Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dry Season Flowers

I hope somebody knows the answer to my question about the orange and red flowers predominantly present during our dry season!

 above honey bee is our native Apis cerana, which produce a wonderfully-tasting honey

 Ixora javanica, for me personally, is more beautiful and preferred than the other Ixora species. It has large round umbels and flowers during our dry season when all the rest are affected by drought and high temperatures. It also becomes a tall bush and is really loved by nectar-sucking insects and butterflies. 

This plant has been here at the side of our garden for more than 20 years now! It never fails to produce profuse blooms every year for our dry season, in time for the Flores de Mayo or Santacrusan, which needs flowers to offer the Virgin Mary every night for the whole month of May. In this picture, it provided a good foreground for a jackfruit tree that is balding and unsightly. Even the sunbirds come here and get their share of the much coveted nectar.

orange Crossandra infundibuliformis

 red Crossandra infundibuliformis

Hipeastrum puniceum 

This amaryllis is dormant during the dry season, grows again when the first heavy rains arrive. It produces the flowers first and followed by the leaves. We have hedges of this in the property in the province, and i have posted it in last years posts. Normally, this happens in June, when the climate has not changed yet. This time the early afternoon rains, although only once was heavy enough to break its dormancy. So we got the early flowers, although the blooms are not as profuse and simultaneous as during the previous years. 

 The red hibiscus is present all year round, come rain come shine. But this time a little rain gave it some boost to produce greener leaves with more and bigger flowers. It is so beautiful as a cover for the lower trunks/branches of the mussaenda, as in the lower photo.

This is the full picture of the complimentary show of the red hibiscus and orange mussaenda. At the back left is a golden shower tree which did not produce flowers now, because it suffered heavy pruning. It would have been more beautiful if the 3 colors are simultaneously blooming.

I noticed last week that most of our flowers these dry season are orange and red. I wonder what that means for the Flower Kingdom. The rest which i did not include here like Clerodendrum intermedium, Sanchezia and Euphorbia millii are also orange and red. Our yellows cannot withstand the waterless soil and extreme heat. Other colors are not available as well. I really wonder why. The only outlier is the blue Duranta erecta, but the flowers are so limited unlike during the rainy season. What are left are mostly the orange berries, orange again! Even the Florida beauty has the orange and red berries. 

Oh, there is one color interrupting all the orange-red color predominance, the off-white flowers of the corn plant or fortune plant, Dracaena fragrans. This is the only non-orange-red in our garden.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A typical tropical dry season event!

Dry season in the tropics involve a lot of drama too. The skies are normally fully blue without clouds above. A few cumulus clouds are just very low in the horizon. Lots of flowers emerged at the start of the dry season especially the flowering annuals. As the season progresses, the heat and humidity become scary to mammals. Some soils crack, some trees die, all living things capable of movements hide from the sun's rays during the day, and most grasses, weeds and annuals die. Plants capable of dormancy become dormant as a defensive mechanism to save the species. Those which are more drought and heat tolerant curl their leaves to lessen water loss, painstakingly holding its breath to hopefully wait for the rainy season. 

Some plants however seem so happy still for the endless sun's rays. This is exemplified by the tamarind tree, Tamarindus indicus. This is widely distributed in the countries of the tropical belt, where the Philippines is located. It is supposed to be brought here centuries back, and most of us think it is an endemic species for being here since time began, so already considered a naturalized plant in the country.

a tamarind tree near our gate on the other side of the street

This year some unusual rains come once in March and once in May, which allows plants to change their normal systems. Tamarind, which normally blooms at the first heavy rains in June suddenly reacted to the rains. It bloomed early and profusely. The ground beneath a big tamarind tree looks like a carpet of yellow-orange when the petals fell and fruiting started. 
These young flowers and young shoots are used in the country as a souring agent for some stews and dishes.

a fruiting branch at the start of flowering and the leaves are still very green

these fruits are already mature and ripe, the leaves are already falling

 Tamarind fruits are very sour when unripe but sweet-sour when fully ripe. It has lots of uses from the immature stage to the ripe stage. Different countries have different uses, but there are also common commercial uses. For example it is the main ingredient for making Worcestershire sauce. Its main use is for the food industry, although the seeds are also sources of other products like galactomannans.

 old mature tamarind tree

Big old trunks are durable and the bright reddish-brown color at the center of the trunk makes beautiful furniture.

typical bark of tamarind tree

What about the outside bark? Can you think of any use for it?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our Dry Season Scenes

