Friday, April 29, 2011

The Lacquered Bloomer

Quick post: My Vanda merrillii is in flower! This unique Philippine endemic orchid has dark color and a built-in sheen looking like it has varnish cover. It is very interesting.

I am writing too much about orchids lately, aren't I? I am a what you could say a late-bloomer as an orchid collector. Now that most are in their blooming season, I am very much gaga over them. Orchids rule!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

At a Stroke of a Pencil

Quickpost: This long weekend is a slow one, hoping to be doing less and hoping I spend most of it at home. But after just a day of resting, I had to bring out my old colored pencils and sketch. Orchids were the lucky choice of subject.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Plants Versus Monsters

It is Holy Week. To commemorate I usually blog about Palm Sunday or my Visita Iglesia experience. This time I will still write about the palaspas and some other plant products, but under a different light, or should I say under the cover of the forces of darkness.

Since I was a kid I have always been afraid of the supernatural. I still yet have to see with my own eyes ghosts, monsters or goblins but I have had some unexplained experiences which contributed to my continuing belief of their existence. Even now that I am much older and presumably wiser, the skeptic in me have not yet overshadowed my childhood superstitions. Upto now I could still imagine that there are ghosts coexistng with us in our own house. I am still afraid to come near a termite hill thinking the nuno sa punso might cast a bad curse on me. I still find myself uttering 'tabi-tabi po' to excuse my disturbing the resident elementals. I still knock on wood 3 times whenever I feel that there is something there out-of-the-ordinary.

My superstitions are intensified whenever it is Holy Week. Eversince I saw the 'Manananggal' episode in 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' movie (remember the one with Herbert Bautista and Irma Alegre?), I associate Good Friday as Happy Hour for the supernaturals - the witching hour. The movie banked on the premise that our Saviour, Jesus Christ, dies on the cross at 3PM on Good Friday. Thus they say that evil spirits and supernatural powers become much more stronger because of the absence of God. Thus it has been customary for mangkukulams and mambabarangs (local witches and shamans) to convene on this Holy day and test their powers because of this paganistic belief. It is also why some people test the strength of talismans and anting-antings during Good Friday - (believers would bury an anting-anting under the ground, draw a circle above it and fire bullets into the circle - finding an unblemished circle effective).

Going back to the movie, it probably was one that really left a mark in my conciousness regarding aswangs. It showed how the protagonist character played by Bautista fought with the resident manananggal over the Good Friday witching hour. In the process he had found effective ways to battle the winged half-bodied harpie. In the end, good still triumphed over evil, usually the case in old Philippine movies. It however for me painted a good array of Pinoy practices against the supernatural. In my research about trees and other plants, I found the same things in that movie still believed in a lot of parts in the archipelago.

Probably the most widely used ingredient to drive away evil spirits is the reliable garlic. Eversince the plant was introduced to Philippine culture and local cuisine, it was also utilized to give protection against aswangs and other local monsters. Usually rural houses never run out of garlic not because of its culinary versatility. They are hung on windows and doorways to ward off the unwanted supernaturals. In some provinces, the cloves are blackened to intensify the smell. They are then inserted into cloth packets and pinned on children's clothes.

I remember a college friend telling me once of her encounter with a manananggal. When she was in high school she went home to her hometown in Quezon. She and a childhood boy friend decided to jog in the wee hours of the morning. They followed the main avenue where there were newly installed street lamps. Whenever they passed a lit lamp, a shadow of a large bat was cast down on them, sending shivers into her spine. She was afraid to ask her companion what the shadow was as it might also stir some unexpected reactions. So they continued on to jog till they reached the house of another friend. Once they entered the house, she asked her companion if he noticed the shadow that was cast on them. He said he was almost certain it was a manananggal and he then showed her the cloves of garlic he had hidden in his pocket. Of course she was thankful for her friend's foresight and for the garlic.

