Thursday, February 27, 2014

Arius - Batanes' signature tree

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

Pastry made from the "berries " of Arius, product developed by Batanes State University. Pastry is the name given to various kinds of baked products made from ingredients such as flour, sugar, milk, butter, shortening, baking powder, and eggs. Small tarts and other sweet baked products are called "pastries"
Here is a classical example of a "wild plant" rediscovered for its many potential uses. 

1. Pastries and other bakery products
2. Jam, jelly, "raisin"
3. Fruit wine, natural vinegar
4. Fruit juice, tea
5. Health food - rich in tannin, flavonoid, anti-oxidant, anti-cancer, calories and vitamins
6. Enhancement of active long life.
7. Reforestation, watershed, windbreak, ornamental
8. Pesticide - volatile oil is a safe insect repellent.
9. Natural Christmas tree - saves cutting of trees during the Season.
10. Living fossil - helps trace evolution and phylogeny of living things. 

The gymnosperms are a group of seed-producing plants that includes conifers, cycads, Ginkgo, and Gnetales. The term "gymnosperm" comes from the Greek word gymnospermos, meaning "naked seeds", after the unenclosed condition of their seeds.Gymnosperms are much older than angiosperms, they were the dominant plants before and during the time of the dinosaurs (Mesozoic Period)) while the angiosperms began to flourish in the Cenozoic Period when the human species began to develop - and to what we and the living world are at present.

Stages in the development of the cone to berry. NOTE: The term berry is used here for practical reason, not as botanical description; true berries are the fruits of certain flowering plants. (Acknowledgement: Internet, Wikipedia, Missouri Botanical Garden). 

Arius (Podocarpus costalis) a relative of the pine and cypress is a gymnosperm, which is distinct from angiosperms or flowering plants. Many gymnosperms like the redwood, bristle pine and our own Baguio pine are among the longest living organisms on earth. Although it may not live for one thousand to three thousand years like the Sequoia and Bristle Pine, Arius for one has a lifespan of 100 to 300 years for which it earned its name "century plant" in its native habitat - Formosa, now Taiwan and Batanes. To the Ivatans, it is Batanes Pine. 

Arius is listed among the endangered species of the world.  It is because of its limited natural habitat - mainly shrub forests and natural vegetation on limestone formation such as those found in Batanes, such habitat is now facing increasing loss to agriculture, settlements and other forms of land use conversion. Domesticated Arius and those propagated for ornamental and bonsai lose their natural ability to adapt to new environments. Thus they fail to maintain a natural population even with the help of man. But not in Batanes.  This is why Batanes should undertake a conservation program for Arius through reforestation, habitat conservation and large scale planting. A natural gene bank must be established to study its genetic diversity and possible variations with those growing in other countries natural or introduced. Nursery management would be a good base for its propagation through multisectoral  approach, Arius being the very signature of the islands - singular and distinct - worldwide.      
Closeup of the foliage; medium size trees dominate a local landscape; Arius bonsai e
stimated to be two centuries old or so. (Eastwood bonsai fair. Photo by the author, 2013 )

One of the treasured plants at the former EcoSanctuary of St Paul University QC was a pair of Arius trees until tall buildings took over the garden.  Dr Sel Cabigan and I used to visit the plants when we were professors in that university.  Indeed the Arius is a very curious plant. 

First, it is unsuspecting as a gymnosperm. It does not have needle leaves like the pine. It produces cones becoming berries which ripen into dark purple, its seeds exposed at the bottom like the cashew (kasoy), as shown in the photo. 

Second, as a conifer, it is an evergreen.  The tree remains green throughout the year, its crown full and deep green. It loses its leaves one by one without being noticed, unlike the deciduous narra, talisay, and other flowering plants. Being a non-deciduous, it protects the area from brush fire.  It is efficient as watershed cover to catch and store water, while protecting the soil from erosion and siltation, and unexpected change in pH and fertility.  Its litter serves as mulch that slowly become organic fertilizer while conserving soil moisture in the process.   

Third, it is photoperiodic.  It responds to specific day length that dictates cone bearing and formation of berries. It is climate specific.  Though it may grow vegetatively on the lowland, and at lower latitude, it does not produce cones - and these may not form into "berries" at all.  In Batanes and Taiwan the Arius undergoes the normal cycle, being indigenous in these places. 

Fourth, its essential oil is an insect repellant, as ointment, smudge (katol), or simply by applying fresh leaves where insects abound like in poultry houses, kitchen cabinet, and tents. Try crushed leaves mixed with water for watering garden plants.     

Botany of Podocarpus costalis: Morphology

Shrubs or small trees to 3 m tall; bark greenish, very smooth; branches spreading horizontally. Foliage buds 2-4 × 2-4 mm, of long, triangular scales with spreading apices. Leaves spirally arranged, crowded at apex of branchlets; blade of adult leaves narrowly oblanceolate or linear-oblanceolate, (2.5-)5-7 × (0.5-)0.8-1.2 cm but juvenile leaves larger, leathery, midvein prominent and raised adaxially, less distinct but more broadly raised abaxially, base tapered into short petiole, margin slightly revolute, apex rounded or obtuse, subacute in juvenile leaves, sometimes mucronate. Pollen cones axillary, always solitary, sessile, cylindric or ovoid-cylindric, 3-3.5 cm × ca. 7 mm, surrounded at base by a cluster of membranous scales ca. 2 mm wide. Seed-bearing structures borne on peduncles ca. 1 cm. Receptacle red when ripe, cylindric, 1-1.3 cm, base with 2 deciduous, lanceolate sterile bracts ca. 1.5 mm. Epimatium dark blue when ripe. Seed ellipsoid, (8-)9-10 × 6-7 mm, apex rounded, shortly mucronate, mucro ca. 1 mm.

Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard, St. Louis, MO, 63110 USA
Batanes State University in cooperation with the Bureau of Agricultural Research of the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Science and Technology, is developing the Arius as a signature plant of Batanes in like manner Kiwi fruit is the signature of New Zealand, and Smyrna Fig of  ancient Persia (now Iran). The joint undertaking is headed by BSU research and extension director Dr. Robert Baltazar who found the potential value of the carbohydrate-rich berries.  

Special thanks to our relatives who brought to our home in QC pastries made from Arius: Mr and Mrs Werner Arthur and Erlinda Mohr, Jimmy Calucag, and daughters Ma Jennalyn and Ma Jamila Alconis-Calucag. Congratulations to Batanes State University and Dr Robert Baltazar et al

I also wish to acknowledge my former professor and co-professor at the UST Graduate School, Dr Florentino H Hornedo, a native of Batanes, for his invaluable achievements as university professor, author, social scientist , and UNICEF commissioner, and most specially as a friend. ~

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