An invasive beauty gains ground, fast

WHO would have thought that two boys’ curiosity and admiration for flowers would end up transforming a slough filled with swamp cabbages (tangkong) into a field of wildflowers?

Not the residents of Barangay Looc in Danao City, and most definitely not Karl Mark Avila, 15, and his friend Miles Banilad, 14.

It was last year when Karl and Miles happened on a pleasant oddity among the thicket of tangkong that filled a paddy. The boys were sent off on that morning by their parents to harvest the leafy vegetables in the other side of the barangay.

Although a similar roadside paddy sprawls closer to their houses, the swamp cabbages that grew in that area were not fit for human consumption. Some residents fed these cabbages to their hogs.

As the two boys went about plucking out tangkong, Miles saw a lone blossom, its purple petals standing out in the array of green, leafy variations of the swamp cabbages.

Without any second thought, Miles picked the flower to give its beauty a closer look.

“It was really pretty and it was my first time to see a flower among the tangkong,” Miles told SunStar Cebu in Cebuano.

But on the duo’s way home, they decided to toss the plant aside. Both had other things to do than gardening.

“We realized that we can’t really take care of it, even if we decided to, because we were busy playing outside or running errands for our parents,” Karl said in Cebuano.

As they neared their houses, Miles threw the sapling into the roadside slough where swamp cabbages have been growing for as long as anyone in the community can remember, possibly even before the boys’ grandparents were born.

Nine months later, the neighborhood found a field of purple wildflowers; gone were the tangkong that filled the slough for decades. They refer to the plants as water lilies, though these are probably closer to water hyacinths (Eichornia crassipes), a fast-growing weed that has provoked debates for years among environmentalists.

Although enamored by the blossoms that swayed with the wind, the residents were initially troubled by how fast the plants reproduced.

What they gave up

It perplexed the residents who had heard of Miles and Karl’s little adventure, and how one sapling could multiply and replace the tangkong that have filled the slough for many years. While the swamp cabbages were unfit for human consumption, hog raisers in the area had depended on them.

“The tangkong helped us save money for feeds. We can’t feed our pigs with lilies,” said Juditha Baton.

But just as the blooms took over the roadside paddy, these also won the hearts of most residents, even the concerned hog raisers, in record time.

Now, every time a stranger or a resident of the neighboring barangays passes by to take photos or simply admire the flowers in silence, the residents are quick to share their thoughts.

Among them was Juditha. She admitted hating the flowers before, but now, she said she’d gladly wipe out all the tangkong that grew in the sloughs of Danao, if it meant more places for the flowers to bloom.

Fish thriving

Joselito Baton, a 46-year-old carpenter, said the flowers have not only caught their attention, but also attracted mudfish that have grown in number since the flowers started to grow in the slough.

“We catch the fish for supper. Sometimes we sell it for P80 a kilo. It’s like the lilies are a blessing. We can enjoy its beauty, and we can now also find something edible in the marsh unlike before,” he said in Cebuano.

Since the area is privately-owned, the residents said they hope the barangay could help talk to the owners and ask them to keep the blooms since it’s a sight to see, standing out in a marsh of weeds and decaying water plants.

In a separate interview, Looc Barangay Captain Joselito Cane said that village officials will discuss the matter with the City. “We want to take care of it because natural beauty is becoming a scarcity and it’s something we must protect. But we also have to make regulations because its recognition may result in its destruction,” he said.
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