Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mushroom Hunting in the State U Campus

I was on my way home from College of Architecture. I passed by the lone Wrightia pubescens (laniti) tree beside the UP Police Station but got disappointed because it was still not in flower. I decided to see if the bitaogs (Calophyllum inophyllum) over at E delos Santos St. (road from archi to UP Fine Arts) were in bloom. But on my way there a man inspecting the exposed roots of trees got my attention. I got curious because he was not the first one I spotted doing the same thing. A few months back I remembered seeing 2 men in the same spot, checking out the trees. But this time I could not help myself to stop and ask the man what he was doing. He was Mang Rodel who lives in the housing areas at the periphery of the campus. What was he doing? He was looking for a rare delicacy...edible mushrooms.

Mang Rodel said that he and a few others have been collecting mushrooms in the campus for quite some time. I tried to look at his loot (when I saw him, he already had a bagful of mushrooms) and they look like the variety they sell in markets. I am not sure what mushroom species they were and if whether these were native (not even sure if it was a single species or several).

I asked Mang Rodel how the hell he spots them as I have been walking the same pathway for a few years now and I never even imagined that there were mushrooms growing under those trees. He said since he has been collecting for quite some time, he learned to spot areas where they would grow. Normally you could spot them under trees with soil accumulating on its base, trees with punso (solid mounds). The mounds are moist and damp, ideal for mushroom growth. In the rainy months of July to September, they become abundant.

Honestly, when I heard mushrooms, I got a little alarmed as not all are edible. And for a landscape major like me, it is quite unimaginable to distinguish fungi from one another (as far as I know, mushrooms are not plants but fungi - if I remember my biology right that fungi is a separate kingdom from plants). So identifying the edible from the poisonous mushrooms (really lethal I was told) is horrifying for me. I asked how Mang Rodel, a lay person, could distinguish them from the poisonous varieties. He gave me a simple explanation: the edible mushrooms have smooth stems as the poisonous mushrooms have rings on the stem, on where they meet the head. I'm not sure if this ID technique is really reliable (we should confirm this from biologists), but it works for Mang Rodel as he and his family have been enjoying and eating the mushrooms for years.

A few more trees inspected and Mang Rodel declared he has enough to bring home for dinner. He would be cooking them stir fried with some Capsicum (sili) chili. If he still has leftovers for the next morning he would be cooking them in tinola. As for me I headed home contented with the new found knowledge. I even forgot checking out the blooms of the bitaogs. What grew below them completely got me distracted.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Manila's Long Lost Resident

Ever since I was in grade school I have learned that the city of Manila (and the greater Metro Manila area) was named after a small flowering plant, the nilad. The term Maynila (Manila's Tagalog name) was derived from 'may nilad' or nilad abundant, resulting to maynilad. The 'd' was later omitted in time. I was told that nilad is a brackish or mangrove species. Unique Manila was after all a coastal city, thus having long coast lines supporting saltwater and brackish mangrove plants, pre-polluted Manila Bay and Pasig River era. But what it looks like eluded a lot of us NCR residents as the plant has completely vanished in Manila's coastlines in recent times.

Nilad is Sciphiphora hydrophyllacea from the family Rubiaceae. It is a cousin of the santan and was once named Ixora manillensis (Ixora is the genus of santans). Though the plant is Philippine native, the plant could be seen in other Southeast Asian nations like Singapore. I even heard of rumors of importing the plant from Singapore to reestablish in Manila. But these were farfetched as nilad could be found in other areas in Luzon. Ronald Achacoso told me of expeditions collecting the nilad in Quezon and Aurora to bring back to Manila. But I never got to confirm if nilad reached the metro.

Yesterday, I found the stories at least partially true when I visited the Flora and Fauna Expo over at World Trade Center. The Nilad was present in one of the DENR landscape installments, giving a picture to the obscure ideas we have of the plant. The oblong shaped leaves appear succulent and glossy giving an attractive appearance. The specimens did not have any flowers so it is hard to judge it they would compare to their more popular santan cousins in bloom.

Though nilad was included in a landscape display installment, questions of its viability for landscape use are still up in the air. Probably the most feasible in reintroducing nilad to Manila is bringing it to controlled garden settings. Since it is a brackish species, would it fare well in a garden in the metro? It once upon a time did, but its previous Manila habitats were lost to the obscurity of city development and degradation. It seems nilad has to still fight its way back into its old home like any other newcomer, the irony of welcoming back a long lost native species.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coconuts in this Seaside Landscape

It is predictable to find Cocos nucifera or coconut in any Philippine landscape. You could practically find niyog all over the archipelago. Because of it being so common, designers have probably gone tired of using it in landscapes giving rise to the use of more contemporary palms like Roystoneas (Cuban royal palms) and Woodyetias (Hawaiian or foxtail palms) in modern gardens. Or so I thought...

Last Sunday I got the chance to visit the Esplanade walk over at SM MOA (Mall of Asia). The architecture and landscape are definitely contemporary. But what made me smile is the use of the cliche coconuts in its coastal modern garden.

I was thinking the designers and developers probably opted to use the niyog because of affordability (other plants in the landscape were 'economical' choices like talisay-Terminalia catappa and caballero-Caesalpinia pulcherimma). But when the strong seawinds blew into the niyog's ever durable pinnate leaves, I got to realize how underrated the coconut tree has gotten as a waterfront landscape plant. It was probably the best choice for that coastal landscape - sure beats to pay hundreds of pesos for a coconut tree than thousands for any other collectible landscape palm.

Enjoying the Lipote Once More

The end of May I visited the Silang, Cavite property of my cousins. I was there last year to scrutinize their mystery tree, which turned out to be a lipote. They called it igot but just the same it was the caulicarpic (stems bearing the fruits) Syzygium which I later learned was not curranii (which I earlier blogged about) but Syzygium polycephalum (I was corrected by Leonard Co).

I remembered visiting last year about the same time (May-June) and the tree was already in fruit. But this year, what I found on the tree were still flowers. I wondered if the fruits came late this year, or maybe the flowers would not get fertilized and become fruits at all...

But last Sunday my cousin came to the house carrying the familiar fruits. They harvested bagsful and one was already assigned to be given to my dad. For this past week, he has been eating the lipote berries after every meal. He eats them like the very similar duhat. The lipote berries are washed, placed in a covered bowl with rock salt, then shaken. The taste is very much like duhat, sweet sour but with a little 'pakla' or bitter after taste. To people who fancy the lipote's flavor, you would have to make your trip now to the southern Tagalog areas before the lipote fruit season is over.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ilokano Style Nga-nga

It was only by chance that I learned some tidbits about betel nut chewing in Ilocos Norte. On our way to Pagudpud from San Nicolas we passed by a sharp bend. On a steep gorge, I spotted the familiar palm, growing quite in good quantity. The palm is the areca nut tree.

In popular literature, the areca nut palm is identified as Areca catechu, but some time ago I was corrected by Mr. Emil Sotalbo using catechu. He said that the right term was Areca cathecu (the H comes after the T and not the C) as it was first described in the 60's. But because catechu is already the more known name (probably because it is more memorable to the ear to say catechu), most references would now consider both as synonym names for the areca nut palm. But in taxonomy, the first name to be published is the official name. In purpose of this blog, I 'll refer to the areca nut tree as bungang nganga.

On our trip the Areca palm was growing on a steep slope. But it is near human habitation so I would assume that the palm grove was cultivated. In fact this is a familiar a familiar site in old provinces, not only in the Ilocos region. I have seen the familiar palm in Quezon and Laguna, In most cases growing as a backyard tree in households. This is the first time I saw the palm growing solely and in abundance in a rather large lot . The palm, with its striking green - red color contrast, (palm is green with the fruit nuts red) was quite attractive planted in group clusters. I have seen nganga palms planted in some old gardens and they were used as a solitary palm. It was less explored as a cluster or group palm.

When we got back to San Nicolas (after a long day journey taking us from there to Bangui, to Pagudpud, back to Laoag and them Paoay) there was still some sun left, so I made my detour to the market (a destination I usually do not forget when I am out of town, my companions were already tried so I went alone). I was looking for pasalubong, the likes of tupig, kalamay, longganisa and bagnet that you usually see in Vigan, but surprisingly, Laoag and San Nicolas in Ilocos Norte had very little to offer as pasalubong fare . It made my companions regret going to Vigan first in that trip. I advise travellers to go to Ilocos Norte first and sightsee, then go last to Vigan for pasalubong shopping. Trust me it is not easy to find pasalubong in Laoag. But the sights were enough attractions for us.

Making a last sweep of the San Nicolas market for probable pasalubong I spotted 2 old women selling strange articles in a neatly arranged cart. What attracted me to them was the familiar areca nut (nganga nut is actually a fruit not a nut but again it was popularly called nut like the coconut - which is also technically not a nut), but were laid out on the surface in different preparations, either as a whole, cut into quarters or sun dried. What a strange item for pasalubong, but that did not stop me to buy some to bring home, even just to verify if they could germinate in Manila.

The basic betel nut or nganga concoction is composed of 3 basic ingredients, the areca nut, the lime and the betel leaf. But in Ilocos, the nganga is made up of 4 ingredients, the fourth being tobacco. The manangs sell their betel nut kits comprised of areca nut quarters, crushed lime, Piper betel leaves and a couple of tobacco cigar sticks. I read somewhere that betel nut chewing could be compared to the sensation of drinking coffee. Probably adding the jolt of tobacco with 'coffee' makes the nganga a more potent elixir for enjoyment. Perhaps we should learn more about this vanishing pass time of our Asian and Pacific ancestors. We could maybe make it contemporary, much like how they update the art of Persian shisha in modern bars and restos. Hehehe, just looking at possibilities. But kidding aside, much of these old practices should be properly documented if they could not be passed down to succeeding generations.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

XL-Sized Dipterocarp Seed

The other week, a friend handed me over a very big seed. He came from one of his forest expeditions and brought back a handful of the seeds for botanical uses. He gave some to members of the Philippine Native Plant Society to document if they could germinate in urban setting. I was fortunate to get one.

The seed was about the size of a walnut but has a very distinct feature, it had two very long wing appendages. The wing pair made the seed appear much bigger than it was. It is an apitong seed. Apitong is one of the pride trees of our Philippine forests, the towering dipterocarp trees. The word dipterocarp comes from the latin words meaning two winged seeds. I tried playing around with the seed, tossing it into the air and true enough the two wings made the seed gyrate to the ground, like a small helicopter toy. I have not planted the seed yet but I will place it in a clay pot and position in a very shaded area (mimicking the canopy shaded floor of the forest where they sprout). Hopefully it will germinate.

Apitong is Dipterocarpus grandiflorus (grand flowered dipterocarp) and is probably one if not the biggest of the dipterocarps. Most of our hardwoods come from cutting down these spectacular age old trees in our forests. If the cutting of these magnificent trees is not controlled, in a few years time the only apitong you could find might be the ones that would germinate from these collected seeds. Deserves another sigh!