XEROPHYTIC MASTERPIECE OF THE PHILIPPINES
Whoa!!! The Philippines’ very own cactus and succulent garden at last! This is a unique surprise as there are no known succulent garden that ever existed on this scale before in our country. This is a masterpiece and the fruit of the concerted efforts of Quezon City Mayor Herbert M. Bautista (himself a confessed plant lover and one of the judges to the Cactus & Succulent Society of the Philippines, Inc. (CSSP) Garden Show & Exhibit last November 2006); Vice Mayor Joy G. Belmonte (sister of CSSP Chairman Kevin G. Belmonte), Tita Dorie (Adoracion) S. Bernabe, CSSP President, Mr. Serapion “Mang Met” Metilla, founder & adviser of CSSP, Dr. Romeo Gutierrez, Philippine Horticultural Society, Inc. (PHS) Preident, members of CSSP and the people of the Republic of the Philippines.
Except for the xerophytic landscaping in Thailand, and some other smaller ones in Malaysia, the xerophytic garden of the Philippines perhaps could be considered the largest xerophytic botanic garden in all Southeast Asia. The area is around 250 to more than 350 sq.m. and the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak (HMB) garden complex that houses the xerophytic garden might even be a thousand sq.m. big!
The HMB was opened last Aug. 25, 2011 to the general public. It is noteworthy that the place is tightly kept safe by the security guard/s and kept clean by the maintenance workers of the Q.C. hall. The members of the CSSP contributed so much plants from their own collection to be perpetually displayed in the xerophytic garden. As I have witnessed these were some of their most beautifully raised plants. Succulents are notorious slow growers given their evolution and the areas where they grow. The barren lands, the searing heat of the sun, the chronic supply of water primarily through rainfall and the sudden chill in the evening all contribute to these plants’ slothful growth. But in the Philippines-all these problems addressed- seem to bewilder the plants that some grow faster than in their native homes while others shun the high humidity, high rainfall, and some shady growth areas where members like me have tried raising them in.
Yet, as I have witnessed in the HMB’s xerophytic botanical garden, called World of Succulents too, many species grow under the mercy of our more often drenched and hot weather conditions. Several Opuntias, Euphorbias, Hylocereus, Jatrophas, Agaves, Sansevierias, Cycads, and Pereskia (ancestor of all cacti) are planted along the meandering pathway centering on the gazebo in the open air. I’ve also noticed Haworthias planted in the open air! I won’t do that with my Haworthias here at home lest they melt when rain waters stand in their pots yet the xerophytic botanical garden has a secret-I’ll tell that later…
The more delicate and smaller succulents are housed inside the gazebo (entrance only by permission!). Here inside you’ll find the endangered species Echinocactus grusonii or barrel cactus, Gymnocalyciums which grow very well in Manila provided they’ll not be waterlogged, bonsai Dorstenias (cousin to the genus Ficus (fig) and Artocarpus (to which jackfruit, breadfruit, antipolo (an endemic fruit), and marang are some of the known members) genera) with their bizarre flower receptacles, Coryphanta that resembles Gymnocalycium, Mammillaria that forms the largest cacti genus, Stapeliads with their splendid but foetid flowers (hope you catch them flowering!), variegated Opuntias, prostrate growing Opuntias, Tillandsias, the even more delicate grafted cacti (get the chance to see how cacti are grafted to other cacti at the xerophytic botanical garden!) and much, much more!!!
CSSP’s founder and adviser was the man at the helm for the realization of this project. Here’s a little story: Then Mayor Herbert Bautista thought of setting aside an area within the Quezon Memorial Circle (QMC) where the various plant organizations could exhibit unilaterally their treasured plants as part of the QC government’s campaign to preserve and conserve “green areas” of the city. Originally the said area was offered wholly to CSSP only but Tita Dorie found the place so vast that it would contain all the members’ prized plant possessions (that will be a nightmare to any member to part with their plants!). So the “iron lady” of the CSSP asked for help from the other plant organizations to which only the Horticultural Society of the Philippines, Inc. responded.
