Thursday, July 29, 2010

Finally to the Land of Pili

I was asked to chaperone a masteral class to a field trip to Sorsogon. Because of a few personal reasons I declined but at the last minute decided to join the group. After all I have not been to that part of the Philippines, Bicol, where the pili trees grow wild.

At 7 am we touched down the tarmac of Legaspi airport. We were hopeful because Mayon volcano's still almost perfect cone was visible while the plane made its descent. But on the runway, most of it was already blocked from view by some low clouds. The sky was semi clear promising lesser chance of rain (which we were very thankful for). Nine of us were picked up in Legaspi by the staff of Senator Chiz Escudero. We were there to collect data for the class's landscape evaluations and the Sorsogon staff of the senator's office was so generous in hosting us.

I have seen quite a number of pili trees, Canarium ovatum, specimens in and around Metro Manila but I have not seen specimens in its natural geographic distribution, Bicol. In Sorsogon the ubiquitous species is practically everywhere. Plus the pili products are very much available.

The difference of trees seen in Manila? Most trees I saw in Bicol have bigger leaves, probably because they are more ancient, with wider trunks and crowns. But smaller individuals are also common as pili is being promoted as both landscape tree and reforestation species, which is good news. At least in Bicol there is another alternative to the famous mahogany.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pinoy Bonsai Culture

A few weeks ago I attended and lectured in a new local bonsai group's annual show. I could not recall the name of the new group but the show was helmed by no less than Mr. Mody Manlicmot who maintains the bonsai center in UP. Like previous plant shows it had an exhibit portion where they showcased some of the best and well kept dwarfed trees. Based on the exhibited plants, the Philippine-ized Japanese tradition is still alive and well-kicking in the local scene, with the kick ass living bonsai art pieces.

My friend Ronald Achacoso once told me that bonsai may not be for the Filipino culture. Though we have the artistic prowess and talent, we collectively did not have the discipline and patience required for bonsai art. The constant pruning and shaping are taxing for most Pinoy hobbyists, though some may have the knack in spotting, shaping and maintaining these precious trees.

Bonsai keeping in the Philippines is still primarily a business rather than art form. Most people ending up owning the painstaking bonsai specimen may end up having them mishapen or worse, die under their care. One case is the local tree species bantigue or Pemphis acidula, which is a coastal species. Specimens would require regular saltwater application. Bantigue bonsais in the garden often are neglected of this need and left to luck to survive.

The exhibit had more bonsai-d native species than just favorite bantigue. Each tree was very much artfully crafted. I could say that the artists and owners of these exhibited bonsais looked like they are properly providing the utmost care and maintenance needed for these trees to aesthetically live on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Hope of Mainstreaming Native Tree Species

Last week a two-day seminar on Mainstreaming Native Tree Species for Reforestation was held in NISMED in UP. It was attended by a mixed group of people, from plant and animal conservationists, design professionals, foresters, horticulturists, botanists, bird enthusiats, plant hobbyists to academicians and many more. I would say it was well attended by the who's who in the topic, the usual faces I see and hear about when we talk about forest conservation and biodiversity. For more details on what transpired and discussed within the seminar, visit

Regarding the seminar, I personally learned a lot from the people who shared their experiences in native tree reforestation, especially the accounts given by different forester groups and cooperatives. Inspiring were affirmations coming from local groups and NGO's. But my concern is that most of them discussed what little species they got to plant in their reforestation plots, and yet somehow some of the exotic staples still crept into their plant lists. I wonder if they know these are non natives or just passed off as indigenous trees. I never got the chance to inquire how these groups acquired their education and information regarding the claimed native species which they plant in their demo sites.

The clear culprit of the seminar was Swietenia macrophylla or mahogany, which was elevated to villain status in native tree conservation. The runner up was Gmelina arborea or yemane. But I am not sure if the lay-men participants are aware that the likes of Muntingia calabura (aratiles), Mangifera indica (mango), Lansium domesticatum (lanzones), Leucaena leucocephala (ipil-ipil), Sandoricum koetjape (santol), Nephelium lappaceum (rambutan is a Malaysian variety but lately a variant was discovered in Palawan) are exotic, not naturally found in Philippine landscapes but were historically introduced by man to the archipelago. A little light should be shed on this to truly have a ray of hope for native species reforestation.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Before They Became Trees, They were Seeds

We rarely see pictures of seeds so I am posting images of some native tree seeds for easy identification for those who are interested.

First are seeds of tindalo or Afzelia rhomboidea. These came from trees in San Miguel, Bulacan, in the farm of Reynold Sioson. I was advised to scarify (don't know if this was even a word but heard the term from plant enthusiasts meaning manually inflict scarring) the hard surface to induce early germination. I did by rubbing them on sandpaper and soaking the seeds overnight in tap water. True enough they germinated in the following weeks. I received 20 seeds and about half sprouted.

