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.

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