Thus, the HSP occupied and cultivated the left side area of the gazebo-it’s a natural and conducive place to grow giant ferns of the genus Platycerium and other shade loving plants. They even made a mini lagoon surrounded by Bromeliads of the genera Neoregelia, Vriesea, Guzmania, etc. and Medinillas which there are over 80 species in the Philippines including the majestic Medinilla magnifica or “kappa de leon” to our old folks. The lagoon itself has lotus and papyrus plants among others and swordtail fishes happily “flying” in the waters.
From what I can see the HSP tried to group their plants either according to family or size or other categories. There was the group of ginger-related plants including the Heliconias or false birds of paradise and Maranthas-the prayer plants. Then an area planted to various native tree ferns (Cyathea, Dicksonia, etc.), and a nice arched trellis where former HSP President Wendy Regalado (an architect by profession) is training the Hoyas that she donated (Hoya incassata, H. pubicalyx, and H. carnosa among others). Then the end corner farther left is where ornamental bananas, Mussaenda hybrids and even a purple fruited lily were planted together with kamuning (Murraya paniculata) and Indonesian gardenia (Gardenia carenata).
The larger portion of the HMB were converted into artistically made concrete plant boxes where flowering plants like small Zingiberaceae species, Medinilla species, Roses, Camia (Hedychium coronarium), Mayana (Coletus), and Ground Orchids (Spathoglottis plicata) were planted.
It is also heartening to know that the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) participated and made contributions to the HMB Mr. Fernando “Nanding” Aurigue, head of the Mutation Plant Breeding division of the PNRI. They draped a large Zamanea saman tree (or was it a Narra [Pterocarpus indicus]?) with their gamma irradiated Hoya plants: Hoya siarae, Hoya obscura, Hoya incrassata, Hoya densifolia, et al. Irradiated plants in a public place that’s something unique. I hope they will prosper well there.
If only the other plant societies or organizations participated in, they would have made a more vivid showcase of the Philippine planting prowess. Some orchids, bonsais, and other native plants will add grandeur and educate more the Filipino populace how rich our natural wonders are and how gifted our own native plant cultivators are in raising various plants both native and foreign.
Now, back to Mang Met. Ate Aireen Bernal and I thought that this was a lifetime dream of this humble but well-renowned man since. We postulate that he has already thought of how the xerophytic botanical garden (XBG) would look like even before and now the entire nation attests to this brainchild of his. Remember I said I’ll tell the secret of XBG? It is the medium that Mang Met painstakingly stratified so that the succulents won’t become waterlogged and melt even under heavy rains. The second secret is the ventilation concept of the gazebo (I won’t elaborate on that here. Better learn it yourself by going to the XBG yourself!).
Entrance is absolutely free but pets are discouraged inside the HMB as most of the plants are fragile. Also, the gazebo can’t hold a lot of people inside better visit in small groups so that you’ll properly be toured by the people maintaining the HMB. Luckier still if a member of the CSSP would tour you as you’ll learn so much from them.
I and my aunts spent the Christmas Day of 2011 at the Quezon City Memorial Circle. We arrived 10 a.m. and we headed directly to the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak that houses Southeast Asia’s first officially designated and the Philippines’ largest Cacti & Succulent Botanical Garden. It is a good thing that my aunts appreciated this concerted effort of the Cactus & Succulent Society of the Philippines, Inc.
From 1:30 p.m. until almost 5:00 p.m. I assisted visitors to the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak who wanted to see the succulent collection inside the gazebo. They came from various walks of life and from different generations.
There were families, all girl-friends, all boy-friends, intermediate grown-ups, couples both young and old, provincial folks, keen and interested souls, a tandem of family plant lovers, a mother and son plant-lovers and an old couple who deeply love plants that have often times visited succulents in their native habitats in California, USA and have succulents growing in Germany too.
