Boton*

“Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.”
― Charles Baudelaire

Boton flower bud

Boton flower bud

All I want these days is to imitate the ways of the Boton tree — specifically its wisdom of simply savoring the lightness and radiance of living.

But, alas, I have yet to learn the wisdom of the Boton.

Boton flower

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Boton flowers are pink sunburst of unending summers. The buds of flowers confidently peeking from the branches open into burst of pink magic. The tips exquisitely adorned with bright yellow. The petals framing it in immaculate white. In its unopened state, the flowers are like mini hearts ready to explode into cheerful pink and white pompoms the bursting threads mimicking the rays of the sun.

Immensely radiant. Offering her beauty to the summer sun… and at night a feast for nocturnal birds and bats.
Fruits with beaks and tongues.
Its fruit is a box-like-heart that has a beak seemingly in a permanent grin that is pleasant and welcoming. A long thread-like tongue coming out from the beak adds up to its cheerful look. These fruits dangle happily out of the branches of the mother tree in twos or threes.

Colors indicate the maturity of the Boton fruits. Husk surrounds the seed. The fruit is perfectly designed to float and to travel to great distances.

Colors indicate the maturity of the Boton fruits. Husk surrounds the seed. The fruit is perfectly designed to float and to travel to great distances.

Several villagers told me that it can heal (nakabolong) and it can kill (nakahilo). For this reason it is sometimes called as the fish poison tree. This duality is common for healing plants — poison and medicine.

Boton tree along the shore of Baluarte, Bulusan.

Boton tree along the shore of Baluarte, Bulusan.

This impressive Boton tree along the beach of Baluarte is prolific unlike some Boton trees also growing near the coast. Its fruits littered the underneath canopy of the tree waiting for the ocean waves to fetch them to another shore or be a ready ‘ball’ toy for local village kids. The fruits are perfect floaters. It was enchanting seeing them calmly float near the water’s edge while the moon rises.

Boton fruits are perfect floaters.

Boton fruits are perfect floaters.

Boton fruit
It is clear that the elements conspire to the Boton’s lightness of being… reminding me to just flow and follow the rhythm of life. In this aspect the Boton tree is a master, I am the pupil.

In my present mid journey, I have a long way to go and much to learn. I just hope it is not yet too late. Intense lesson at high noon. Indeed, for me.

The Boton loves the smell of the sea.

The Boton loves the smell of the sea.

Boton is a simple name for a fascinating tree that probably alludes to the stars from heaven. Star is ‘bituon’ in the vernacular.

Boton fruts calmly floating at sea after a seaside play with local kids.

Boton fruits calmly floating at sea after a seaside play with local kids.

*Barringtonia asiatica is the botanical name of Boton. All photos were taken from sitio Baluarte, Bulusan, Sorsogon.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon
Philippines

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP) flora gallery 2

Natural adornments dangle along the forest path.

Natural adornments dangle along the forest path.

One of the most common fern at the park (BVNP, Bulusan, 2014 December 4).

Leaflet of a giant fern displays its dainty curls.

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo December 4, 2014

Wild fruits of an uncommon species.

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo, December 4, 2014

Brown dots neatly arranged on this fern frond

Bulusan Volcano Natural Park flora photo, December 4, 2014

Minute berries shift colors from yellow to red as it ripens.

An approaching calamity such as this recent typhoon has a way of hurrying up things undone to be prioritized at once. Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit) made my long-delayed plan of a mountain hike to BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park) for some photos of native trees to be done soonest before it made the trees and flora at the park unrecognizable. So off I went December 4 to the park. The weather was fine that day and most visitors and tourists were still oblivious of the coming typhoon.  To my delight my mountain hike at the park resulted to wonderful finds some of which I have never seen before such as the photos of the red and yellow wild fruits (photos).

The above gallery is just a few of my assorted collection of photos gathered that day.

Fortunately, typhoon Ruby inflicted negligible damage to our town. A miracle considering that Hagupit peaked its strength as a category 5 typhoon– a super typhoon in the Pacific Ocean.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

A walk in the forest

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, Deceem 2, 2014)

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, December 2, 2014)

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Whenever I hit the road for some purpose in mind like finding some trees to photograph, something unexpected happens along the way. Take for example my forest trek last Tuesday (December 2, 2014). I never imagined that I will be hiking the 1.7 km road of BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park) to reach the road junction  where tricycles and jeepneys pass by with a Frenchman who was on that day a tourist of the park.

