Friday, November 2, 2012

The Cemetery Tree

Kalachuchi tree in North Cemetery
I heard that more than a million people visited their departed loved ones in the Manila North Cemetery today.  I was one of them. Indeed you could easily see that mobs would have reached the estimated number as there was literally a sea of people going in and out of the cemetery. We literally had to go with the flow just to get in, as the crowds were coming in tides.

The North Cemetery scene I saw was far from what I remember experiencing every November 1, when I was working for Heritage Park. The latter is still open space compared to the crowded and more ancient cemetery. But I found something similar between the two despite the great difference. It is the kalachuchi which was extensively used as street planting in both.

Kalachuchi sheds its leaves anually
Kalachuchi are several species or varieties belonging to the genus Plumeria. They are native to Central and South America. Internationally, the kalachuchi is known as frangipani. According to Dr. Domingo Madulid, the plant reached the Philippines in the Spanish period via the galleon trade.  Even its name is proof of it being introduced because it was derived from the Plumeria's Mexican (Aztec) name (from the book Flora Filipina from Acapulco to Manila - Alvina and Madulid) .

White kalachuchi flowers
The kalachuchi has become ubiquitous in Metro Manila and the rest of the Philippines because it was easy to propagate and has become popular as an ornamental.  You'll find various color varieties growing in street landscapes, public parks and numerous gardens.  But unfortunately, they can be seen growing naturalized along our coastal areas, dispersed among our native flora.  I personally witnessed a dense inaccessible cliffside in Puerto Galera splashed with white flowers, only to discover that the blooming trees were stands of kalachuchi.

Kalachuchi trees dispersed among Dracaena and other native flora in a cliff in Mindoro
Spoon-shaped Plumeria pudica 
A few years ago, I gifted a collector friend with a cutting of the new Plumeria pudica from my own garden. He brought it to his province and planted them in their house. Five years later I visited their house and he already had several small trees growing in their property. Not only that, the neighbor's house also was sporting a specimen. Illustrates how the kalachuchi probably had steadily spread around the country because of its revered beauty.

The white kalachuchi or Plumeria obtusa is one of the most commonly seen in urban gardens.  It has also become a favorite to plant in cemeteries probably because of the pure color of its flowers and the lesser maintenance required. Based on this fact, most superstitious home-owners would not prefer to keep kalachuchi in the house garden. But even this did not stop it from becoming one of the most popular trees used in landscaping.  Too bad because it is NOT NATIVE

Kalachuchi is a member of the dogbane family Apocynaceae.  It includes beautiful natives like baraibai (Cerbera manghas), bayag-usa (Voacanga) and the stately dita (Alstonia scholaris), which are notable substitutes for this exotic.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My Sunshine Ground Orchid

Flowering leafless plant
In the last Philippine Orchid Society show, I was convinced by collector Ernie Alvaran to buy a flower-less ground orchid he claims to have yellow flowers. He said it is Spathoglottis vanoverberghii,  It was sold in the Purificacion Orchids stall with 3 small bulbs and the grasslike leaves typical for the genus. Gave him the benefit of the doubt and purchased a pot. And when I brought it home,the next day I found that my pet rabbits ate away the leaves leaving only the bulbs.  I was very much saddened.

Flower detail
But a week after I found the bare bulbs bringing out not leaves but two flower stalks.  A month after it opened with the very first yellow blooms. After a couple of weeks, the ground orchid still continues to bloom with delicate sunshine-colored flowers.  Good thing I listened to good old Ernie.

I was told that unlike other Spathoglottis spp., S. vanoverberghii does lose its leaves before it flowers.  Just not sure if my rabbite induced the plant to flower after turning its leaves into dinner.