Sunday, July 31, 2011

How to Eat Mabolo without the Added Fuzz

Mabolo fruit
This is my second time to eat mabolo. First time was yesterday when I saw it being served in the Barretto-David household in Zambales. They cut it in a way I have never seen before and I thought it was another fruit.
Halved fruit looks like an apple
To my surprise they said mabolo.  I have always known mabolo to have a fuzzy exterior thus I equate eating it similar to santol. You break the skin and you eat the fleshy parts, which is actually disgusting.  You see and feel the velvety skin.  You could also smell the overpowering scent of it.  that is why I never actually tried to even taste the fruit before.

Quartered and peeled fruits
Today I asked our cook Edison to prepare the mabolos which the Davids gave me to bring back home.  First he cut the fruit into quarters then to eighth portions. He removed the large seeds from the sectioned fruit parts. Then he ran the knife very close to the peel to cut out the fleshy part from the velvety skin.  After which I asked hime to place it inside the ref till eating time. A few minutes after we enjoyed the mabolo without the hairy exterior and the strong smell. Yum!

Ready to enjoy!
Mabolo is Diospyros blancoi syn. D. philippinensis and D. discolor. The tree is sometime referred to as kamagong. Though it is closely related to persimmons, the fruit is commonly called velvet apple.  I always thought that it was called such because it has a velvety exterior. But finally eating it similar to the way an actual apple is prepared, made me realize that mabolo tastes somewhat like what else, an apple.  But when you place it in your mouth, the texture is smoother than the crumbly feel of the real apple.  It is a rather enjoyable fruit to eat, which I would look forward to in the next seasons to come.        

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It is Time for Sambong!

A wild bushy sambong
Is it obvious that I have been house bound because of the rain? For one I have been regularly posting in my blog, in between doing other stuff in my computer and watching the Planet Earth documentaries.  Well that is how Philippine climate works for you.  You get a little rain and a lot of school holidays. Well, I am not complaining, hehehe.

Since it looks like we are pushing deep into the rainy season, I bet the old folks are already looking for a stash of sambong to usher in the 'cold' season, stress on cold as it doesn't only mean cool weather but also the time for sore throat and runny nose.  Reminded me to post pictures of the sambong for easy recognition, if you do decide to go out in the rain and find one.

Terminal tips
Sambong or Blumea balsamifera is a Philippine native. I have encountered it as a weed in a lot of places, like the lahar stricken banks of Zambales, watershed Ipo Dam and even the empty lots near U.P. Diliman.  The leaves are quite nice with a silvery sheen but the plant is too lanky to qualify as a garden ornamental.  But I have visited a lot of households which chose to keep a potted sambong just because of its medicinal value. Tea prepared from the sambong is used to cure cold or act as an expectorant.  For more info on its medicinal value, search .

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Introducing the Candidates for Floral Beauty...

My last poll was about the sampaguita and how it is our national flower yet it is not native. There are other much more beautiful native flowering plants and i listed a few for people select one as probable candidate to replace sampaguita:
Waling waling clumps in a garden show
1. Waling-waling or Euanthe sanderiana - the queen of orchids
2. Katmon or Dillenia philippinensis, one of the showiest flowering trees
3. Bagawak morado or Clerodendrum quadriculare, one of the most colorful flowering shrubs
4. Kamuning or Murraya paniculata, one of the most fragrant
5. Rafflesia sp., one of the biggest flowers

The choice by 60 percent of respondents was waling-waling while the remaining flowers all got 10 percent of votes.

Waling-waling is a symbol of pride in Davao
Probably more than being a national flower, the waling-waling or Euanthe sanderiana should become a national cause. It is considered the queen or ornamental orchids yet it is nearing extinction in its native range. The remaining population is hanging by a thread, being protected by insurgency in Mindanao. We wouldn't want to see the native orchid reduced to specimens grown in gardens and worse, in nurseries outside of the country as other Southeast Asian countries have better breeding programs for the waling-waling.

Hybrid of waling-waling
In the the duration of this poll, other natives were also nominated to be included but the settings of the poll could not anymore be changed when voting started. Just goes to show that we have far more deserving candidates as national flower, and we truly have forests blessed with a diversity of beautiful species.

The next poll is up!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Elusive Tuko in the Limelight

I was in Amarela Resort in Bohol when I read an article in the Inquirer regarding the native tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) or tuko. We were about to take our dinner in the Amarela resto, where I previously knew plays home to a few tukos. I asked the waiters in charge where the geckos are. They were in their usual hiding places, on top of the bar and behind one of the art frames in the function hall. In Amarela, they are already a fixture. I regretted telling my niece, Cydney, that there were tukos hiding near where we will eat our dinner. She got scared of them. Hers was the wise reaction to the tokay gecko.