I said they could ask me whatever they wanted to know about succulent growing and thank God I was able to answer all their queries. Their questions were varied: When was the Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden constructed and opened? How could cactus and succulent grow in the Philippines? How must one take good care of cactus and succulent? Do they really need a hot environment? Why are there electric fans installed inside the gazebo? What purpose does the stainless cylinder in the centre of the gazebo serve for? How much water do they need? Are there poisonous cacti and succulents? And ranges to the more whimsical: Did the Quezon City mayor funded the HMB? Won’t you also turn succulent if you would live in an environment similar to cacti and succulents?
But there was a couple who stood out among the other visitors because they were so inclined to learn so much and was savouring every succulent information I was feeding them. They are Mr. and Mrs. Noni Tavera with whom I spent hours talking about the wonders of the succulent world. They said that they saw a real succulent biome in California and informed me that it’s quite hot in that state however the cool air was so much colder than Baguio’s and the ordinary plants of the Philippines were highly valuable ornamentals in that place. The wife of Mang Nonie even told me that some of their Filipino friends brought Makahiya (Mimosa pudica) seeds and successfully grew them there in California and the Californians found it amazing when the leaves close swiftly upon touching it! Yet the irony is that Mimosa pudica is a native of tropical America!
Mr. Nonie, on the other hand, saw thousands of Sansevierias being grown in Germany and the Germans told him that those will be their future source of biofuel. He also told me that Koreans are crazy about Sansevierias as it Korea’s leading ornamental plant and they just love to have other Philippine plants as well!
Most visitors to the Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden unanimously said that the Monadenium planted at the corner of the gazebo’s central plant box was the best and the most beautiful plant inside the gazebo. I never expected that high appreciation for a Monadenium! The second best for them was Echinocactus grusonii or the barrel cactus for obvious reasons: it’s big, its thorns were frighteningly and deadly sharp, and it’s got a natural charm as a big orb that takes one’s attention right away. Their third best is the Echeverria or rose cactus. This is another surprise for a seasoned plant lover and “self-trained horto-botanist” like me. The common people said that they have, in one way or another, have also tried cultivating the rose cactus but they all died. So I told them that it really won’t do in humid Manila.
Recently, I was able to get a first-hand “behind the scenes” information that Mommy Linda Kithri, a board member of the CSSP, even went to Baguio City, Tarlac City, and also searched the Manila Seedlings Bank just to get the freshest and prettiest flowering cacti and succulents but alas there were but a few! Summer is the major flowering season of cacti and succulents when other plants are busy with their vegetative growth or are having a little rest from their blooming periods. Mommy Linda gave all her flowering cacti and succulents to the HMB to add more colour, delight, and show the general public that these plants do really flower at all. Yet the determination and driving force was there to collect the best and finest specimens to house them altogether in the Cactus and Succulent Botanical Garden at the HMB! God bless the souls who invested that much time, effort, and love just to educate the people how wonderful these group of plants are. Architect Jesus ‘Bimbo’ Vergara on the other hand, donated his agaves and aloes which are abloom at the HMB this Christmas time.
Last 28 December, 2011, three members of the board of directors: Mommy Linda Kithri-the flower lover, Kuya Bimbo Vergara-the aloe, agave, and tillandsia sage, and Tita Sally O’bien-the sansevieria and tillandsia aficionado together with the blogger Rajah Rahakut-the pan-sylvan prism lover all went to visit, observe, and take into consideration the progress of the succulent plants at the botanical garden. Mommy Linda initiated the effort of adding colour to the plants inside the Gazebo by donating new varieties of the so-called Christmas cactus in the Philippines-Kalanchoe blossfeldiana. The new varieties come with flowers in orange, pink, yellow, white, and in between these colour ranges. They are also smaller than the natural plants that makes them ideal for small spaces even inside offices or classrooms. Kalanchoes are some of the very few succulents that will flower around Christmas time in the Philippines thus the given common name. The board of directors were so happy to note that most of the cacti and succulents were making progressive growth growing in the open air and inside the Gazebo. Kuya Bimbo and I planted the Kalanchoes placing them in strategic places where their beauty will shine the brightest.
The Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak, albeit a public place, has a specified opening and closing time: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays thru Sundays. This is to regulate the people, to give the plants a breathing space and to preserve the beauty and cleanliness of the place to serve as a model example of how the balance of nature works. Picnics and foods are prohibited and discouraged respectively as these will make the area filthy and unpleasant. Also, avoid stepping on the plants or destroying them by any means so that they will continually give us the mental, physical, and spiritual boost as well as abundant supply of oxygen most importantly!! The Gazebo can only be accessed by permission and proper guidance by the designated security guard/s or members of the CSSP, the latter is better as they could give an on-the-spot lecture and sharing of how they cultivate their own cacti and succulents. Entrance to the HMB and the Gazebo within are all absolutely free!
It is really quite heartening to know that there are now more and more Filipinos who are appreciating the beauty and essence of nature and the Halamanan ng mga Bulaklak is helping to boost their desire to become plant lovers as well. Through this way, “Green Philippines” will surely become a reality. Thus we who belong to plant clubs, societies, and organisations must exert more and more effort to guide and inform the “madlang” people in their planting endeavours. This is our commitment to Mother Nature!
I visited again the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak that has hosted for the second time in just a span of two months, a garden show. There has been a huge change ever since February of 2012 set in.
During Flora Filipina III, the Xerophytic Botanic Garden still doesn’t have any locks and ever since August of 2011 when I first went there I have been admonishing the maintenance crew and designated security guard not to let any visitor go unescorted by them inside the gazebo. The plants inside this structure are the more delicate and somewhat more expensive ones so they really need more protection but my admonishments went unheeded.
Thus, when I visited again last May 2012 during the Philippine Alliance of Bonsai and Suiseki Garden Show, they made some abrupt actions due to untoward incidents.
Whenever I went to the Xerophytic Botanic Garden, I always ask permission from the designated security guard and maintenance crew to enter the gazebo out of courtesy and respect although I could go inside directly since there were no locks.
I want to see how the plants were doing and get some pictures so that I can progressively develop this blog and bring to everyone’s attention the state and condition of Southeast Asia’s first proclaimed cacti and succulent garden. People must be involved in the maintenance of this unique place since this is a showcase of how plants naturally would be found growing in a desert albeit what we have here is a simulation of the real thing.
I asked from Ceejay, one of the maintenance crew, who was in charge of keeping the keys of the gazebo’s lock and the person who was conversing with him named Jojo angrily asked me why do I want to enter? Would I be cleaning the gazebo? So I told him I am a member of the CSSP and told him my name. He asked if the CSSP members know me and I said of course! Good thing Mr. Serapion Metilla, founder of the Cacti & Succulent Society of the Philippines, Inc. was there since he was the lecturer for that day. He vouched for my person and I told him how Jojo, who happened to be the supervisor of the HMB, interrogated me impolitely. He even said that the greenhouse-like structure where the delicate succulents were housed is inappropriately called "gazebo" and commented that it was so because CSSP members weren’t graduates of any agriculture course. He was really rude and unbecoming of a government employee. His character was like that, Ceejay told me, because as in-charge the blame of ruined and missing plants inside the gazebo was upon Jojo but he was very discourteous. He won’t even let a CSSP member inside the gazebo when all the members have contributed their precious plants to create that botanic garden.
When he finally consented me to enter, I politely asked Ceejay to constantly watch me as per Jojo’s instruction lest I ferret away any succulent inside. The maintenance crew only laughed. He knows I am not one of evil reputation.
I was totally appalled and disgusted by what I saw inside. There were a lot of wilted plants and several were just holding to their dear lives for any moment they can also give up as the gazebo was so humid. The electric fans weren’t used and Ceejay told me that it was the instruction of Jojo not to open the electric fans for some unknown reason to us. In the desert, the sun is scorching hot and bright but it was not humid as the ventilation is dynamic. During night time, the temperature drops to almost 50% of the day time temperature thus bitingly cold. With the difference of day and night time temperatures in Manila not going more than 10°C, it will be very unfavourable to the plants and now the effects are showing up.
