Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Palm Sunday - Nemesis of Palm Trees and Cycads

Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, [www.pbs.gov.ph] 8-9 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 the standing trees and surrounding crops.   

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 normal 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. 

Tree survivors of  Palm Sunday take time to recover, in fact months. If harvesting of nuts is every two months, the affected trees may yield only half as many nuts.  But then Palm Sunday comes the following year, and every year thereafter. Younger trees are more vulnerable, many die after the young leaves have been stripped. The remaining bud is purposely harvested for fresh lumpia. In reality, no one would purposely destroy his own coconut tree. He just wakes up and finds his tree destroyed.  It is like bamboo shoot (labong). The owner would rather protect the shoot until full maturity in a year or two and gets much higher value. For the surviving trees we wonder if they will ever live a productive life from five to fifty years, or more.  

We have a coconut tree at home in QC.  We have been harvesting buko nuts from it every two months since 1979 when we moved into the subdivision - that's a good 33 years. We harvest each time 20 to 40 nuts worth P200 to P400 computed at P10 pesos each - buko and mature nuts. The gross value per year is P1200 to P2400 from six harvesting. All these come from a single coconut tree growing all by itself.    

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, coir dust for the garden, and of course, firewood.  We have not mentioned tuba, lambanog, suka, and a variety of delicacies. Then there is the tree's ecological importance as windbreak, riprap of shorelines, and companion crop of orchards and gardens.  When planted all together we see a farm model envied the world over - storey cropping.  Our coconuts make a 3-storey to 7-storey farming model, one for the Book of Guiness. 
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It is ironical 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 faith becomes a stumbling block to a better life. 
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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 greater resolve to take good care of the plants. Subsequent Palm Sunday celebrations in one particular feature, are held where Palm Sunday seedlings were previously planted.

For the last fifty years of my life 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.

The buri palm is now among the endangered species 

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 our conversation and led us to the biblical account on the passion of Christ. ~

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