In the Inquirer article, it said that giant tokays could fetch ridiculous amounts of money. It also cited that it is coveted because of the healing properties it has to cure serious ailments. I am not sure if these are even true. From what I know, they are valued more as curiosity pets because of their weird large heads and eyes, and their colorful bodies. Collectors and reptile hobbyists are the ones that value them the most.

But if you see a tuko upclose, I think you should be more frightened. It is much larger than the house gecko we have learned to live with in our own homes. From what I have heard it could crawl on you and stay stuck, clinging tightly onto your clothes or skin. To remove it you should stun it with the lighted end of a cigarette. Personally, if I see a tuko living at our own house, I probably won't feel comfortable till I drive it out the premises.

Probably the tuko hype will attract a few entrepreneuring Pinoys to trap specimens in the provinces. In the internet, there are sites selling specifically 300-grams-and-above-weighing tokays, which were the ones said preferred to use as wonder remedy. I hope the tukos would stay stuck to where they are and give these exploiters a hard time. May the geckos cling on to them till their thick skins get peeled off!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This Year's Seed Bounty

It is the season to collect seeds again. Most trees are in fruit, which means it is time to bring out the gloves and ziplocks. And I did.

Seed no.1 is from a Visayan tree called banilad or Sterculia comosa. I found trees of this species lining the Libaong Beach in Panglao. Everytime I get the chance to go back there, I collect the seeds falling from two specimens. Timing has to be right as I am in stiff competition with the starlings that frequent the trees. Not sure though if the birds do eat the nut-looking seeds.

Another tree from Libaong beach is anan (Visayan) or balinghasay (Tagalog). Buchanania arborescens is a coastal tree that I have seen growing in limestone formations from Zambales to Bohol. The fruits are berry-like which later dry up to a crisp. I will not extract the seeds anymore and plant the dried fruits straight into a pot.

Seed no. 3 is from another coastal species, Dodonaea viscosa or kalapinai, which I heard could rival mangkono in wood hardness. The trees have fine leaves and are quite attractive. The seeds are very minute specks enclosed in a paper like pod. I collected a few clumps of the pod but yielded only few viable seeds. Some of the pods were completely empty.

These are not coffee beans but rather the seeds of kanumai or a beach persimmon. Kanumai is Diospyros maritima, and is found in a lot of Visayan islands. They fruit profusely and the seeds cover a good area under the tree's shade. I've only managed to sift a handful of the small seeds from the fine beach sand. If I had more time I would have gotten a lot more.

Seed 5 is from my favorite tree, Reutealis trisperma or baguilumbang. Every year I try to get seeds coming from a specimen in the UP Beta way, but everytime I come late. The seeds have already germinated to seedlings which are harder to tranport (as I have to go straight home and replant them). This time I managed to get fruits from a tree in the DENR nursery. The fruits of baguilumbang are about the size of a santol, but the seeds are really big, almost the size of a chestnut.

The last but certainly not the least seeds are from Dillenia philippinensis or the much raved katmon. I was with members of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society when we found the tree specimen heavily burdened with fruits. The members could not resist tasting the sour fleshy part of the fruit and have taken a few back home with them. I got one to dissect and show the beautiful spiral carpels of the fruit. Tucked within them are the seeds which have a short shelf life. I will have to plant them soon if I expect them to germinate. I will also have to prepare pots for the other seeds to have a very nice bounty of seedlings to keep, exchange and share in the next coming months.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In the Forest of Good and Evil

There is a decades old problem in Philippine reforestation. We have been using non-native species to regreen our forests because these exotic species are previously known to be fast growing and would do the job with quick visible results. We thought because we filled the gaps with trees (regardless what these trees are), we solved the problem. Thus we find introduced species like mahogany, gmelina, ipil-ipil and knife acacias encroaching to our protected areas housing our native flora and fauna. Little do we know that they disrupt the fragile ecology of our delicate endemic species. Little by little, the spaces that our native species were occupying are slowly being replaced by these exotics. And the government continues to do so till this day.

One fine example is Bohol's manmade forest. This forest of the non-native mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) is considered one of the province's major tourist attractions. It is a source of pride as it is a living proof of Bohol's accomplished environmental project. It was in 1968 when the local government asked students to plant the mahogany seedlings to reforest a portion of Billar town. Forty years after, the seedlings have grown to considerable size, forming a forest dominated by a single introduced species.