The Philippines climate is considered tropical and maritime, characterized by relatively high temperatures, high humidity and abundant rainfall. These are basically the bases of our country's weather and climate, that produced our two major seasons: (1) rainy season from June to November, and (2) dry season from December to May. These are still divided to four types:
  • Type I. Two pronounced season: dry from November to April and wet during the rest of the year.
  • Type II. No dry season with a pronounced rainfall from November to January.
  • Type III. Seasons are not very pronounced, relatively dry from November to April, and wet during the rest of the year.
  • Type IV. Rainfall is more or less evenly distributed throughout the year.
Our property in the province has the Type I. With the climate changes being experienced now around the globe, we are not spared from that. Our temperatures are higher than the previous years! We are so thankful for the La Nina phenomenon, that produced some thunderstorms at the height of high temperatures. At least the sudden rains assuaged the heat from the cemented structures. These happened in March and in May. It gave us the feeling of slight comfort, which i am sure the plants do too!

A rainfed ricefield with rattoon crops hoping to get second harvest from the same plants suffer extreme paddy cracks. I hope the rains will still be able to save these plants. This is a shot in Majayjay, Laguna.

My mother's roses dry early because of too much heat.  The petals wilt its edges before being able to expand. That is because the soft and thin petals transpire so fast and cannot tolerate the high temperatures.

Kalanchoe being a succulent have more water reserves in its system, so was able to produce flowers. But the leaves turn yellowish-brown due to extreme heat and sunlight.

Asparagus ferns really cannot tolerate the conditions, the leaves totally died.

These native ferns are suffering with the heat too, but their rhizomes and root systems will be able to wait for the rains, when they eventually resume their green lives.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Biological Diversity

Bloggers in Europe have groups identifying or observing beneficial insects like lady bugs in their gardens. They formally include this activity in their everyday chores.Then they have online database to enter their observations. I am so amazed at this activity and hope to have a parallel activity in the country even at least for butterflies. Maybe identifying species numbers and locations for butterflies will be an enticing project or activity for many enthusiasts. However, I am not in the position to start on a big project like that. So i will start on something I am capable of and will not entail coaxing or enticing people.

I have started identifying the species in our property to hopefully later on enumerate all the species found in the area. Our area can already be the sampling unit to represent the species richness in our municipality. Biodiversity or Species Diversity Index can also be computed when data proved sufficient. There are authorities in this field here in the country, but specific vulnerable areas, endangered or protected areas are the subject of concern. In the case of private properties like ours, I will start on my own biodiversity enumeration. Simultaneous with that i am also trying to enumerate the butterflies. Of course, i am asking help from some friends for identification because i am not a taxonomist in forestry, botany or entomology. I am a horticulturist so i can on my own handle the fruits and vegetables identification.

A formula in finding Biodiversity Index to describe the amount of species diversity in a given area is being used by scientists. An example of a simple Biodiversity Index is calculated as follows:

the number of species in the area (numerator) / the total number of individuals in the area (denominator)
= Biodiversity Index
Example 1. a 4X4 meter square area in a carrot patch has 300 carrot plants, all the same species. It has a very love biodiversity index of 1/300 or 0.003

Example 2. a 4X4 meter square area in the forest has 1 pine tree, 1 fern, 1 conifer tree, 1 moss, and 1 lichen, for  a total of 5 different species and 5 individuals. The biodiversity index here is high, 5/5=1. REFERENCE

A more complicated formula is given by the Simpson's Diversity Index (REFERENCE)

n = the total number of organisms of a particular species
N = the total number of organisms of all species

There are more complicated formulas and parameters considered. But in my case, for my purpose, the simplest will do!

This is the biodiversity site at the back of our property, just a few meters from our house. I was so amused at this photo because of the animal-looking structure at the center, made so by the vines constricting a tree branch. This area is just like an oasis between farmed areas, and give sanctuary to insects, reptiles and birds. How would you like a secondary forest like these near your house?

The south slope of Mt Gulugod Baboy going to Mt Tore

Mt Tore as shot from Mt Gulugod Baboy.  Thicker vegetation is found in these areas as it is not easily accessible to cattle grazers and tourist campers. 

