Monday, November 30, 2009

Towards a Goal of a Hundred Native Trees

It would seem that I am writing about my thesis again and a goal list of 100 trees. I am not.

Last July, UP President Roman issued a memorandum ordering that from that time on, all trees to be planted on campus should be native species. In line with this and the recent UP centennial celebration, 100 native tree species are to be planted on a premium area between Palma and Melchor Halls, along the Beta Epsilon way. The person tasked to carry out such a directive was former ground supervisor Emiliano Sotalbo. Sir Sotalbo has already selected 60 previous species and they were planted by various alumni and organizations.

This morning, 4 more plant species were added to the roster of 100, bringing the tally to 64. The lucky individuals or entities given the opportunity to be immortalized in the centennial plot by adding their own trees were the late Odette Alcantara, Professor Perry Ong, the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society and the UP Institute of Biology. The rites were held early at 7 am with a handful of PNPCSI in attendance. Of course I was present to photo-document.

Tree no. 61 is Pometia pinnata or the malugai, a handsome tree planted in memory of Zero waste management champion Odette Alcantara who 2 months ago passed away of an aneurism. To represent her, Ana Oposa (daughter of the Magsaysay awardee, environmentalist lawyer Tony Oposa) and Kester Uy (a geology student), a new blood of zero waste advocates, planted the malugai in her honor. Incidentally malugai is a very attractive tree related to the mango and dao (cashew family) and is very much worthy as a garden ornamental.

Tree no. 62 is Diplodiscus paniculatus or balobo, planted by the loved UP Biology teacher, Prof. Perry Ong. The good professor celebrated his Chinese 50th birthday and Prof. Susan Aquino-Ong arranged a tree planting to commemorate the milestone. What makes it more memorable is the introduction of this Diplodiscus species into the UP Diliman campus. D. paniculatus is one of the under-exploited native fruit trees in our country and a promising orchard specimen.

Tree no. 63 is Reutealis trisperma or baguilumbang which was planted in honor of the PNPCSI. The group was represented by its Society President Leonard Co, board member George Yao, and members Susan Aquino Ong, Lita Sopsop and Ronald Achacoso. The society is currently celebrating its 2nd year anniversary with its very first tree planting event. The choice of tree is also unique as the Reutealis is one genus that is endemic in the Philippines and nowhere else, truly a species worth conservation and recognition.

Tree no. 64 is Shorea almon or almon which was the tree choice planted by staff of the UP Institute of Biology. Shorea almon is one of our endangered native dipterocap species thus the sturdy wood tree is a befitting symbol for the formidable science institution.

After the ceremonial plantings, the real challenge of assuring growth and health of the trees on site will start. As for the remaining species, holes for succeeding numbers were already dug, awaiting their honored counterparts. Let us hope the trees would grow majestically, becoming lasting symbols of the people and organizations they represent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Orchids of Luzon

I had the chance to photograph orchids in the lush gardens of the Botolan Wildlife Center in Zambales. Ronald Achacoso, who accompanied us in the trip, tells us that Zambales is actually a haven for orchids. Though a lot of the blooming orchids in the wildlife center are Zambales natives, most of them could still be found in other parts of Luzon and sometimes even the Visayas and Mindanao. We hope it would stay that way so that their beauty can still be appreciated in the future.

Cymbidium atropurpureum is one of 2 native species of Cymbidiums in the Philippines, the other being the lesser attractive but more common C. finlaysonianum. I was surprised to see the deep almost bloody color of the flowers, very different from the drab brown-yellow of C. finlaysonianum.

Another deep-color flowered orchid is the Vanda merrillii with dark reddish brown and yellow hues. This orchid is endemic to the mountains of Luzon.

Probably the most common we saw are specimens of Vanda lamellata. They are practically grown in all Zambales household gardens. V. lamellata grows in lower altitudes in the Philippines upto Borneo. I have seen this growing in the mangrove forests of Busuanga attached to fallen mangrove trees.

The larger flowered Vanda luzonica is our companion's (Ernie Alvaran, who identified the orchids in this blog)) most sought after species. So much so that when he spotted one growing in one of the local's houses, he braved asking for a plant from a stranger's house. Fortunately he was rewarded with one for the effort. The flowers of V. luzonica are bigger than V. lamellata but drabber in color. It is endemic to Zambales, Tarlac and some other neighboring provinces.

This Grammatophyllum is probably G. scriptum (tawa-tawa) which is also a widespread low altitude orchid. It could be seen with a wide range in the Philippines, but also in other neighboring countries.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The State of my Heritage Trees

On a lighter note, I went back again to Heritage Park after a few months of physical absence. I immediately thought of the 2 Sterculia species that I reared from seedlings and asked grounds supervisor Lito Echaluse to plant. They appear to be healthy though some specimens are stunted in growth, probably because of the adobe foundation in the memorial park. I could not wait till the bigger ones cast needed shade upon the parking area.

