Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dita - Tallest Tree in the City

Abe V Rotor

Dita, Alstonia scholaris, soars to a height surpassing the main building and reaching out to the level of the tower cross of the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. The tree has a pair similarly as tall, also growing in the Botanical Garden, formerly the Pharmacy Garden of the university, the oldest of its kind in the country.

Dita grows very tall with storeyed crown, tapering at the top. The leaves are in whorls of 4 to 7, oblong -obovate in shape.
The bark, stems and leaves produce abundant milky sap. The flowers are white, crowded and numerous. The fruits are pendulous, slender, and cylindrical, 20 to 40 cm long. The seeds are about 3 mm long with brown ciliate hairs on the ends that enable the seed to "float in air" and to be carried to new and far places. This is the principal means of dissiminating the species.

Dita is very common in northern Luzon from Cagayan to the Bicol region, to Palawan and Mindanao; in most islands and provinces, in primary ans secondary forests at low and medium altitude. It is generally found in tropical Asia and Africa, through the Malayan region to tropical Australia.

Locally the tree is known as alipauen, dalipauen, dirita, lipauen in Ilokano; andarayan, dilupaon, iplai in Ibanag; bita in Panay Visaya, ditaa in Bikul and Sulu; tanitan, tangitang (Bisaya); pasuit, polai in Pangasinan; and dita in Tagalog.

Dita has many pharmacological uses. Technically the decoction of the bark is used as "tonic and febrifuge and is said to be an emmenagogue, anticholeric, and vulnerary." (Guerrero, as cited by WH Brown, Useful Plants of the Philippines.)

What are then the active principles found in the plant? In the same reference, dita is rich in alkaloids which are specified as ditamine, echitamine, echitenine; alstonine, porphyrine, porphyrosine, and alstonidine. It is no wonder that dita has many uses as remedty of common ailments as stomachic, fever, diabetes and vermifuge, bath preparation after childbirth, and cough. It is also used in an enema for hemorrhoids.

The Malays use the latex for curing toothache by placing it inside the cavity of the tooth. It is an an antidote for food poisoning. It is used in Java for ripening abcesses and boils. The tender leaves are used as poultice in India, and a decoction of the same is drunk in eastern Malaysia for beriberi, and an infusion in vinegar is prescibed for congestion of the liver.

stand beside a living colossus,
its top buried in fog and smog;
I take the air our breaths infuse,
and catch the cool wind in its shade,
this living tower that God made.

I prick her skin and it bleeds freely
of milky potion for health and groom;
I pick her leaves and grind into tea,
docoction and poultice I make
for a hundred and one ailment.

She dwarfs all things save the high
rise, she survives flood and acid rain,
everyday trampling and heavy sigh,
endless traffic,
noise and vermin;
under her wings it's a lovely scene.

Lovers in her shade her fragrance
guiding Cupid's aim, her flowers
in confetti honor the passersby;
her silky seeds float each with a wish
that rises up, up with the breeze.

What makes this tree tall and great,
by measure, it is indeed a fact;
it is how so little man can make
of her innate power and grace
that have served the human race. ~

Living with Nature, AVRotor

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