate leaves. I equated the usual heterospathe appearance to the new palm.

Last July I got the chance to schedule an interview Mr. Sotalbo (which actually became the start for me to consult with him regarding my thesis and he always answers all my inquiries). I was looking forward to it because I was more curious to find out what this new palm looks like. I scheduled the meeting for Tuesday then went to UPLB the Monday before it(for our LArch 263 site evaluation). There a took pictures of a small attractive palm in front of the College of Forestry. In the meeting, I found out from Mr. Sotalbo that the palm I took pics of the day before is his new palm find and the details of El's discovery story are not entirely true.

Mr. Sotalbo's version of the story goes like this. He went on a work related trip with Botanist Dr. Edwino Fernando to Surigao (not Mt. Apo). On this trip they spotted the undescribed prehistoric-looking Anacardiaceae tree (which 2 specimens were planted in the UP Information Center - sadly the children from the nearby squatter area mutilated the specimens, one died and one still at the brink of survival). While finding a good position to photograph the tree, they discovered the palm. They initially found a lone specimen but the next day discovered an area with a good population.

The palm was named Heterospathe califrons or yanisi. It looks different from other local Heterospathes because its leaves are simple and undivided, looking like an inverted arrow tail. It does not look like ordinary, a far cry from the familiar coconut and bungang-china. Its discovery merited it to be on the cover of the International Palm Society journal in 2001(cover pic from their website).


1784 said...

Great blog! I just discovered your blog now and I'm hooked!

metscaper said...

Thanks! Read on, friend!

Gbarce said...

nice article. I have seen this palm in the Makiling Botanical Garden and asked if there were seedlings of this palm for sale. They said that for some reason, even if they produce seeds on a regular basis, the seeds never germinate. So maybe the natural pollinators of this palm are absent here in Luzon.

Would you know of a place (or a person/collector/hobbyist) who would have this palm for sale?