The path to Mt Gulugod Baboy in December, when nights are short and temperatures colder than any other months of the year. Foggy mornings characterize these areas during the rainy season.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Red Oxygen Generator

We might have the fixed knowledge that only green plants produce oxygen. The chlorophyll pigments, which do the process of photosynthesis are green. But photosynthesizing pigments are not only green, just that the green is the most prevalent. Other photosynthesizing pigments  not confined to chlorophylls  have all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, and violet. So the whole range of the visible light we commonly know as ROYGVIB corresponds to the photosynthesizing pigments.The non-absorbed part of the light spectrum is what gives photosynthetic organisms their color or the color we see, as in green plants, red algae, purple bacteria.

The secret why bright colors show off or predominantly manifest in autumn or during fruit ripening is....disintegration of the green pigments and unmasking these bright colors. So the bright colors are already there in the first place!

So what do we have here? Stages in the life of a developing pineapple.

 Pineapple is also a bromeliad, so this pineapple variety very much looks like one.

 A pineapple is also called a multiple fruit because each of those small portion called eyes is one fruit.

 If you are not yet convinced, look at these purple flowers that take turns in blooming. The more mature ones are at the bottom and opens first. Each of those flowers will become one fruit and if properly pollinated, you will see those small black seeds embedded in the pulp when eating the pineapple pulp.

 The flowers don't bloom at the same time, so the above fruit shows the blooms at the middle, the lower portions already finished blooming, while the top portions are still immature flowers to bloom at later dates.

Do you notice that the top leaves are already growing in this photo. This has already finished blooming and is already the maturing fruit,. The individual fruits are very visible here and fused together to make the multiple fruit. It might take a few more weeks before this is ready for picking. This Red Spanish Variety, is much different than the Smooth Cayenne we are familiar with in the supermarkets. Those protruding small pups at the bottom are called slips, they can be planted to be individual plants, and mature earlier than if you will plant the crown.

We have this heirloom variety in our property. The fruits are sweeter but smaller than the common table variety. The leaves are saw-toothed at the edges. These leaves are the source of fibers  producing the fine piƱa cloths and make the expensive formal Filipino suits and dresses called Barong Tagalog.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Another Big Haven

In going to an area for possible biodiversity enumeration, it is very comfortable and easy to list the more conspicuous entities first. Even if I am not an outsider in our area, it is also easier for me to list first the big ones. We have a tree which has eluded me the identity until I visited Bislig, Agusan del Sur in Mindanao. The areas along the roads through a 6 hour bus travel from Butuan City to Bislig are mostly planted with these very conspicuous trees. We also saw trucks hauling these logs presumably from the plantations to the city.

Our tree is not common is our vicinity, it just grow there very luxuriantly and quickly as there are no other trees competing for sunlight. It easily outdid the height of the coconut trees around it. While in Bislig, I realized our tree can be sold to paper millers or furniture makers.

Birds love cavorting with one another inside its canopy. We see yellow orioles, coppersmith barbet, bulbuls, oriental magpie robin, brahminy kites, crows and other birds which i can't yet identify. That black something at the young branch is an oriole's nest. I once saw  orioles and crows fight over something there inside the canopy, and they give very loud fighting sounds. I can only presume that the crows are trying to 'birdnap' the young 'oriolet' from the nest. Knowing how crows snatch my mother's chicks, I am sure they can also snatch the young orioles. 

Above is how the canopy looks like during the start of the rainy season

It shed leaves during the dry season, March to May, and sprout leaves again when the rains come.

 The trunk is now about 3-4 feet in diameter, although i really did not make a direct measurement. It is near the road so everybody will look at it when passing by. I see some critters climbing this trunk many times. Some of them are lizards and chameleons. That long molded line vertically arising on the trunk is a termites highway. They have strong noses in knowing the dead branches which they can feed on, even at that enormous height.

Without any big tree around it is standing proud and imposing in that area. It is a big haven for many creatures; birds, reptiles, insects. So, buyers' offer  to cut that tree fell on deaf ears. 

My nephew here was 7 years old, now he is 14. I cannot get a photo of the present trunk and buttress, as it is covered by profuse vines and bushes.It is clear here that no big size trees can be seen around it. Only some molave trees about 1 ft in diameter are present at the back. 

This Big Haven for creatures is Albizia falcata, (syn Albizia falcataria, Molucca albizia). It is a tree legume that fixes atmospheric oxygen to use for its fast growth. So it tolerates poor soils. 

Family: Mimosaceae

Distribution: It is native to the eastern islands of the Indonesian archipelago (Moluccas) and New Guinea, Southeast Asia like the Philippines, Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is now also introduced to tropical Africa and America. In the Philippines it is grown as a cash crop most especially in deforested areas, harvested after 7-8 years and another 8 years from the coppice. 