The Sterculias we planted are banilad (S. comosa) from Panglao in Bohol and kalumpang (S. foetida) from specimens collected from Marikina.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Musings about a Departed Friend

Someone told me to never start writing with an apology, but I have to make an exception because I will write off-topic in my blog. So I hope you'd forgive me for blogging something about life (and death) this time.

I learned earlier today that someone I know passed away yesterday. He took his own life. After my mom and my very dear friend Maricon died last May and June, I have developed a sort of apathy to death stories and attending wakes and funerals, but this morning’s news had some mixed emotions. No I was not close to the departed but I can say I was once a friend. He went away for graduate school to another country and recently came back, armed with an Ivy league-like PHD. Ironically I was one of the persons he saw before his untimely demise. He seemed normal, the same as he was in college and the few times I met him after that. There was not any clue that there was something bothering him.

I came with a few friends to his wake this evening. His best friend since college flew in from another country and saw us. He must be surprised to see us as we have not all seen each other since a decade, or even more. But he easily expressed to us his emotions towards this great loss. He painted a different picture of the departed friend. He appeared to be a confident person in college, but it seems he was an emotionally wanting person, like most of us. No one knew, but his best friend. But when the best friend left to pursue greener pastures in another country, he got lost and succumbed to the pressures of emotional weakness. Everyone was in shock. Little knew he had grave problems.

Lately I have been mentally rewinding a line in the movie ‘Shall We Dance’ uttered by Susan Sarandon’s character. She said ‘the reason we get a partner is that everyone needs someone to witness his/her life’. Figuratively the partner is a spouse, but I believe for people like me who have not yet been lucky to find their perfect half, family and friends easily fill in the job. Somehow if a person pursues an undertaking to better his social status, he is not only doing it for himself but also for the people around him/her to notice, so his/her life would matter. I admit to be an emotionally wanting person, but somehow I am thankful to the people around me for noticing that I do, as an individual, matter. My existence would not go unnoticed, at least by my family and friends. I am very much thankful for that. I do have personal problems but somehow the thought of my noticed and appreciated existence makes me undoubtedly want to go on with life.

I am deeply saddened by my departed friend. His life and achievements do matter. He has coveted academic degrees and experiences. He has a dissertation filed in a library of a major academic institution. But even with this, his best friend said he himself still thought his own existence did not matter. We kept thinking if only we sooner re-established contacts, maybe he could have felt he mattered more. It is too late for him to feel that now. I hate to have only known him more after his death. It would be a great shame if his academic achievement and his existence would continue on unwitnessed.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rediscovering the Dogbanes of the Zambales Coast

I first visited the Achacoso ancestral property in May 2008. At that time our purpose was to cross the lahar-laden river by foot and go to where the sambal pitogos grow. But when we went back this week to Zambales, our main reason was to collect some plants growing in the Achacoso private property to put up in the Botanic demo plot in Wildlife Park. Though it is enticing to again see the place where Cycas zambalensis occur wild, it was not possible as the places where we crossed the river were flooded. But nevertheless the sprawling mango and cashew farm had some few more exciting native flora for us to find.

The farm is located beside an estuarine river, so most plants growing there are used to an influx of saltwater. The banks of the river are always deposited with different seeds from wild plants growing up-and-downstream. The original plants we found last year are all still there, along with some new intriguing finds. Probably the most exciting were members of the dogbane family or Apocynaceae. Apocynaceae plants are known to be toxic but their members have spectacular flowers and attractive succulent appearances. Most are highly priced as ornamentals and long cultivated as landscape and garden plants.

The one thing I was hoping to find are specimens of Cerbera manghas (baraibai). Cerbera is a native tree genus which is closely related to kalachuchi (Plumerias which are actually American native plants). In recent years the Cerberas were introduced as contemporary landscape tree despite their poisonous reputation (the tree parts are very toxic to the point that it is labeled as a suicide tree, apparently in India they are used effectively by suicidees). There are at least 2 species native in the Philippines. C. manghas and C. odollam.

The Cerbera manghas is called sea mango but yet again the fruit is very poisonous. The tree resembles the mango in shape, profile and structure. Even the fruit could be mistaken as a mango, from a distance. But baraibai has more showy white flowers similar to the kalachuchi but smaller. I have not yet seen a full grown tree of baraibai but in this trip we located a large tree specimen growing in a corner of the Achacoso farm.