Another anti-aswang weapon used in the movie was the Holy Week staple palaspas. Every Catholic would know the importance of this symbol in welcoming Jesus Christ into the festivities of commemorating the important religious holiday. As far as Pinoy's could remember, palm fronds are woven into the intricate art of palaspas, which are waved and fluttered on Palm Sunday mass. The blessed Palaspas is usually taken home and used as the household's protection against evil spirits and bad omens, usually placed at the entry door to the house. It stays there for the whole year till a new palaspas is made and blessed. The old-to-be discarded palaspas is then char-burned and used by the church as ash for Ash Wednesday or in some other religious rites. Some could be kept in a small container and used as a talisman.

There are other plants still found in an albularyo's apothecary basket. Some we will surely encounter and tackle in future blogs. But what is surprising is that even in this era's advance technology we still find people believing in what they could not explain like the aswangs and the manananggal. The 'Shake, Rattle and Roll' movie is also decades old but the fright it brings about the supernatural is still fresh especially in the provinces. Little has changed, a part of Philippine culture which progress could not remedy. As for me I still am slightly beleaguered with fright when Good Friday comes. Will probably sleep in the coming nights with a clove of garlic tucked under my pillow - just in case.

(Manananggal art from Movie poster picture from Picture of Irma Alegre as mananaggal was lifted from Uro Dela Cruz's Multiply site.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jasper and his Antherostele

I would like to congratulate our friend in PNPCSI, Jasper Obico, who earned his masteral degree in botany. After years of work on his thesis, he defended it with flying colors. And last Sunday he finally paraded in the U.P. amphitheater along with this year's crop of the country's top hopefuls.

Incidentally, Jasper's thesis was about the taxonomy of a particular genus that is proudly Philippine endemic - Antherostele. Antherostele are related to coffee and the familiar santan, all belong to the family Rubiaceae. But unlike the last mentioned, members of this particular genus are all presently confined naturally within Philippine bounds, meaning you won't find it in any other country. And Jasper literally went around the archipelago to find the recorded species, document them and update their taxonomy. Not an easy job since these rubiacs are found deep in our forests ranging from Ilocos to the Visayas. Shows Jasper's passion and dedication to further botanize Philippine flora.

Well done, Jasper! May you influence more students to be sentinels and defenders of our forests.

(Pictures of Jasper and Antherostele callophylla were downloaded from Jasper's Facebook account.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Jade Vine on Steroids

My friend, Cathe Nadal, just posted pictures of our field trip to Tagaytay. It reminded me that I have not posted any of my own pictures of the trip, which was already a month ago. I chaperoned with Cathe, Ibay and Nappy the LArch 19 class on their immersion cum exam excursion to the Tall Lake rim. We visited the higher elevation landscapes of Sonya's Garden, Calle Ruega and Nuvali. The students got to feast their eyes on the more colorful plants which do well in the cooler climates of higher elevations, a luxury lowland Manila do not enjoy. Courtesy of Ma'am Cathe, they also got to sketch them.

Flowers were everywhere, probably because it was also the blooming season for most tropical plants. Species seem to have a more vigorous growth in the highlands enjoying the good temperature and moisture. Most plants seemed to be in steroids especially the vines, which had profuse flowers. One plant which is proudly Pinoy was in full display mode, which rarely does so in lower altitudes like in Metro Manila. Too bad because it has such unique pendant inflorescence which is bluish green, which is a rare color in most flowers. This is tayabak or Strongylodon macrobotrys, the famed Philippine-endemic jade vine.

I have seen jade vines before but have not seen specimens with more than 3 flower clumps. The sprays of jade sickle-shaped blooms are impressive enough as it is, but to see a whole trellis full of them wa really spectacular. The plants in both Sonya's Garden and Calle Ruega were in their element that day, superbly providing the already awesome landscape with an added wow factor. For me, coming to the trip was already worth the effort just seeing the jade vines. But knowing these Philippine forest marvels are already out there for people to cherish and enjoy was elation to the max!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

To the Westernfront We Went!