The walk was a breeze. The canopy of the tall tropical forest trees protected us against the bright sunny rays of the sun. The view was like a forest scene straight from the movie Avatar minus the action. The greenery in both sides of the road is great for botanical photo shoots.

For sure I will be back to cover some not-yet-photographed specimens along this stretch. At the road junction Jean was lucky to catch a tricycle bound for Irosin, this means no need of waiting for the Bulusan jeepney that take hours in between trips. From Irosin, he will be on his way to one of the hotels in Sorsogon City where he is currently staying while I rode a passenger tricycle to  Bulusan’s poblacion. Nice meeting you, Jean. Welcome to the Philippines!

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Beautiful Dao

Dau tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

Dao tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente (Buhang) National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

I was looking for some local trees to document the list of which I carry with me but stumbled on this beautiful Dao tree instead located near the entrance of San Vicente National High School in Bulusan. Dao (Dracontomelon dao) is also native but it is not the subject that I need at this time. Nonetheless,  the tree is so irresistible it deserves its own post.

The tree is the perfect picture of grace and strength in one frame. There was no need for me to exert much effort. This Dao tree literally photographs itself.

“Be careful being near the tree, ” the canteen owner warned. “Recently one of the teachers consulted a parabolong (folkhealer) for an unknown skin ailment. They say that the teacher often walks near the tree to find some signal for her phone. Maybe she did not acknowledge the tree territory. She has forgotten to ask permission to the Dao tree.”

“Oh, I did. But thanks for the reminder,” I replied with a knowing smile.

Before I left, I thanked the Dao tree. Acknowledging the presence of an unseen dweller in trees and some nature spots and giving due respect to them is an aged-old custom in Bulusan. A simple ‘makitabi,’ when asking permission to enter a certain spot and ‘salamat’ (thank you)  will suffice.  I do this routinely in all of my photo treks involving trees and nature scenes. It helps.

So far, I have never experience any ire from unseen spirits which the local generally refer to as ‘may tawo’ alluding to the unseen person/dweller of a tree or a spot. Being respectful to all — unseen or not is for me a very sensible way of going around the villages. Following this custom in fact gives a welcoming feel for every place I visit.  And to my delight the photos almost always turned out great!

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The dark side of the coast

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.

Low tide reveals mangrove remnants from a previous mangrove stand.

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More mangrove trees are needed in this vast seascape.

While taking photographs of the breathtaking seascape of sitio Taisan (San Vicente, Bulusan), I noticed some tree stumps on the shoreline bed. There is no doubt what these stumps are. These are mangrove stumps  maybe several decades old. It points to one thing that this area was once a lush mangrove forest. No wonder there is a mud-like quality to the sea bed.

These photos (above) are images of  a deforested mangrove swamp. A desolate landscape crying for help.

To reclaim the mangrove forest that once upon a time existed in this coast will entail a gigantic and heroic effort.

If not planted with more mangroves, the shoreline will continue to recede. And most importantly during typhoons there will be no vegetation to block the raging surge from the sea. It is already an established fact that mangroves are effective barrier and protection in the coastline that save communities.

With the mangroves back, the kinis (mudcrab) will flourish abundantly more than the local paraagahid (pole net fishermen) can catch for their livelihood. Mangroves are natural habitats of mudcrabs.

I hope these images will convey an SOS to coastal environmentalists including those based in Bulusan. The few surviving juvenile mangroves from the initial replanting activity (photo) are reminders that there’s hope that the mangroves of Taisan could be reclaimed.

Let us bring back the mangroves of Taisan.

It is to the credit of Tribu Bulusanon (http://tribubulusan.orgfree.com/#), a local environmental group, that the first  mangrove reforestation project in this coast took off.

But it was just a beginning. More is needed.

Surviving mangroves of Taisan

Surviving mangroves of Taisan from the initial mangrove replanting project.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Bare mangroves means dwindling catch for the paraagahid fishermen.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The extraordinary ordinary Malubago tree

The beach as playground for these coastal community children in Dancalan, Bulusan

Children in Dancalan, Bulusan playing under the shade of Malubago trees lining the beach area of their coastal village.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge. Notice the exposed roots of the Malubago trees that serve as a natural barrier from the tidal flow.

Malubago trees as viewed from the ocean’s edge of a coastal village in Dancalan, Bulusan.