Next is kulatingan or Pterospermum obliquum, which also came from Reynold. These I easily planted in organic soil mix and about a handful germinated after a month they were planted.

In the past month I have been posting pics of lipote or Syzygium polycephalum. Its seeds have very short shelf life and should be planted fresh. To preserve them longer, they could be kept moist or in a damp area. Unplanted seeds readily germinate with a very high success ratio.

A cousin of tindalo is the endemic supa or Sindora supa. the seeds are also encased with a hard cover. They could be scarified and soaked in tap water overnight resulting to a fast and high yield germination ratio. If scarification is not done, seed may take a number of months before it sprouts a seedling. It may even take as long as ayear after planting.

Last for this installment are the nuts of lumbang or Aleurites moluccana. Trees profusely bear fruits and eventually the nuts whcih later fall on the ground. I am not sure if the bounty of this year's fruits will easily germinate. But most fruiting trees I saw would have numerous wildlings growing under mother tree's shade.

I will post more seed pictures in the next days. But for now I hope the people who were lucky acquire the seeds mentioned would be aided by the few tips mentioned. Happy planting!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Caged King

I was looking for a particular native tree in Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife last Sunday. It was baguilumbang or Reutealis trisperma. I was told it was in fruit so I came hopeful to collect some seeds. I did not find it. Instead I saw a very rare glimpse of the famed Philippine monkey-eating eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi, the king of the Philippine skies.

It was only recently that the Philippine eagle was bred in captivity. The eagle in NAPWC was transferred from the Raptor Center in Makiling. It was a sad sight to see it behind a screened confinement but the majestic bird still commands a sigh from spectators. Its size was magnificent and the wingspan was spectacular even if the eagle's flight spurs were very short due to the limited cage space. I consider myself lucky to see this amazing Philippine species but I hope not to see another one caged again. But I look forward to seeing another against the canopy of large dipterocarp trees and the blue sky. Another hurray for optimism.

Monday, July 5, 2010

For the Children...

I passed by Jardin Isabel the other day over in U.P. and saw these children laughing and having fun while viewing the fish in the main garden pond. Just made me think what a garden should be doing, letting people enjoy it. The garden is the reflection of nature in any house. Children should be let to run around them and enjoy the outdoors.

On the other hand, there may come a time when gardens are the only places to see trees and nature. This should not be. We should save our trees and our forests, so our children and their children would still get to enjoy them.

Nutting Season

Quick post! It's pili season once more! Every year my cousin would send us a sack of pili fruits from trees growing in their Cavite property. This year their pili trees did not disappoint as the sack came. Our Bicolano kasam-bahay would usually strip out the fleshy part, crack the shell and eat em raw.

Pili or Canarium ovatum is an endemic tree to Luzon and parts of Samar. The trees are quite big and in my book quite attractive for any garden.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Native Santans

The other week, Reynold Sioson, who owns Cocomangas Farm in San Miguel, Bulacan, gave me freshly germinated seedlings of a native Ixora, I. philippinensis. It reminded me that Mike Asinas pledged to donate a specimen of it to the Wildlife demo plot. Mike has been reminding me about it for quite sometime now and I keep on forgetting to arrange for its pick up. Finally, I did last Saturday.

Ixora is the genus of a very popular plant which is commonly called santan. Santan is widespread cultivated as a landscape and garden plant. Flower colors would range from crimson red, yellow, orange to cream and pure white. Though we have our native varieties, none of these garden-popular santans are proudly Philippine native. The white variety is I. finlaysoniana, a Thai species. The red are either I. coccinea or I. javanica, respectively from China and Indonesia. Which makes you wonder why we have to look outside of our backyard just to find flowers for our gardens.

I was told that we have quite a number of Ixora species in our own Philippine forests. Some of them are quite attractive and worthy as garden specimens. We have just not discovered the potentials of these plants and harness them as our Asian neighbors did. So far I have seen 2 native species, Ixoras philippinensis and palawanensis.

Ixora philippinensis or kamingi is found in the remaining wooded areas of central and southern Luzon. It is a relatively bushy plant with the familiar santan flower umbels. The flower color is white which may not exactly be the most striking. But a flowering specimen is still very much worth a gardener's effort. The more attractive species is the Palawan santan, or Ixora palawanensis. It is endemic to a few islands of Palawan. The plant has remarkably delicate leaves and an unusual santan flower color, peach.

The peach colored Palawan santan picture is courtesy of Macy Anonuevo.