I remembered uttering the phrase 'parang wala ka sa Pilipinas' (as if you are not in the Philippines) when I first caught glance of the manmade forest. Now I understand why. It reminded me of a temperate zone woodlands where single or only a few species dominate because of low biodiversity. The usual Philippine rainforest would have a varied selection of trees as it has high biodiversity. But because the government is still maintaining the dominance of the mahogany, the native species are given less chance to repopulate the area. Fallen mahoganies are replaced with mahogany seedlings rather than letting the native species get a foothold and reestablish themselves.

But upon closer look, the native species are undoubtedly trying their best to reemerge. Native Pandanus species seedlings are growing under the shade of the tall mahoganies. Celtis seedlings are waiting for their chance to get their share of sunlight, which is hogged by the tall exotics. Osmoxylons are trying their very best to survive, trying to get whatever share of filtered light they could steal from the thick canopy. The natives are there patiently waiting.

If the Bohol people only planted native species in 1968, the manmade forest would have boasted large specimens of dipterocarps or perhaps kamagong by now and not these introduced mahoganies. Probably sometime in the future the locals would grow tired of maintaining the dominance of this exotic species. Hopefully when it happens, the dipteros and the natives like kalingag liitan, binunga, molave, antipolo and a selection of others would reclaim the land and repopulate. The great diversity of large native species would have been a better spectacle to see than the monotonous tall mahogany trunks visible in the manmade forest.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pinoy Yoda and a Cast of Bohol Universe Creatures

I have been to Bohol about 8 times and the last time was very long ago. I am back and this time it will be a leisure stay. I am accompanying my sister Carol and niece Cydney for a countryside getaway from hot Manila. Hopefully I could see stuff which I did not see in my previous visits and by the looks of what lies ahead, it sounds promising.

It is only now that I have seen the very cute tarsier, Tarsius syrichta. They could be found in four special stops over at Loboc town as tourist attraction. Our guide, Loy, said four local families were given special DENR permits to exhibit the the furry animals and we got to visit one of them. Here, the tarsiers are displayed along with an array of other Bohol fauna. Other mammals I could distinguish were the flying lemur, the Philippine civet and the Philippine macaque. All these animals could also be seen in some other Philippine islands and some neighboring Asian countries, but the tarsier and the flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans) are particularly identified with Bohol as they are considered as provincial 'animal logos'.

The tarsier is locally called maomag, but residents have gotten used to calling it by its English common name. It is so small and looks very cuddly. It reminds me of the diminutive Jedi master, Yoda, of Star Wars fame. But unlike Yoda, the tarsier's size suggest that they are quite delicate and fragile to handle. A caged wild-caught specimen would eventually kill itself by banging its head to death. From what I gather, the ones living inside this tourist stop are domesticated but not sure if they were captive-grown. They are kept in an open pen, clinging onto ornamental San Fransisco bushes (Codiaeum sp.). Tarsier specimens are not bound but they got used to being fed with crickets, so they do not escape.

The tarsiers look so helpless grabbing onto their chosen branches. While spectators go about snapping pictures of the poor animal, they continue on with their much needed rest. They are nocturnal so their sleep is always being disturbed by tourists who usually come in at day time. That is why it is prohibited to let tourist touch them. No flashes are allowed, so as not to irritate their large eyes. Poor tarsiers!

Having the same problem is the flying lemur or what locals call as kagwang. It is not related to real lemurs but belongs to the colugo family (which only has 2 members). It is also nocturnal. It hunts for prey at night by gliding from one tree top to the other. Here at their new home, they grew accustomed to being petted by people, only giving back an inquisitive glance.

On the other side of the spectrum, the macaques (Macaca fascicularis philippensis) on this wildlife stop are bound with ropes to a bamboo post. Unlike their 2 nocturnal neighbors, they could still be active in the daytime and would readily wander off to escape their sort of boundless prison.

Just imagine the lengths of what these animals would have to go through, just to educate us of their existence. In turn we are only amused with their cuteness and their unique appearances. Probably a number of them would still be hunted down and caged for our delight. More would be left homeless while our rainforests are continuously stripped of their resources. It would not be a good end for these unique Bohol creatures.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ang Kawawang Kalaw (This Poor Hornbill)!