Uses: It is one of the fastest growing timber trees, so its wood is light, used for making paper and substitute for pinewood as a pulping source. It is also used to make shelves, pallets, packing cases, match and tea boxes, and matches. It can also be used for making furniture. 

Reference: For other detailed characteristics of growing, harvesting, economics, please click this reference.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A lovely morning!

How would you like to wake up with this scene peeping through your window? 

If you are living in the big city like me, sunrises are very difficult to see. I am just luckier that i have all the sunsets because i live in the fifth floor with windows facing the west. I am double lucky as a tall building is not rising yet next to us, and we can never say when that moment will come. I am a little bit assured of more sunsets in the years to come because private properties with detached single houses are at my side. 

So sunsets and mornings are very special for me, i see them only in the province. I intentionally open my windows to let the morning colors bathe me while on the bed. And it never fails  to wake me up before dawn colors dissipate. The open windows also allows the newly generated oxygen sustain me very well through the night, while i am happily dreaming of wonderful futures, which include fully forested mountains and cities devoid of pollution! How wonderful to sleep in clean environments, where breathing is not a hassle at all. 

This is a mango tree with dense canopy

A young forest tree

Our house in the province is on the highland, and although we are far from the sea, we can still see it in the horizon. We are surrounded by already tall trees, most of which are fruiting during their specific season. Not only the morning colors wake me up. Tweeting birds are so happy in the morning before sunrise. And I already learn to distinguish the birds through their tweets, my niece and nephew taught me about them. 

A mature custard apple tree whose branches I sometimes trim for reaching the window. Beyond is a coconut tree laden with fruits, we have lots of them in our property.

Sun rising on top of a citrus tree behind the coconut

Do you agree now that we have a beautiful place in the province? But i agree with you, it can be relative! It might be beautiful only for me because i compare my situation in the big city. If you are living in a resort house near the beach or a garden resort, that is another story!   But I will still fight for my decision, cause what is the old saying for, that "beauty is in the eyes of ....", you know the rest! 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Species Diversity in our Vicinity

There is a trend now in preservation and multiplication of native or endemic species of plants and trees in many countries. This is the best way to enhance reforestation and controlling soil erosion because these species are already growing favorably in the conditions of the area. In Ecology in college i remember having laboratory exercises to make a transect line to enumerate all the plants in the area. With the data, the biodiversity index and/or species richness of a specific area is attained. As college students, we enjoy this out of school room exercises and we had fun learning the unfamiliar. 

I have long been thinking of taking species richness in our place, who knows there might be species which are endangered in the country or those which needs to be multiplied for their economic importance. Since i am living in the big city and seldom stay at home in the province, with only a few weekends available, this self imposed project has been shelved. Maybe now i can do one plant at a time and put them in these site. Our area has a lot of plants that just grow tall unhampered, because the property is just laid fallow with nobody managing it. Now i will start with one of our tallest trees, if not one of the oldest trees in the property. This is the Alstonia scholaris, we locally call dita.

 Its trunk at the bottom can be 2-3 ft in diameter, but the height i will not attempt to guess. Its habit is just to grow just straight up even if nothing in its vicinity is covering it to have branches.  It just produced short branches at the canopy. 

 This tree is at the street sidewalk at an inner curve. It favorably holds soil in that area, but the cemented road is often broken by its massive and strong roots. Some people already offered to cut it, but i strongly declined their offers. I love this tree not only for the practical purposes but because a lot of birds roost in the canopy. Most often i see the yellow orioles playing in the canopy, and maybe they even put their nest there. It is lovely to hear the singing orioles, and also nice to watch when they declare war with the crows. Their fights are not concluded easily and they fight on air with both parties having very loud cries. 

A few lizards also inhabit its trunk, although i haven't observed any being plucked by the birds. This tree is also a well-known traditional source of herbal medicine from its milky sap. A lot of health  benefits have been medically found  with its leaves, sap and bark. In India it is also used in ayurvedic medicine concoctions. Its alkaloid and flavoid contents for medicinal purposes have been researched on. It is fairly summarized in Wikipedia. However, the trunk is not very hard but can also be used for making pulps and paper. This tree is common in Southeast Asia but also found in the Indian sub-continent, Queensland and Guanxi and Yunnan provinces in China.

If i can have more time, i will collect its seeds and give them to interested parties.