Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pinoy Sputnik Flower Trees

The Rubia family (Rubiaceae) is heavily represented in Philippine biodiversity. Rubiaceae members famous in landscaping include the ever loved santan (Ixora spp.), star cluster (Pentas lanceolata), the common rubia (Carphalea kirondon) and the first lady plants or the Doñas ( Doña Aurora, Doña Luz, etc. or the variants of Mussaenda philippica). The latter mentioned and some Ixora species like Ixora palawanensis and I. luzonica (rarely seen in cultivation) are Philippine natives.

Some interesting native members of this plant family are the ones bearing orbicular spiky inflorescence, in the term used by marine biology prof. Ed Gomez describe them - Sputnik-looking flowers (referring to the old space satellites of the 70's). Two prominent examples are bangkal (Nauclea orientalis) and lisak (Neonuclea barthlingii).

I first noticed bangkal while tagging along with Ronald Achacoso on a trip to Iba. He pointed to a long stretch of trees along the Zambales highway. He was wondering what they are and I made it my crusade to learn the identity of those trees. It did not take long for me to learn them.

A month after I got introduced to Prof Ed Gomez. He promptly gave me a tour of the College of Science grounds and his native trees. Of course one of the trees present was bangkal, and fortunately was then in flower. The bangkal 'orbs' were quite odd. Prof Gomez is reminded of old movie sci fi UFO's - that is why he calls them Sputnik, named after the old Russian space satellites.

Bangkal trees have a stocky to tall apearance with large broad and glossy (therefore atrractive) leaves. They grow upright making them an ideal tree to position in rows (good for street planting). Coupling them with the seasonal sci-fi flowers, they are interesting additions to any garden.

An observation I had is that most specimens that I encountered were in wet to semi wet areas. In UP and other parts of Quezon City, the wild bangkals were situated near creeks. In Zambales, they were near the sea. In my last trip to Bora, I found wildlings growing in the marshy to mangrove areas of the island.

Additional information on the tree: It is revered in superstition to harbor enchanted spirits and engkantos - probably because of its big imposing appearance. The leaves are folklorically used as some kind of antiseptic to heal boils and wounds. The bark is also medically researched as a remedy to combat malaria and some other diseases.

Lisak, on the other hand, or Neonuclea barthlingii is a smaller and more graceful version of bangkal. It has smaller leaves, lesser imposing tree form but still has those interesting Sputnik flowers. Its features are far more refined compared to bangkal (which is on the massive side) thus more ideal for smaller landscapes. It also has the preference for wet areas of growth.

In my opinion, lisak is one of the best pinoy landscape trees. I have only seen 4 specimens of this (2 in UP, 1 near the entrance of Ninoy Aquino Wildlife and another in West Riverside in Frisco - all wet areas). The only problem I could perceive is that if it is difficult to propagate (i have not confirmed this yet). In Bora wildings are very visible around the main bangkal tree. I yet have to come back to Wildlife and check on wildlings of the lisak tree (then in flower - fruits might now be ripe to harbor the seeds or even collect wildlings).


kokorikavo said...

Is Bangkal Tree.. adoptable to higher elevetion ranging 1000 masl - 1400. what this kind of this similat to bangkal when time of flowering stinking odor same of mud press.

francis drake said...

Sorry if this is not related to your post. Blogger does not allow you to send a message so I decided to post it here. I was reading another person's blog when I came about these fruits - - can you please identify the fruit? What plant/tree bear these fruits?

thomas peter said...

Plant spa always includes the ferns and usually the Norfolk Pine because of all my plants they need humidity most. flowering trees