March 03, 2009
We have two “must” places to explore when traveling to a new destination. The first would be the local market. The botanical garden would be the second. The local market gives us a feel of a country’s daily life while the gardens give us a peek into its ecological status.
The miniscule country of Singapore could only allot 63.7 hectares to its Botanic Gardens, which is one-fifth the size of New York’s Central Park. Yet it is the only botanical garden in the world that doesn’t charge any admission fees. The Botanic Gardens sources its income from tree-orchid breeding and hybridization. It reportedly pioneered the multi-million dollar cut-flower industry, which has received recognition worldwide.
Another small country, Brunei, has 8,000 hectares of forest reserves. It also has a forestry university which sponsors international botanical and conservation studies, and dozens of well maintained parks and gardens.
Here in the Philippines, the Mt. Makiling forest reserve covers 5,900 hectares. Of this total, 300 hectares is designated to the Makiling Botanical Gardens. It is the center of forestry and botanical studies and is managed by UP Los Banos.
In terms of size, the Makiling Botanical Gardens covers less area than the gardens found in much smaller (but much wealthier) countries. These thoughts crossed our mind when we took part in the Ecological-Cultural Festival organized by the UP Alumni (UPAA), the Mariang Makiling Foundation, and the Department of Tourism. The festival was held to drum up support for the endangered scientific reserve.
Among the events was a painting session that featured actress-singer Karylle posing as Mariang Makiling. “We decided to put a face to the legend,” explains Dr. Feliciano Calora, a respected entomologist and head of the Mariang Makiling Foundation.
Half of Mt. Makiling has been denuded already. To prevent further destruction, the Mt. Makiling Conservation Movement last year planted 507 seedlings of flower tress and timber along the periphery of the forest reserve.
The project has obtained the support of various institutions like Calamba Water, the Embassy of Finland, Ford Motor Philippines, National Power Corp. Sto Tomas, Batangas, Phil. Wood Producers, Surigao Development, CIBA-Geigy, Novartis, and Sterling Health.
But more monetary and manpower support is needed to save this mountain, which is said to have a more diverse plant species than that of the entire USA.
Forester and education officer Ben Arisala is despondent over the turn of events. He has been with the Gardens for 27 years (he started working here immediately after graduating from the College of Forestry). In the past, he says, the garden had a staff of 36. Now, there are only 12 tasked to manage the 300 hectares.
The Gardens was opened in 1965 to support the academic and research needs of the forestry and plant sciences, as well as serve as a tourist attraction. It is a dipterocarp forest – it has a hiking trail, arboretum, a plant nursery, picnic grounds, venues of special events, and a swimming pool with water fed by the natural springs of Mt. Makiling.
Arisala gave us a virtual tour of the immediate surroundings starting with the rotonda marked by a sculpture of the Apitong tree seed framed by two towering bagtican trees. Sixty to 70 percent of the forest, he says, come from the family dipterocarpaceae to which bagtican, giho, and yakal among others, belong. They are classified according to diameter and height – small at 16 cm. in diameter and height equivalent to a one-storey building; medium up to 45 cm. in diameter and two-storey building in height; and large at more than 45 cm. in diameter and taller than a two-storey building.
The small to medium Bitangcol is native to the Philippines and Borneo and is said to be a curative for cancer.
The medium to large trees are the Almasiga with bark producing oils for varnish; the endangered Philippine teak, which is a quality material for furniture; Molave, which grows in the limestone forest; and the Camachile from tropical America. Its bark is used as tanning dye for leather.
The highly fibrous Twai, originally from India and the Himalayas, is used for pulp and paper products and is also locally known as Tuhod since its trunk is shaped like a knee.
Malapapaya is used to make chopsticks, toothpicks, wooden teaspoons, popsicle sticks, and tongue depressors. Its leaves are used as a material to make contraceptives. The ilang-ilang flowers are a popular source of perfume.
We were also introduced to the the king of the flowering trees, the saraca under which it is believed Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism was born. Its orange color is the same color Buddhist monks used for their habits.
The gardens are open daily except holidays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.