One does not have to be an expert in shoreline conservation and preservation to see the effect of growing Malubago trees along the sea shores. I did see it myself in my recent beach walk along the shore of a coastal community half kilometer away from the frequently visited Dancalan Beach Resort.

This coastal area however is not frequented by visitors since easy access here entails passing by some coastal rural homes lining the major road. Although the beach sand is still in the range of a light-colored sand, this beach area is not a ‘resort’ area. It is a rural coastal community populated by mostly fisher folks. Women were busy weaving karagumoy hats when I passed by and they kindly showed me the way to reach the beach just a few meters from their residence.

Children were playing under the Malubago trees, running around with crescendos of shrieks and cries oblivious of my presence as I walk and take photos in a leisurely pace along the shore. The sea view from a new location was just the thing I needed to compose some new images in departure from my usual beach photographs. But what really caught my attention are the Malubago trees along the shoreline of the coastal village.

The Malubago trees although unassuming and modest in appearance  did not escape my observation because these trees dominate the landscape in this long stretch of almost white beach. The beach vegetation as far as my eyes can see are mostly coconut and Malubago trees. The Malubago stands where other vegetation failed to grow. Some of its roots are exposed to the sand but still very much standing exhibiting its resiliency to the elements. It does not encroach the sea but only occupies the demarcation of the shoreline and the residential houses. Obviously the trees serve as the first line of defense in times of typhoons and sea storm surges yet it flourish with its shy flowers peeking out of the almost heart-shaped leaves.

The flowers are described as bell-shaped by some botanists. For me, the Malubago flower appears as a half-open yellow hibiscus — shy and seems to decide not to fully open to evade attention from flower pickers. Maybe this strategy pays off because there are fruits in almost all of the branches securing the next generation of Malubago trees.

I learned however from googling that Malubago can also be propagated by means of stem and branch cuttings. Making a fence out of the branch cuttings is an easy way to propagate the Malubago. With a firm grip on the ground, the cut branch will grow to a brand new Malubago tree even if left to its own devices.

The Species Profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry (www.traditionaltree.org) states that Hibiscus tiliaceus (Malubago’s botanical name) main agroforestry uses are soil stabilization and coastal protection. It can grow in extreme environment and is also drought tolerant. Fast to grow and forms walls of thicket if not pruned which makes it ideal as windbreakers along the shores. And this is the reason why it is used for coastal protection : “The long spreading branches root where they touch the ground enhancing the tree’s ability to stabilize soil on slopes, along river banks, swampy areas and shores exposed to moderate  coastal tides.”

But just like anything that is familiar and common, we tend to take the Malubago tree for granted.

Malubago Flower

Malubago flower is cousin to the showy ornamental hibiscus.

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

More of Malubago tree here:

http://www.clshade.net/agroforestry/tti/H.tiliaceus-beach-hibiscus.pdf

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Kalunggay

 

Moringa oleifera

Moringa oleifera

Moringa oleifera a.k.a. malunggay

Moringa oleifera a.k.a. malunggay

Smiling malunggay/kalunggay

Smiling malunggay/kalunggay

Moringa oleifera. Malunggay (Tagalog). Kalunggay (Bikol Bulusan)

I personally tested the oft-reproduced characterization made many years ago by the Trees for Life organization, that “ounce-for-ounce, Moringa leaves contain more Vitamin A than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas,” and that the protein quality of Moringa leaves rivals that of milk and eggs.

This is good news for many of us who do not have the capacity to buy the nutritious foods mentioned as comparison. Malunggay locally known as Kalunggay in Bulusan  is a natural multivitamins available for free usually  from a neighbor’s fence. But we did plant our own sustainable supply at the back of our house.

Kalunggay is so ubiquitous in Bulusan that almost all the village backyard gardens has one or two growing within the garden or as border plant.

The good thing about cultivating kalunggay is the fact that it is so easy to grow.

Just ask from your neighbor a wrist-sized branch of Kalunggay and let it stand for a while in a sunny nook in your yard. When the shoots are starting to show in the standing branch, this signals that it is the right time to plant the stem cutting in your backyard or fence. Be sure to pick a sunny spot in your garden that is open to the sun the whole day.

That is my technique. Others plant the freshly cut matured branch of the kalunggay immediately upon cutting.  I tried this too with the same success.

Most important factor is the sun. Kalunggay is  sun-loving and like to grow on their own after planting. No need to water. Natural rainfall is enough for them.