There were also chairs inside the gazebo and clothes that were signs that the place is used as a resting place or a drying place for clothes by some uncouth people who have access to the gazebo.
I visited the Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden again this last week of July 2012 in despite of the inclement weather to see for myself how the xerophytic plants were doing under the mercy of the harshest period of the Philippine rainy season between July and August.
The plants variedly responded to the weather. Cereus hildemannianus was full of flower buds but the stems were slowly melting, rotting, or corking. The Agaves, Sansevierias, Pachypodiums, and Tillandsias were doing great. The Stapelia grandiflora was also full of flowerbuds and seems to enjoy the heavy rains.
Around two to three Dyckia clumps were planted at the right side near the front entrance of the Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden that are amazing with their fruit spikes and some seeds already germinated while still clinging in their half open fruits! I just love the rich dark brown colouration of the fruits! The seedlings were perhaps no more than a centimeter when I saw them.
Inside the Gazebo (I thank Kuya Vic, a long-time member of the maintenance group, who graciously and patiently escorted me inside and around) the plants were all fine except for a variegated Opuntia that was already infested with scales. Some cacti even managed to bear flowers even during the middle of the harsh rains! The Gazebo did really well in protecting the more delicate and rot-prone xerophytic species. Even the harshest of rains wasn’t able to permeate inside and wreak havoc to the living jewels.
Kuya Vic and the other maintenance staff told me that they water the plants inside the Gazebo once a month. They readily remove any wilted or dried or decaying plants and plant parts to avoid any spread of diseases. Tita Dorie Bernabe, our dynamic President, is to be given the credits for teaching these maintenance staff with how to effectively take care of Southeast Asia’s first declared Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden.
But what I really wanted to commend them for is their awareness when someone wanted to go inside the Gazebo: they escort the visitors throughout, ask their names, and I even suggested that they log the names of those people wanting to visit the plants inside and ask for identification cards as added security measures.
One should not fret that there are plants that die now and then in the Botanic Garden. Any botanic gardens the world over do have their fair share of plants that die even with the best of care humans could give. There is the truth that plants choose whether they will grow or die if subjected in a certain condition. This is the basis of the selection and survival of the fittest species whether plants, animals, or even human beings. There is also a saying that goes, “People do not choose the plants they want to grow, it is the plants that choose the people with whom they want to grow.” This I firmly believe.
I was also surprised that during my most recent visit, there were African violets planted inside the Gazebo together with the xerophytic plants! Those plants are in no way considered succulents so it is a delightful paradox to see those Kenyan-Tanzanian high vertical mountain endemics co-existing with succulents.
My concern now is focused on an open entry way that was made near the way to the comfort rooms. There was no gate and it seems to be intended to let the general public in and out of the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak (HMB) complex at whatever time, uncontrolled! When I asked Kuya Vic about this matter, he said that was what the city engineer decided after receiving complaints from some people that the HMB is a public place so it must be accessed by the public any time they want unhindered!
If I am to examine this, there are several reasons why the general public is being controlled in entering the HMB albeit it is a public place. First, the HMB was originally conceived and constructed to be an exhibit area of cacti and succulents but since the place is some hectares big, the CSSP asked the assistance of the other plant societies to also contribute exhibit specimens. Only the Horticultural Society of the Philippines heeded this call.
If the general public is given free access anytime they want, there could be the rampant destruction of plants and this could go unnoticed since there is only one security guard during the day and during the night. The maintenance staff couldn’t also handle such matters since they do not have much background in the importance of each individual plant that was planted there. They treat all plant specimens equal when the vulnerable, threatened, and endangered plants should be given priority and utmost attention.
Second, botanic gardens the world over are really public places but public access is limited and controlled because the very definition of a “botanic garden” states that “…it is a well-tended area, in principle its role is to maintain documented collections of living plants for the purpose of scientific research, conservation, display and education.”
