Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Regal Bloomer

The attractive violet blooms of D. victoria-reginae

Flowering leafless stalks 
D. victoria-reginae growing under a trellis
I've been wanting to see a flowering specimen of Dendrobium victoria-reginae, which is regarded as one of  the best native orchids of the Philippines. It is rare to find in Manila as conditions are too hot tfor it to bloom.  Today I was very lucky to see not one but two specimens of this orchid in bloom in the gardens surrounding Tagaytay. It is indeed beautiful with the bright violet flowers! They probably feel at home amidst the cool January breeze blowing into the Tagaytay rim.   

Return to the Artist's Garden

A new contrast of rustic yellow with the oriental blue of Chinese porcelain

A quaint sitting area against a large Osmoxylon 

Popo's studio
The pet dog's favorite spot
The last time I was in Popo San Pascual's garden was five years ago.  Today we found ourselves again driving through his gates and into his marvelous garden.  The artist is really indeed a plant lover as his plant collection remains lush.  The garden is with a few additions for the better.  He now has an Asian inspired archway adorned with porcelain oriental dishes. I never get tired visiting Popo's place with the rich detail and whimsical rustic character. 
Greens against the vibrance of other colors 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Name Game

Numerous spathes turning into seed capsules
Alocasia odora

Whenever I see a large biga I always assume that it is Alocasia macrorrhiza. But when I saw one in a ditch last week, Ray Ong called it by another scientific name, Alocasia odora.  He said that A. macrorrhiza is usually smaller and A. odora large.  But some botanists would lump it up all as A. macrorrhiza.  Another thing confusing is that in one location, there were different forms.  One is all green (leaves and stem), the other had brown speckled stems (regarded as zebra stripes hence the Latin monicker zebrina).  One even has more round leaves than the others. From afar they all look the same.  I wonder if all of them are A. odora...or A. macrorrhiza...or another species.

A grove of Alocasia

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Fountainhead Trees

I am blogging this because I promised my friend Faith Varona that I will write a blog about U.P.  I choose to blog about the balitbitan trees in the College of Architecture. 
The 3 balitbitan trees in Arki's atrium  
The balitbitan trees against the background of Arki's iconic yellow
Ten years after graduating college I decided to go back to school to take my Masters in Tropical Landscape Architecture.  I chose to apply in UPCA again and that was in 2005. At that time, the college had just transferred from its old facilities in Melchor Hall, above the College of Engineering. Arki's new home was a complex of two buildings, the refurbished CPDMO headquarters and a new drafting edifice beside it.   The renovated structure had an almost entirely concreted atrium in its design. At one side of the atrium were three empty square holes, where shade trees were intended to be planted. 

I remember that as a graduate school freshman, it was one of my teachers, Professor Zenaida Galingan, who was given the task of choosing a tree species to plant in the atrium.  At that time her team was perplexed what species to select as they were plagued with some limitations.  The planting holes were practically 1 square meter in area.  The holes were only a few meters apart.  Each of them is also shallow as the old building practically stands on an adobe foundation - which was hard to dig. And the BLA program personnel were more familiar with the popular landscape and nursery varieties which were dominated by exotic species. 

I think it was after a semester when I next heard that they have chosen a particular species to plant in the Arki atrium.  Their choice was a native tree called balitbitan or Cynometra ramiflora. The seedlings they would acquire were donations from a BLArch alumnae, UPLB Professor Susan Aquino Ong.  She visited the college to talk about the plight of her beloved leaning Dracontomelon dao tree in the UPLB, which was almost cut down because of its tilted growth. 

Honestly I was surprised to learn about the balitbitan choice.  For one I thought the tree is big and would probably not survive the confined growth because of the small planting hole.  It also does not have pretty flowers.  Apart from the appearance of the occasional white young leaves, the tree is unremarkable, except that it has a full canopy and a stately stance. In my mind I uttered there are far more attractive candidates worthy of the space. 
The canopy is covered with white-green color when the young leaves emerge
Three balitbitan seedlings, a couple of meters tall, arrived a few days later and were eventually planted into the holes. As I progressed with my graduate studies, I saw the trees grow from lanky saplings into sturdy young specimens. I became more fond of them.

