Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tugging the Line for Apong Iru

Today a former officemate, Precy Valenzuela, invited me again to experience the Apalit town fiesta. I obliged not only because I wanted to see and chat with Precy again but also witness the highlight of the Apalit festivities. Once a year the town's people would fetch the image of Apong Iru, or St. Peter, from his shrine downstream in the Pampanga River, and mount it on a waterborne float called pagoda. Apo Iru's pagoda will be tugged by his chosen knights. They swim the extent of the Pampanga River from almost the Calumpit Bulacan area to upstream Apalit, Pampanga. Then again after 3 days they repeat the task by bringing Apong Iru back to his shrine. I could only imagine that the task is excrutiating and tiring. But it is the Apalit resident's panata or sacrifice, to keep their tradition alive and kicking. And it is quite a sight to see.

This year I only got to see the trip back. Early in the morning they mount the Apong Iru image back to his pagoda and around noon, one by one the knights dove into the murky river water. Then with all their might the heaved and heaved and inch by inch the pagoda glided across the water. As if the weight of the water barge was not enough load to pull. Scores of devotees have also taken their choiced spots aboard the vessel, while escort boats encircle the pagoda's path.

Making the fluvial parade livelier are the spectators by the river bank shores, waving their guava branches at Apong Iru while the pagoda passes. It is also a tradition to do this and keep the guava leaves as a doubly effective medicine for stomach aches (probably because of Apo Iru's blessing). Though guava or bayabas (Psidium guajava) is not a Philippine native tree, it has been used by many pinoys as herbal and folkloric medicine.

To the Apalit people, Viva Apong Iru!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Palawan the Plant

I went with some international as well as local botanists to do some field work near Manila and their destination of choice was Laguna. We tried finding the nearest patch of forest to look for asclepiads (members of the subfamily Asclepiadaceae, native genus are Hoya and Dischidia) and figs (species of the genus Ficus). While they were trying to spot their specific plant targets near a stream valley, we came across probably one of the largest native aroids (members of the family Araceae which includes the common taro) which is palawan, or Cyrtosperma merkusii.

From what I know is Palawan the province was indeed named after this plant. C. merkusii is the largest Cyrtosperma in the world, hence it is another unique plant found in the Philippines. It grows in the boggy parts of the Luzon forest, particularly in Quezon to Bicol. In fact the Bicolanos treat it as a root crop and cultivate it for its starchy tuber. They prepare it probably with gata, similar how they eat taro or gabi, Colocasia esculenta, which is also native in the Philippines.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Birdwatchers' Lingo'

Let us see if I got this right, and I apologize if I mentioned the word 'bird' too much.

I went tree-hunting with Cel Tungol and ended up bird-watching in U.P. In the process I learned that a 'spark' is that bird species which made you like birds in general, more like your 'bird at first sight'. A 'lifer' is the the bird that made you become a bird-hobbyist, in more popular terms, a bird-watcher. A 'twitcher' is a person who goes out of his way to spot birds, ultimately an avid bird-watcher.

Well, I still am to spot my lifer and a long way from becoming a twitcher. But indeed I got to see my spark that day. Cel said it was a coppersmith barbet (Megalaima haemacephala). It was peeking from a very small hole on an acacia tree (Samanea saman, not native). I was surprised that even how small this bird was (barely the size of my fist), the twitchers seemed to have had ease spotting it.

There were a lot of the avid bird-watchers that day, with their sophisticated birdwatching equipment aimed at the barbet's tree hole. Once the small bird emerged, cameras immediately snapped and clicks were almost simultaneously and successively heard. in a matter of seconds the commotion was over as the barbet flew into the cover of the acacia tree and away into the bright blue sky. After it, I was surprised how vividly wonderful the pictures captured by these hobbyists. were Indeed all the fantastic images was worth the twitcher's wait and trouble, which made me understand the rewards a bird-hobbyist gets. Birds are fascinating, but for now I'll stick to my tree 'lifers'. Oh yeah, Cel and I indeed got to see our own non-bird finds that day, a banuyo tree (Wallaceodendron celebicum) in flower. It was being nested on by another bird species, but that in itself is another story.