A well-tended area that allows the public anytime would often “bow” to the mercy of anyone who tramples on it and trampling is one of the commonest problems any planted spot in the Philippines do suffer. And the plants in the HMB being endemic, indigenous and fragile like the xerophytes will really receive a hard blow from trampling whether intended or not if public access is granted ad infinitum!
In my simple way, this blog is a rough documentation of the development of the plants in the HMB not only of the Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden. From those that I have written here one can have an idea or trigger his or her thought to also do their part in the documentation of the specimens in the said complex.
Conservation, display, and education could all be learnt by having the plant specimens left intact, growing robustly, reaching their full potential, flowering, fruiting, perpetuating its own kind the way Mother Nature intended them to. There could be no better teacher or adept individual to elaborate the complexities of the private life of plants than the plants themselves. If the general public is given free access without proper guidance and staff to inculcate to them the importance of the garden complex, no sooner will we see rampant destruction of plants, garbage and other wastes just thrown here and there. There must be discipline observed within the HMB premises!
Third, albeit the HMB is a public place, it is a very special area within the Quezon Memorial Circle because it is a haven where endemic, indigenous, and exotic plants can thrive without the natural threats they have faced in their areas of origin. Here the Cactus and Succulent Society of the Philippines and the Horticultural Society of the Philippines hand in hand took upon their shoulders the burden of ensuring that the plants planted here will be free from most harm endangering them.
Some cacti and succulent plants that are included in the CITES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna) list of endangered plants that are found in the Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden are: Ariocarpus species, Turbinicarpus species, Euphorbia capsaintmariensis, Euphorbia cylindrifolia, Euphorbia decaryi (including all varieties) all these are listed in Appendix I which means no trade or collection could be done except if nursery grown and collected for scientific purposes with legal permission only.
Agave victoria-reginae, Pachypodium species, Tillandsia xerographica, ALL CACTACEAE (except those in Appendix I, Pereskia, Pereskiopsis, and Quiabentia species), Cycadaceae species, Euphorbia species, and Aloe species are all included in Appendix II meaning their trade and collection must be strictly monitored, supervised, and regulated.
Among the Philippine endemic plants that may have been planted but I have not took particular notice in the Horticultural Society’s botanic garden are the critically endangered Alocasia atropurpurea, Alocasia sanderiana, and Alocasia sinuata. Areca ipot is a vulnerable endemic species but I have not confirmed yet its existence in the HMB. There are other plants whose existence is imperiled like the Medinillas, some Hoyas, native Begonias and tree ferns that have found shelter in the HMB’s Horticultural Society’s botanic garden.
The last time I visited, the Horti’s area was full of plant growth to the rim that they really needed some trimmings lest it becomes a man-made “jungle-cum-rain forest”!
Fourth, the area must be preserved so that it might be presented and eventually admitted to the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) to which the most prestigious international botanic gardens like Hortus Botanicus Leiden of the Netherlands, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (United Kingdom), Center for Plant Conservation-Bogor Botanic Gardens (Indonesia), and Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens (South Africa) are members. In the Philippines, only four botanic gardens are members to this prestigious group: the Siit Arboretum Botanical Garden, La Union Botanical Garden, Northwestern University Ecotourism Park and Botanic Gardens, and the University of Santo Tomas Botanical Garden.
My raison d'être for having the HMB included in the BGCI is that albeit it is not a large area, it hosts plants that are endemic and indigenous to the Philippines with several critically endangered, endangered, threatened, near-threatened, and vulnerable species as well as Southeast Asia’s first declared Cacti & Succulent Botanic Garden that showcases xerophytic species in the manner how they actually grow in their natural habitats.
Being a member of the BGCI, the HMB could access other member botanic gardens, exchange essential information, aid in expertise, and maybe even financial aid to further improve the botanical gardens complex that is the HMB.
And preservation-cum-conservation could only be achieved if the plants are left alone without extra and unwanted interference thus the need to regulate and control the general public visiting the Halamanan ng Mga Bulaklak that hosts the Cacti & Succulent and the Horticultural Society Botanic Gardens.