Saturday, March 29, 2014

Palm Sunday - Nemesis of Palm Trees and Cycads

Palm Sunday - Nemesis of Palm Trees and Cycads 
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
Faithful of the Christendom wave young fronds of buri, a threatened species; and oliva or Cycad, a highly endangered species, in observance of Palm Sunday. 
More than ninety percent of the palaspas are made of the buds or immature leaves of palm trees principally buri, anahaw, and coconut. Coconut trees are purposely stripped for palaspas and their heart is made into fresh lumpia.  Otherwise the trees are left to die in the grove.  As a consequence the destructive rhinoceros beetles, and pathogenic fungi breed in them, and build populations that destroy many standing trees.   

Buri, on the other hand is already a threatened species in the Philippines and in most tropical countries. The leaves are woven into mats, bags and other handicrafts. It is the young tree that is harvested for palaspas, ending the tree's potential life span of fifty years. It is not easy to propagate buri because it bears nuts only once it its lifetime - just as it's going to die. 

Survivors of  Palm Sunday takes time to recover.  It takes months to normally recover, and if harvesting of nuts is every two months, the affected trees may yield only half as much.  But then Palm Sunday comes next year, and every year thereafter. Thus we wonder if ever the tree will live a productive life of twenty to thirty years. 

I have a coconut tree at home.  We have been harvesting buko nuts every two months since 1979 when we moved into the subdivision - that's a good thirty three years (plus 5 years earlier). On the average our harvest is twenty nuts per bunch or forty buko nuts per harvest - that's four hundred pesos at 10 pesos each, city price.  Gross value per year is P2,500, based on six harvests. All these come from a single coconut tree.  

Coconut farmers may be getting more, plus the value of midribs for walis tingting, leaves for sinambong basket, woven mat, activated carbon from the shell, coir for cordage, dusts for the garden, and of course, firewood.  We have not mentioned tuba, lambanog, suka, muscovado, pulitiput, as cottge industry products from coconut. Then the ecological importance as windbreak, and companion crop of orchard trees, and a variety of cash crops.  When planted all together we see a farm model envied the world over - storey cropping.  The model is easily a 3-storey cropping to 7-storeys, one for the Book of Guiness. 
It is irony when faith collides with reality, when the spirit and body are separated by blind devotion, when the future is made bleak by one celebration, when the faithful turns into a bandwagon when unity and cooperation is already established, when faith becomes a stumbling block to a better life. 

Oliva (Cycad) is a living fossil, older than the dinosaur; now it is in the list of threatened species, in other places, it is placed as endangered. Usually the whole crown is harvested for Palm Sunday's palaspas, causing the plant to starve and die. 
Lower photo shows symbionts (fern, moss, lichen orchid, including insects and fungi) that live on the trunk and peduncle of the cycad, thus forming a community we may call as localized ecosystem.  


On the other hand Palm Sunday is key to progress, to the preservation of nature, and healing of our planet. It can be made more more meaningful by planting palm trees instead.  There is good sign here.  In other countries there are churches where the people bring seedlings of palm trees, cycads, and other plant species as well. The seedlings are blessed the same way the palaspas is blessed.  There is one big difference, and this is the key.  The faithful bring back the blessed seedlings in be planted in their homes.  Others join community tree planting in plaza and parks, along roads and highways.  Others organize replanting of destroyed forests, and reclaiming wastelands. Because the seedlings are blessed there's a accompanying   responsibility and concern for their growth. Subsequent Palm Sunday celebrations in one particular feature, are held where Palm Sunday seedlings were previously planted.

The Lord will be very happy of this development.

For the last fifty years I have been campaigning in saving the palms and cycads on Palm Sunday,  starting as a student. Throughout my career as radio instructor, columnist of local magazines, and university professor, I have been consistent with it.  There are more and more people who agree with the idea and have joined the campaign. This is encouraging.  But it has not broken ground yet, as these photos here will bear me out.

Talking with the clergy, I asked apologetically, "Father, is it possible to have only the green and mature palm - not the bud leaves (white), blessed? And not the oliva, too?" The religious ambiance soon engulfed the air and the conversation led into the story of the passion of Christ. ~

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