Another garden plant we found is the pandakaki or Tabernaemontana pandacaqui. The flowering shrub has been in cultivation for quite some time that very attractive varieties were already artificially developed. But the original wild forms grew abundantly under the mango trees in the property. Pandakakis have small white pinwheel flowers and paired banana like curving seed pods (which earned the plant its other local name - saging sagingan). I have seen a lot of big clump shrubs of pandakaki but beside a makeshift tennis court, a large tree like specimen was growing.

There were other dogbane-like plants (exuding white latex sap) we found but they were not in flower. If we get the chance to go back to the Achacoso farm in the future, we would hopefully rediscover them again, and with a little luck in bloom.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Zambales Plant Adventure

I have been trailing the younger members of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society for a few weeks now. They have been appointed as the execution arm of a proposed botanic garden prototype in Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife sponsored by the GTZ and managed by PAWB. They were scouring gardens in and around the metro to find suitable specimens to include in the botanic displays. And yesterday the quest brought them to Zambales and as usual I went along with them for the ride. Ronald Achacoso, Ernie Alvaran, Anthony Arbias and I met up on site in Wildlife Park and set to an overnight journey to Iba.

The trip to was long but made fun by conversations about plants, music and then some. As usual I was amused by Ernie's mastery of Top 40 music trivia and Ronald seemed to have developed a pet peeve in his humor. The cramped space of Ronald's pick up truck was not at all a bother and we were hopeful, looking forward to find Zambales native specimens to bring back for the park.

Our first glimpse of the Zambales countryside was a steep surface covered with still thick vegetation at the side of the road. We wanted to see a preview of the flora richness of this mountainous region, so we stopped and took a peek and a lot of pics. We documented common brush and woody plant species such as Murraya paniculata (kamuning) and Streblus asper (kalios). There were also Tacca and a few wild gingers. But introduced species were also present like Pithecelobium dulce (kamatsile).

The first specimens to bring back we stumbled upon at a few hundred meters from where we first stopped. We found a small nursery managed by locals, establishing seedlings of crop trees like mango, kalamansi, pomelo etc. A few ornamental natives also found its way into the nursery's list mix. Here we discovered a local variety of Diospyros ferrea (bantulinao) and Diospyros blancoi (mabolo), local persimmons which Pinoys call ebony trees or kamagongs. Some kamagongs are priced for their black hard wood but the mentioned trees are actually much more better seen alive with leaves, Both are glossy-leaved and interestingly shaped. For both species, wild trees are protected, so it is welcome that people are starting to propagate seedlings.

Our next stop took us to the Botolan Wildlife Park, a privately owned establishment exhibiting exotic (like caimans and a tiger) and native wildlife. I have been to the place a year before, but the path we followed in 2008 was now very much different. The Bucao River got flooded and forcibly diverted by the recent typhoons, and the Pinatubo remaining lahar again ate up houses and institutions located near the banks of the Bucao. School houses and homes once more became deserted as the sand and mud enveloped the structures.

We still retraced our way back to Botolan Wildlife Park. Ronald has previously arranged to exchange some of his own tree propagations for specimens of Cycas zambalensis (sambal pitogo) which the park has early on cultivated. We were successful in acquiring 4 good-sized specimens.

We retired the day in Ronald's family ancestral house in Iba. We spent the night exchanging ghost stories and in the end scaring ourselves, depriving us the will to sleep. As a result we all ended up waking up early the following day. We spent the rest of the day thinning out some weeds in Ronald's garden. The pests included Acrostichum and Acanthus, both easy growing native plants found common in this part of Iba but uncommon in Manila. The group decided to sack up the thinned out vegetation to also include in Wildlife. I ended up hunting for specimens of native trees to picture, to include in my thesis. I was rewarded with better photos of Pongamia pinnata (bani), Cerbera manghas (baraibai), Tabernaemontana pandacaqui (pandakaki) and Tiliparitii tiliaceum (malobago).

After loading up the salvaged loot, Ernie decided to work out a bonus for our Zambales plant trip. He earlier spotted specimens of Vanda lamellata in a lot of the local households and got determined convincing and haggling one of Ronald's neighbors to sell a couple of the orchid specimens for use in the botanic park. After putting his persuasive muscle to work, he was rewarded with 2 healthy specimens, very welcome addition to the Wildlife display.

After another fruitful 2 days, we again were following our previous route back to SBMA, SCTEX and NCLEX which will eventually lead us to Manila. My companions were eager to reach home and take a much needed sleep. And they would be rising up early again tomorrow, enthusiastic on planting what we got back for Wildlife, securing Zambales is very much well represented in the proposed botanic park.