Remember the image of this hornbill! The picture was posted by FB friend Dennis Dolojan citing his dilemma. It was offered for sale to him. Dennis is an environmentalist by heart, refused to buy it. But as he saw the seller scamper away with the poor bird, things were playing in his mind. Should he had bought it, he could have saved the bird and he himself could have set it out to freedom. But then again, if he did, he also encouraged the seller to trap and poach more birds. Either way he went, he loses. We all lose. But the one true loser is the Philippine forest, which this day has lost another hornbill in its life cycle. The poor bird will probably end up in a cramp cage in a rich spoiled brat's collection.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another Native One Bites the Dust

I was saddened passing by Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife. I saw they were cleaning and widening the open canals fronting Quezon Avenue probably to beautify the frontage. But in the process they uprooted my favorite tree, the native mambog or Mitragyna diversifolia. For the past 4 years I have been following the flowering season of this particular mambog as I have discovered that the pin-cushion flowers have a very potent nocturnal fragrance, much agreeable compared to Cestrum nocturnum or dama de noche. This is beside the fact that the tree has very nice arranged leaves and a clean conical crown. I wonder if the PAWB people even tried to save and ball the mambog. Would they even have known that it was M. diversifolia and a Philippine native?
All I have left are these nostalgic pictures of the tree in bloom. I will be less looking forward to summers again in NAPWC minus the blooming of the mambog specimen.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The UP Diliman Trees Up Close and Personal

I always say that any lecture with beautiful pictures and slides will not beat one which will bring you to the subject up close. I know that pictures could really say a thousand words, but the real thing could probably say it straight to the point, requiring lesser prose in the process. This is all so true in any tree lecture. The best way to appreciate and learn about trees is to walk through and among them, to examine, feel, touch, smell and even taste every tree's parts.

Last Saturday, about fifty people took part in the very first U.P. Diliman Native tree walk conducted by members of the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society. The walk which started from the foot of the famous Oblation, took participants from the sidelines of University Avenue, to the canopy cover of the UP lagoon, the Palma Hall pavilion trees and the MSI plot of Professor Ed Gomez. It took 3 hours to cover as much as 50 tree species including notable ones like ilang-ilang, antipolo, kalumpang, narra, dita, etc. I personally acted as tour guide and tried to serve everyone who joined with names, identification tips and cultural tidbits about the important native trees as well as the lesser (in my words, 'nevermind trees', hehehe) pertinent exotic species. I believe everyone left with a much better understanding on what trees are truly residents of our beloved Philippines, our real kababayans. But sadly we did not have time to cover other trees in areas like the Beta way, the Main Library, the colleges around sunken garden, the U.P. church, and Alumni Center. This would probably mean that there would be a second one to be conducted soon (hint!).

To all who joined the very first U.P. Diliman tree walk, my deepest gratitude for coming and learning more about native trees!

That Little House with the Cactus Flowers

It is just a simple house in the city. But my friend Bimbo has fashioned his cute little abode into a shabby chic shack of surprises by filling it up with stuff which no one would think could be beautiful anymore. He has an eye for rendered useless stuff which he could transform into gems. His modest castle in the heart of Quezon City is fully stacked with his art pieces.

Bimbo is also a gardener by heart. Since there was little space to garden, he transformed every available corner in his house into a possible place to plant his passion, cactus and succulents. As a result, his 2-storey home is planted literally to the roof with his thorny collections. All spaces are used to the fullest. A big person such as myself would have a hard time navigating through the free space he devoted as corridors. But still I braved squeezing my large built into narrow doors and passageways just to see his interesting plants and pieces. I even climbed the rickety ladder going to the roof where he had his most cherished possessions, the bigger Agaves.

All parts of the Bimbo's house are an attraction. His sidewalks are lined with plantboxes to keep the biggest plants in his extensive cactus and succulent collection. He planted his rare Agaves (genus originally from the Americas) in front to also serve as security fence (the intimidating thorns would probably do the deterring job). The slightly sensitive Aloes (natives of Africa) line the more secluded areas below the eaves. Hanging Plectranthus grow soilless on a gutter, appearing like a natural curtain. The very front door is an expression of his art, adorned with old handmade picture frames. Even an old chair Bimbo played around with by inserting aloes into viable planting holes.

Bimbos main collection are displayed meticulously on deck areas in front, at the back and on the the roof. He personally mixes his soil medium and chooses the containers for his more prized succulents. Pots he used for some are also artfully done, which some Bimbo hand-painted himself. Plants with offshoots, he readily separates which contributed to a well propagated number of specimens and varieties in his still growing stock. In no time at all the plants will completely cover every surface, if there are still any left available. This shows there are still numerous ways to integrate greens into very small living spaces. Bimbo painstakingly established his own way of urban greening in his small extents of his home. His creativity will probably prove to be more than just a eye candy for his community. It could be a treasure that more urban-gardeners could emulate.