For an authentic Bulusan recipe of Kinunot using Kalunggay as the main vegetable ingredient, you may visit my townmate’s Pamughaton post: http://pamughaton.wordpress.com/2008/07/26/kinunot/

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Slow life

Don’t be misled by the seemingly boring life of this country snail. This snail’s life is anything but boring — seen here feasting on lemongrass.

Lemongrass is an exciting ‘spice’ that adds zest to local culinary dishes from ‘ginataan’ (cooked in coconut milk) to lechong manok (roasted chicken).

Feast of lemongrass in a backyard garden, San Roque, Bulusan

Feast of lemongrass in a backyard garden, San Roque, Bulusan                                                                                                                                                      

The stalks and young leaves of lemongrass can be made into a refreshing drink. The drink is a refrigerant. It makes you feel cool literally.

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Harvestmen and Purple blooms

Bulusan's flora and fauna in situ , Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, 2014

Bulusan’s flora and fauna in situ , Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, 2014

An FB friend added me to another facebook group that showcases assorted kinds of spiders and related fauna in the Philippines posted by its members. The addition was prompted because of my recent post of the above photo of a wild flora and fauna from BVNP. I was glad to the add because it started my education about Philippine spiders.

The response to my  post with this photo in the biodiversity FB group was already an exciting sign — I committed a common name error for my spider photo. Immediately I was corrected by another member by calling my attention to my post: “Correction: those are harvestmen not spiders.”  “Daddy long legs,” says another and shortly the long-legged creatures were  given a species id. As to the flora with the purple blooms, this was earlier identified in the facebook page of the Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines as an Amischotolype species.

I never thought that my photo from the boondocks will have such a long thread of discussion in three biodiversity FB sites. Wonderful!

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorosogon, Philippines

The wonders of gumihan

The wonders of gumihan

I was intrigued by a comment from a reader of a posted article about gumihan in a Philippine online site (Philippine.tambayan.com) that says: “Gumihan is a not-so-common fruit desired for its aromatic, fleshy and sweet taste. This tree grows well in Bicol, existing as natural stand. As there is no attempt to commercially propagate it this tree is fast vanishing. Compared to marang, a gumihan fruit is smaller but it tastes far superior to the former. We should save this tree species before it goes extinct.”

From another botanical site gumihan was also a recent topic.  Derek Cabactulan a resource person and member of the plant id site, Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines, also added: “According to CDFP from the old records, this tree is indigenous to Borneo, Philippines, Sulawesi, and Moluccas. LUZON: Quezon to Sorsogon, MINDORO, BILIRAN, SAMAR, MINDANAO. I think this tree is underutilized in some parts of our country. It is a good tree in the backyard that provide us food, shade and as ornamental backyard plant. Better save some seeds and gave those who were interested in planting this tree.  It is a valuable ethno-agroforestry species.”

These interesting tidbits of information  prompted me to test taste the fruit. Fortunately, the months of  May and June to July is  the fruiting season of the gumihan tree and ordering from Joseph a villager from Odikin was just a text (SMS) away. He brought four(4) ripe fruits from a gumihan tree not far from their house. “The fruits are just falling from the tree and anyone is welcome to partake of it. It is for free, ” Joseph told me.  No wonder that no one is planting the gumihan. Sadly, fruit trees are only valued as an agricultural crop if the fruits are given monetary equivalent.

Gumihan fruits from Odikin, Bulusan, June 2014

Gumihan fruits from Odikin, Bulusan, June 2014

In terms of appearance the gumihan looks like a small marang with scruffy hair (above photos). Its seeds are more packed and dense and  less fleshy than marang fruits. It is devoid however of the heavy scent associated with marang. The downside of eating gumihan is you won’t feel full while eating and the jaw will become so heavily worked out. In the words of Joan a young mountain maiden familiar with the fruit: “mangangalay an imo panga ate sa kasusupsop (your jaw will get tired from sucking the pulp out of the seeds).” True enough, my jaw felt like it had been to a work out after finishing the four pieces of gumihan straight in one sitting.

Naturally grown and fruiting gumihan tree along the mountain trail of Kapangihan, an outlying mountain village of Bulusan.

Wild grown and fruiting gumihan tree along the mountain trail of Kapangihan, an outlying mountain village of Bulusan.

Wild and delicious. The gumihan is an example of an underutilized endemic forest fruit tree that needs to be reintroduced and cultivated for future generations.

Gumihan’s scientific name is Artocarpus sericicarpus.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines