Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Baguio Native in Tagaytay

Apart from the similar ambiance and the influx of Igorot riprap makers, a native of the mountain province found its way into the cool air environment of Tagaytay. The Benguet pine or Pinus kesiya, which is native to mainland Asia to the Philippines, adds a refreshing mountain character to the Southern cool haven. Completes Tagaytay as a nearer alternative for the summer capital.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Artist's Garden in Tagaytay

Our party met up with artist Popo San Pascual in Bali Paluto Resto in the Taal Lake rim. Popo was with friend/neighbor, Mrs. Ging delos Reyes. We had a sumptuous lunch and interesting conversations regarding plants and travelling. Mrs. delos Reyes invited us to have dessert in another Tagaytay resto (which I could only remember as Mossimo, but isn't that an underwear brand?). The establishment served home made ice cream which is renowned in the area. I ordered Belgian chocolate and indeed the chocolate was so rich and tasty, coupled with enjoying a picturesque view while dining on their lanai balcony. Mrs. delos Reyes had to go back to her farm and our company, along with Popo, headed for his Tagaytay hideaway.

Popo's family house is a few hundred meters from the Tagaytay ridge and encompasses around roughly a hectare land. When we entered the property, the landscape looked a bit rugged and wild but with a lot of familiar plant species, which Popo collected and cared for in the last 15 years. Ronald had always raved about Popo's garden and I had mixed thoughts about its first impression on me. In closer look the random landscape revealed some finds like Agloanemas, Pandans and Macarangas, but nothing like what Ronald marvelously described.

Eventually Popo led us deeper into his sanctum, which started to resemble what Ronald painted in my mind. Pathways with staghorn ferns, native and exotic orchids, gingers and a huge katmon tree led to nooks and crannies and eventually a sunken area where Popo kept most of his prized possessions. It included a lot of species I have not seen before. Popo served us freshly brewed coffee, beans picked from his own tree, which we enjoyed while admiring the impressive collection. Later on we were led even deeper into the lot opening up into other themed gardens include a manicured English garden which they rent out for weddings.

After giving us the tour, Popo brought us back near his studio to where his propagations were. We were after all there to fetch what popo has promised, the 2 specimens of voyavoy or the batanes palm. Popo obliged us with a few extra native tree seedlings. By sundown we were already loading up our second loot to the back of Ronald's pick up truck and a few more hours we were on our way back to Manila, satisfied with our day's accomplishment and a vehicle load of native specimens for the park .

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Flowering Natives on an Accidental Detour

Ronald Achacoso solicited 2 specimens of Phoenix loureiroi from artist Popo San Pascual who is based in Tagaytay. The same company of Ronald, Anthony, Ernie and hitchhiker me headed down south on a Saturday morning to pick it up. SLEX Traffic was not bad at all that day, so much so that we missed our Sta Rosa exit and ended up at the Canlubang end. We decided to make the mistake a fruitful one and made a detour to the plant shops of Los Banos before following our intended course towards Tagaytay.

In Los Banos we found 2 flowering plants that could be found in the forests of Luzon. One is tagpo or Ardisia squamulosa. I have seen this plant before growing wild in the foothills of Zambales. This is taller relative of Ardisia crenata or money plant, but instead of bearing bright red berries, it has drab colored ones. But its prolific pink to lilac flowers are very attractive.

The second plant is another common species which is locally called pure-tutungaw. This is Melastoma malabathricum, a showy plant related to the Medinillas. The big flowers range from dark pink to deep violet in color. But despite the inflorescence display, both A. squamolosa and M. malabathricum are not yet popular garden plants. So it is quite refreshing to know that they are however are becoming available in the garden shops of Laguna. I hope we would see them more in new garden developments in the metro.

My Birthday Plant Trip

Rather than sulking and missing my mom’s adobo and kare-kare (which she usually cooked for me on my natal day) I spent my birthday on the road and came with the young-blood members of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society to Los Banos, Ronald Achacoso, Anthony Arbias and Ernie S. They attended the meeting of the newly formed Philippine Hoya Society. They also took the opportunity to shop for native plants (to be used as botanical specimens for a small GTZ funded development in Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife) and at the same time see the exhibits at the Los Banos Garden Show. It was hitting 3 birds with one stone for them, but 5 for me as I wanted to spend my birthday doing what I enjoy the most and also learn more about our native trees for my thesis. The trip did not disappoint me at all, 5 fold.

Though we woke up early and braved the Monday SLEX traffic, we arrived way before the 10 am call time for the Hoya meeting. We made a quick detour to the garden shops on the border of Calamba and Los Banos and was surprised by the wide variety of plants available for landscape. Fortunately a good number was native. It was not difficult purchasing the native species but eventually the task proved too enjoyable for my companions. We lost our early bird advantage and eventually arrived late in the meeting venue (Dr. Ben Vergara’s propagation garden). At least we already had our early plant picks to be picked up on our way back home.

The Hoya Society already had started their tour of Dr. Vergara’s garden when we finally made it to the venue. We caught up with them admiring the red Eugenias and Malvar lemons in Dr. Vergaras collections. Upon reaching the Hoya greenhouse, the society’s buying frenzy began. The members ended up bringing home almost all the available propagations of the good professor. Even the other ornamentals did not escape the attention of the attendees as water plants and other succulents were also bagged up.

At lunch time everyone said goodbye to our Los Banos host and headed for our next plant destination, the 2nd semester Los Banos Garden Show. After eating a brief lunch at the food stalls, the group proceeded inspecting the exhibit booths and commercial areas. Though there were lesser stalls than before, Ron, Anthony and Wally were not short changed in their native plant finds. They got cultivated specimens of Pinanga, Murraya paniculata, Alocasia zebrina, Cyrtosperma merkusii, Phyllanthus sp., Osmoxylon lineare, Clerodendrum quadriculare, etc.

4 pm we were all tired scanning through all the plants available in the garden shops and the show. The Hoya society members, who rented out a van to bring them to Los Banos, were already having problems regarding their plant stash, a
s some would not fit in their vehicle. But the smiles on their faces were still obvious, probably because most of them had found the ornamental plant they fancy. The bagfuls were stacked into every available corner of the van. As for my companions, we eventually brought back to Manila a pick-up truck load of plants. Somehow all of these would be placed into the landscape of the botanical park prototype (near the visitor center in Wildlife Park). But they have to make a few more trips to fill up the space. I would look forward hitching a ride with them and joining in the plant adventure.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Some Coco-things I've Never Seen Before

I was looking around in Cebu for new plants to include in my thesis, but instead I learned more new stuff about the familiar coconut. One is I finally got to photograph its flower. The coconut palm flowers at the base of its compound leaves. Most of the time they are way up the fronds, thus a little harder to spot. But my Ford's Inn room has a view of a healthy coconut tree just outside the window, which gave me convenient access to document the bloom, at last!

Second and probably the most intriguing is how some Cebuanos cook their rice - to go. The locals call it puso'. They weave coconut leaves into a pyramidal container and encase uncooked rice, which has to be the right amount in order for the rice to be cooked the right way. They steam everything and viola!...they have ready to eat rice, easy to carry and ready to go. Probably the most creative way I saw how the familiar rice is cooked. Just goes to show how complicated Cebuanos would go to enjoy a meal.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Finding in the Island of Cebu

I attended the 9th ACARE in San Carlos University in Cebu. I took the opportunity to do a little research on my thesis on native tree. I was not expecting much to find, (except maybe an encounter with the cebu cinnamon, which I was positive would not happen), but it turned out that this short multipurpose trip (my second, but first in the 12 years) was a sort of discovery of unexpected finds, and the absence of the supposedly familiar. The following is the rundown of what I found and what I did not.

We went to Bangkal in Mactan Island. I previously wrote about bangkal or Nauclea orientalis in Boracay, and since the place in Mactan was named after this tree, I was trying to spot specimens. Though Mactan coasts are typically the place where you could find bangkal I did not get to see a single specimen. Bangkal proved to be elusive to me in Bangkal, Cebu.

We headed fo Portofino Beach, Also in Mactan. I was surprised to find a botong tree in flower, in the middle of a hot sunny day. Most botongs or Barringtonia asiatica bloom at night and they only last till dawn or th early hours of the morning. That its why for 3 years, I did not get to photograph a botong flower till now. Every time I see a botong in flower, I usually do not have a camera with me and when i plan to hunt for a flowering tree, there was none.

I finally reached Ford's Inn in Banilad, Cebu City. I have heard of Banilad before but not as a Cebu barangay but as a vernacular name for Sterculia comosa. I have seen banilad trees before in Bohol. But I was trying to find banilad trees in banilad, but did not spot any in my strolls. But banilad was included in the list of Prof. Franz Seidenschwarz's website of Cebu native trees.

Incidentally I was trying to get in touch with Mr. Seidenschwarz for the longest time. I have heard of him as the one managing the San Carlos seedling nursery. But i did not get the chance to contact him. San Carlos Prof Joy Avila gave me his contact details and ironically he held his office in Ford's Inn. I immediately went back to the place where I am staying to find Mr. Seidenschwarz but again he was not there. He was out of town but his assistant Elena sold me a copy of his book Plant World of the Philippines. And she gave me a new and updated email address. Hopefully I would get a hold of the elusive professor.

Lastly I was looking for a very useful book, again for my thesis - Margaret Barwick's Tropical and Subtropical Trees, A Worldwide Encyclopaedic Guide. I saw this comprehensive book with Ime Sarmiento of Hortica Filipina. I searched the local bookstores for a copy but to no avail. I also tried the internet but the price is exuberant at 100 dollars. Plus it became doubly expensive because of the shipping and handling cost. But again unexpectedly I found a bookstore in Banilad Town Center selling the book at cost minus the handling. The small Cagnaan Booksale store seemed like a so and so bookstore but surprisingly they were carrying significant and hard to find titles, stuff you can't find even in Manila. It seems fate is really working it out for me to finish my thesis on time next semester.

Cebu proved to be a fruitful trip for me to make. I hope to see the countryside next time i get to see the queen city of the south.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Digital Versions of the Bahay Kubo

I was about to take a plane out of Kalibo at 2 pm when I got a text message from UP Arch researcher Grace Edralin Servino asking if I could attend the opening of the exhibit with some of our UP classmates. It was a showcase of entries and the winners of the Ang Pinakamagandang Bahay sa Balat ng Lupa contest sponsored by the college and Lafarge cement. I had the whole hour of the flight to think if I would want to attend but when the plane touched down on the Manila tarmac, I found myself hailing a cab towards the direction of UP. At 5 pm, I was already with Grace and UP teacher Celine Sychangco, viewing and admiring the innovative entries.

Basically the contest was a middle class take on affordable housing in the Philippines. All participants tackled a 200 sq. m. lot and make a very comfortable accommodations for a middle class family with a 750 K construction tag price. In architectural language, the said budget doesn't do much, but I was surprised on how varied the involved creativity was. But since it is a challenge on Philippine sustainable architecture, a lot of the designs paid homage to the concept of the basic Filipino cube house or Bahay Kubo. From the words of Arch. Nicolo del Castillo's opening remarks, the Bahay Kubo song put a lot of stress on what was growing around it in the garden. The proposed modern bahay kubo versions played around with integrating the outside space with the interiors. The traditional Bahay Kubo also made use of indigenous materials available in the immediate environment like bamboo, coconut, nipa, anahao, local woods, etc. These said materials crept its way into the plan and specifications of a good number of entries.

There were modern looks and contemporary updates of the traditional. Some of the houses had direct references to certain native plants. Though I did not have time to scrutinize the entries in detail, I perused though and caught glimpse of bamboo and coconut houses. But what intrigued me the most was the house inspired by one of the rare native flowers of the Philippines, the Rafflesia (the biggest flower in the world). Rafflesias are parasitic plants and they don't exactly have the most pleasing flower scent, so I doubt that the entry had that in mind for inspiration. But obviously the house tried to mimic the form of the Rafflesia resorting to curves and rounded surface walls (which I think was at a disadvantage for the budget, as curved walls required a little more attention to detail therefore reflecting a higher labor cost).

The rest of the exhibit pie stuck to rectangular spaces and regular straight walls. Arch Angel Lazaro also entered the design of his unique Bamboo house, which I personally saw constructed in the premises of Carolina Bamboo Garden in Antipolo. I have a clear picture of his design as I have experienced going into the space and indeed they were both aesthetically pleasing and functionally workable. As for the rest of the concepts they were equally innovative but we still have to see if they were design and cost feasible, they still have to be constructed to prove their worth. Fortunately for the 2 winning entries in the student and professional categories, they will get to see their designs realized. Only after these are erected and lived in by their prospective occupants would we prove if they really deserve the title of being the most beautiful houses on this face of the earth. Kudos to the sponsors and participants of this unique design contest.

The exhibit Ang Pinakamagandang Bahay sa Balat ng Lupa would run from October 9 to about the end of the 3rd week of October in the UP Theater Lobby. It is a worth-it thing to see for design students or professionals not only for the bevy of design creativity but also the presentation involved conveying these digital age versions of the traditional Filipino house.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Alarming Landscape of Famy and Llavac

I have always thought of Real and Infanta in Quezon as the last frontier of the forests of Southern Tagalog. But post typhoon Rosing (a decade ago) with the 2 towns were hard hit by floods, denuded forest images of the said municipalities were painted into my mind. So when Real and Infanta are to be mentioned, I am already picturing emerging grasslands and cultivated areas. I have not yet reached the towns proper or Real and Infanta, but I got the preview of how they might look like, and the sceneries were close to what I envision them to be.

We got to detour in Llavac and Famy on our way to Pangil in Laguna. Though there are still patches of wooded areas, most of what we saw are not anymore the original tree growth, as most of these are pioneering trees that grow readily and easily in forest clearings. There were also the obviously cultivated coconut which replaced primary forests. The slow growing and towering hardwoods like dipterocarps, ebony woods, etc like yakal, apitong, kamagong, narra are already gone. Their remnants could only be seen as shaped and carved furniture being sold in side wood shops. Their faint echos could only be heard dispersed in the occasional buzzing of chainsaw and lumber mill cutters, which surprisingly are abundant alongside the main road.