I am sure you guessed from my last posts that I just came from Palawan. I did not go to this place for my thesis because I am afraid of malaria. But after gathering much courage and an intake of prophylaxis, I found
myself boarding the plane, going off to Puerto Princesa. I came with my friend Pinky's family to share the expenses. Travel advice: travelling is expensive, but if you find travelmates to share the cost of lodging and transpo with, it becomes much more manageable. Plus it makes the trip much enjoyable if you have people to share the fun with.

So our group immediately was whisked away to El Nido town where we spent the next 3 days. Geography note: El nido is up north while Puerto Princesa is at the center of Palawan mainland. Puerto Princesa faces the Sulu Sea while El Nido cove opens up to the much bigger South China Sea. To get to El Nido from P. Princesa you have to travel 6 hours by land thru sometimes rough terrain to very winding roads through forests, towns and coastlines. But once you get the glimpse of the El Nido landscape, the trip is well worth every dizzy spell or butt ache you get from the land journey. We had to do the 6 hour trip twice as we went back to Puerto on our last day to see the world renowned underground river, a real must-see for any tourist. I always thought this attraction was very cheezy but once you get there, you will find it enchanting! Every bit of it.

I always thought Palawan is wild country. But by the shape of what landscape we witnessed, it is well on its way to development. Roads are cutting through mountains and forests. Dipterocarps are very visible, showing their bare roots, with the absence of groundcover. Some ground parts are red because of exposed soil with lots of wood shavings. Native species giving way to Gmelina arborea, Acacia auriculiformis and Swietenia macrophylla especially on these roadsides and inhabited places. It won't be long that much of these lands are encroached by villages and agriculture lands. If this continues, all of the mystique that wild Palawan holds may vanish. The unique flora and fauna will suffer if their native habitat is continuously being exploited. There may not be any more beautiful places for tourists to visit. Palawan will just become like any other ordinary place.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sanggumay Bloom to the Max

Quick post: I was going to the DENR compound in Puerto Princesa when I chanced upon this sanggumay (Dendrobium anosmum) in full spectacular bloom. I noticed immediately the colors from afar and the scent I could smell from about 50 meters away. I may have said that sanggumay is not entirely fragrant but this one really filled up the surroundings with its unique sanggumay odor. It was far agreeable than what I could remember from previous sanggumay encounters.

This sanggumay specimen is probably the most heavily burdened with flower specimen I've seen so far. People taking care of it needed to prop up the flower stalks to maximize the appreciation of its blooms. It is really a winner!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Palawan Cherry Dilemma in Palawan

The Palawan cherries are again in bloom! I have seen it flower in Manila Seedling bank for how many years back. So when I finally got to see them in bloom right smack in Palawan, it was double excitement. As soon as our van drove out of the airport driveway, the pink-flowered trees appeared one by one, lining the main avenue going to the city center. The trees were jampacked with the heaping clusters of flowers which most of the time over power whatever leaf remnants there were present.

But seeing more than just one specimen in Palawan, I perceive there are more than just one plant considered by residents as the balayong, or Palawan cherry. There are at least two varieties. In the past week that I was in Puerto Princesa and the succeeding towns up north, I encountered two types of trees which locals call the local cherry. One is similar to trees lining Manila Seedling. Another had a darker shade of pink. But both are heavily blossoming at this very moment.

I am not yet sure which of the two is Cassia x Palawan cherry or Cassia nodosa, both of which are the pinned botanical names of the balayong. I am also not certain if they are pure species or just cultivars. It is even argued if the balayong is in fact a native tree in Palawan. The late Leonard Co even did not consider balayong native to Palawan. Yes, there are lots of the tree present in Palawan mainland. But the individuals I saw were growing mostly in inhabited places. There were also some growing amidst wooded areas but also very proximic to public roadways. I asked one local if the trees in their area were natural, he said most of them were planted when they paved the main highway. They are even sometimes dispersed with mahoganies and knife acacias which also are truly non-natives of Palawan and the Philippines.

The first five photos are of Palawan cherry suspect no 1. The last 3 photos are of suspect no. 2. Both are very fine landscape specimens, may it be in Palawan or any other city. Just have to make sure that if it is not native it will not creep into the ecology of our fragile forests and disrupt its balance.