The spectacular coppersmith barbet pictures was from Cel Tungol. My own camera is not equiped to take such astounding bird images.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Seed Surprise

Quick post: I remembered looking at the lipote seeds which I collected 2 weeks ago. I had them placed inside a microwaveable plastic container with lid shut and sealed. Now they have already sprouted with the roots creeping into the cotyledons of other seeds. It was time to give them away to the joy of some friends. I still have a few if anyone still interested to grow them.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pinoy Cymbidium Orchids

Quick post: Two native Cymbidium species are in flower in friends' gardens. Cymbidium is a genus of garden popular orchids, especially varieties developed and used in Hawaii (developed from showy species coming from China and South Asia). Here in Manila, they are overshadowed by the more common Dendrobiums, Vandas and Phalaenopsis. From what I previously know there are only 2 species of Cymbidiums native to the country. But orchid aficionado Wally Suarez said that now there are about 8 species recognized native of the Philippines.

The two species in flower are the reddish colored Cymbidium atropurpureum and the drabber (yellow and reddish brown) C. finlaysonianum. Both seem to be easy to rear even in the lowland gardens of Manila. They thrive and flower even with neglect. They are nice additions to a tropical garden, even when not in bloom.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Non Native Trees: Bad Macopa Superstition

One of the favorite trees to plant in any Pinoy backyard is macopa. Some Pinoys believe that it is quite lucky to plant a macopa in front of the house because unlike most fruiting trees, the macopa fruit does not undergo a sour stage. The fruit goes from bland to semi sweet as it ripens. Thus superstition would follow that macopa would not cast any sour ill-effects to family relations within the household. As a gardener I used to favor planting macopa in any garden because of the bright red fruits, until I learned it is not a Philippine native.

Macopa or Syzygium samarangense is a native of Malaysia. Some literature would claim that it is also native to the Philippines, but field botanists say otherwise as it could not be found wild in our forests. But macopa has long been naturalized in our country to the point that some escaped cultivation. It could be found almost in all islands, growing in areas close to communites and civilization.

One macopa superstition I heard was told to me by a friend. He says that macopa trees when planted in front of the household could inhibit the family members to marry relating his own anecdote. He has 7 other siblings and they all lived in their ancestral house which had 2 macopa trees standing flanking the gate. An acquaintance once told their mom that they should cut off the macopas as it would prevent her offsprings to marry. And indeed no one among the 8 siblings got married. Then in a typhoon, one of the two macopas was fallen. Then after, 4 of the 8 siblings amazingly made their trip down the marital aisle. To date the surviving tree still stands in front of their property...and the remaining 4 still remains unwed.

So what could be a better alternative to plant in lieu of the macopa? The country is the epicenter of Syzygium occurence. We are said to have about 200 species of Syzygium which some are much more attractive than macopa. It is about time that we start knowing these macopa relatives and explore their viability in garden use.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's Lipote Season Once More

I have been following this particular lipote tree (Syzygium polycephalum) in my cousin's Silang, Cavite house. Ever since we discovered it has been fruiting 3 years ago, I always look forward to seeing the fruits. Usually it is about this time and this year, the tree did not disappoint us. The lipote again is in full fruit force!

There is something marvelous about seeing a lipote tree in fruit. For one it looks very different from the familiar duhat because the fruit are borne near the branches. In botanical terms it is caulicarpic, or stem fruit bearing. The lipote fruits appear like plump grapes growing on a tree.

Since there is abundance in fruit, I tried making the most of it and picked up the fallen fruits for their viable seeds. Hopefully the seeds I get would later become seedlings to share with willing foster gardeners. If successful, will ask again who would want to rear seedlings of one of our nicer native fruiting trees to keep in the garden. Wish me the luck and patience!