Detail of balitbitan's young leaves 
Towards the latter part of my 5-year graduate school stint, I have learned about the importance of the balitbitan's choice in the Arki atrium landscape. Professor Susan Aquino Ong's prerogative actually ushered in the importance of planting native species into landscape design.  This started an awareness in me and others in the college as it trickled into the psyche of the landscape students like myself.  A simple suggestion was probably a small move then but now the repercussions of it is strongly experienced in Arki. The BLArch students are becoming aware of what are native plants and their importance in the environment.    

Today, almost a decade after, I am no longer a student but a teacher in my former college. The three balitbitan trees stand much taller and far too bigger than what I expected.  For years I witnessed them bringing out their iconic white leaves and I have watched the leaves turn from from light color to dark green. Their habit and appearance have become a vital part of the atrium's landscape.   

The balitbitan trees were the first native trees to be planted into the College of Architecture's new complex. As Arki is in the process of erecting its new building and expanding its facilities, a few more native plants are finding themselves into the design.  For now the new amphitheater used another native into its design, Eucalyptus deglupta or bagras.  Hopefully there will be more to follow in the future.    

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Little Sketching Time

Chabet's 'mangrove' set against the backdrop of Fr. Blanco's botanic prints
The main gallery
Nepenthes leonardi
My friend Ronald Achacoso curated an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum.  It is unique because it is the usual fine arts visual show but this time it centers around the Father Blanco prints - therefore it is about plants. He asked several painters and artists to make versions and depictions of Philippine flora.  He and co-curator Lisa Ito filled the large gallery with the very nice and intriguing works of contemporary artists, including one by the late Roberto Chabet. 

Rafflesia drawing in progress
Last October he requested me to make several drawings depicting species named after Leonardo Co, to fill up a blank space at the museum's audio visual room.  I obliged by preparing 4 colored pencil drawings on A3 sized sheets. I asked a few friends and PNPCSI members to send me pictures of the newly discovered plant species. And I spent practically the whole of November finishing the artworks.  

My 4 sketches for the show
If you have time, please try to take a peek of the exhibit in the Met.  If you have a few more minutes, please do make a detour into the audio visual room where they have my flora drawings.  They are not exactly as complicated as the art in the main gallery but I am still very much elated that they are there.  I enjoyed drawing them and I hope to do more of other Philippine plants in the future. 

Revisiting Luneta's Orchidarium

The old Barbara's building and the pond
Grammatophyllum wall
I bring good news! The Orchidarium in Rizal Park has again opened its doors. I think it is now under a different management and they are charging a fee of 50 pesos per person as entrance fee. I don't remember if they charged entrance fees before when Barbara's was still operational in there. 

The old waterfall wall is without water
The gardens appear different though. It looks less lush than when I remembered it last.  It had lesser greens and some plants from before are no longer there. But to establish that it is an orchidarium, orchids are being established again there and I chanced upon one in bloom.  It is a Grammatophyllum which is known to be hard to make bloom in Manila.  I am hoping this is a good sign of new beginnings for the Orchidarium.  I hope the place will be worthy to exhibit the special species of native flora. 
Grammatophyllum in bloom

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What I Did Last Weekend...

The cute lop-sided eared rabbits
You know what? I miss writing on this blog.  It was my stress reliever when I was doing my thesis. So I have to do it again.  I have to find time to do it! I have many things to write about in the last  two years which did not find its way here.  I have lots of stories to tell...

The nice Curculigo patch
The palm-like Curculigo leaves
I will start off by telling you what I did last weekend. I spent it with a few friends in Negros Oriental. It was not exactly a leisure trip but I was glad I came with them.  It was tiresome and almost sleepless, as we went out of Manila the first flight Saturday (4:30 AM)  and returned last flight Sunday (almost 12 midnight).  And it was marred by a lot of delays flight and otherwise.   

We spent the two days in a farm and I was very much amazed by the animals we saw.  I especially loved the lop rabbits (did I say that right?) with the lop-sided ears. But it won't be complete without me discovering something new about Philippine flora.  

Lemon yellow flowers
At one side of the farm we saw this patch of plants looking like a palm. When I looked closer they appeared like young seedlings of coconut. But Ray Ong said it is not exactly a palm but more related to the lily family.  He said it is called a Curculigo. He added that they are common as understory plants in the forest but noone exactly thought highly of them as an ornamental.

The patch I saw was rather thick and lovely.  Ray instructed me to look for yellow flowers near the base.   I found some and indeed they look a little different from a palm's flowers. The cluster was extremely nice. I wonder if they would look nice clumped and grown in the garden.