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.

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