(In the after-glow of the annual Baguio Flower Festival, we recall a piece celebrating what remains of the city’s blooms that is struggling to restore its image as the “Flower Garden City” of the Philippines. More than a plaint, it is a wish for a renewed push to restore the city’s gardens during its formative years. – RD.)
Perennials the likes of bougainvillea, hibiscus and African tulip are keeping afloat Baguio’s endangered - if not former - status as the country’s flower city. The annuals, they that go from seed to bloom and back to seed in one growing season or cycle in Baguio’s temperate climate, - snapdragon, zinnia, peas, marigold and others - are vanishing with the gardens they used to grow in.
This is the reality on the ground, notwithstanding the call for year-round blossoming that the annual Baguio Flower Festival has accented on for 20 years now.
It’s all for convenience. Coaxing an annual, say petunia, to sprout and bloom, requires tender human loving care for months, as my unlettered old man repeatedly did, year in and year out for years until his retirement from the city old city nursery that is no longer. The dwindling water supply, the rising cost of labor and of Baguio lots and open spaces now too precious to waste on annuals, further diminish our status as the country’s flower garden city.
There’s also that growing lament that flowers have given way to plasticity, to the commercialization of this blossoming that “Panagbenga”, is supposed to celebrate.
Even the Pacdal Forest Nursery that, over the years, shifted to tree seedling production – perhaps also for labor convenience - , is no more. It’s giving way to a centralized infrastructure to house all the various regional offices of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
We find solace from the roadside view of perennials which began exploding with blooms before or with the onset of summer. Suddenly prominent in February is the jacaranda, the sight of which you can still catch, as it sheds its blue, bell-like flowers along Kisad Road and in front of the community environment and natural resources office at Pacdal.
Native to Central and South America, jacaranda lines up the streets of Pretoria in South Africa where legend has it that if a flower drops on a student’s head, he or she will pass the final exams at the University of Pretoria.
All the while I’d presumed jacaranda came from where the African tulip did. Also known as fountain tree, the tulip is so named for its orange-red tulip-shaped blooms that spread out to its branches in older trees and jut out first on its upper crown in younger ones. Represented by a single species, it’s scientifically called Spathodea campanulata for its spathe-like calyx and campanulate or bell-shaped flowers, mostly red-orange.
As annually experienced by the Baguio media who set up their summer program parachute at the picnic grove of the Burnham Park, African tulip is fast growing, its wood soft and brittle.
Topping the riot of colors from perennials this summer about to begin is the bougainvillea. It blooms in red, pink, orange, yellow, although there may be other shades to be found exposing themselves out of residential gates, fences and hedges in one’s jeepney, taxi or private car ride around.
Erroneously presuming it came from Spain, I misspelled it as “bougainvilla”. Like Jacaranda, it originated in South America where it’s known as Napoleon in Honduras, trinitaria in Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico, Santa Rita in Argentina, Bolivia and Uruguay. It’s called papelillo in northern Peru because of its paper-like bracts, its special, brightly colored leaves which we mistake for the flower because they grow from the stem from which the actual flower develops.
As observed by Wikipedia, the probability of hybrids can be almost endless: Currently, there are over 300 varieties of bougainvillea around the world. Because many of the hybrids have been crossed over several generations, it is difficult to identify their respective origins. Natural mutations seem to occur spontaneously throughout the world.”
The vine’s English and scientific name was in honor of French Navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, the first Frenchman to circumnavigate the globe, courtesy of Philipbert Commercon, his botanist on his voyage to South America.
The explosion of bracts, in clusters of three in some species and six in others, were what inspired then city mayor Braulio Yaranon to urge residents to plant the vine as a move towards restoring Baguio’s historical link to flowers, perhaps even without any aim whatsoever of restoring the title “Flower Garden City”.
Those driving around, from Burnham Park to Campo Sioco, to Mlititary Cut-off, Country Club Road and down to Leonard Wood Rd., find the former mayor’s advocacy valid. The vine is sturdy, hardly needing water and care, so unlike sensitive and fleeting annuals, even while some tend to grow slowly and may take years to bear bracts and flowers.
While in that personal search, I began to take notice of the coral tree, the ubiquitous hibiscus and even the red bottle brush that my old man, thanks to his superiors, learned to identify by its scientific name: callistemon.
The coral tree, together with the golden bush, is a more recent introduction here than the African tulip, the eraser tree, together with the several species of now towering eucalyptus that then mayor Alfonso Tabora had lined up around the Burnham Park. While producing whitish-red flowers that dangle like earrings in succession, the coral tree got its name from its furrowed bark resembling corals. The golden bush, now meekly producing tiny blue flowers and yellow fruits, was named for its bright greenish-yellow leaves.
Perhaps the only native perennial now in bloom, the tough morning glory vine sheds lavender, bell-like flowers now dotting the fences of untended lawns of vacation homes along South Drive until Ilusorio Drive, towards Pacdal Circle and Outlook Drive.
A bane to young trees and shrubs choked by its tentacles, the vine has merited several tips on “How to Kill A Morning Glory Vine” on the internet. One proclaims the effectiveness of pouring hot water into its roots. The vine had survived many wars among Baguio boys of old who, long before the entry of battles of “ transformers” on line, would chop the vine into pieces as projectiles for their weapon of choice that the late Baguio boy and journalist Peppot Ilagan called PAL-S-11-T, otherwise known as slingshot.
The summer explosion of perennials will linger until we prepare to send our kids and grandkids back to school. The quiet, and therefore sometimes unnoticed display, is also harmless compared to the instant, fleeting, expensive and polluting evening fireworks display that caps the annual Baguio Flower Festival.
There’s still time to see the remaining lavender jacaranda bells clinging to the trees. Perhaps their sight can evoke a higher meaning similar to what spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle observed to open his book, “A New Earth”:
“Earth, 114 million years ago, one morning just after sunrise: The first flower ever to appea on the planet opens up to receive the rays of the sun. Prior to this momentous event that heralds an evolutionary transformation in the life of plants, the planet had already been covered in vegetation for millions of years. The first flower probably did not survive for long, and flowers must have remained rare and isolated phenomena, since conditions were most likely not yet favorable for a widespread flowering to occur. One day, however, a critical threshold was reached, and suddenly there would have been an explosion of color and scent all over the planet – if a perceiving consciousness had been there to witness it.”
That was precisely the same perception that inspired the flowering of the “Panagbenga”.
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