Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Balete - Home of the Spirits

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 Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
Seedling of balete (Ficus benjamina) grows from a hollow of a tree.
Birds eat on the fleshy fruit and disseminate the species this way.
Balete belongs to Family Moraceae which includes nangka or
jackfruit (Artocarpus integra), rimas (A. communis) and rubber tree
(Ficus elastica). The biggest member is the banyan tree, so massive
its spreading prop roots can accommodate a temple of worship.
In another scenario, it is said that Judas Iscariot must have hanged
himself on a balete tree.

Balete secures itself with special roots that soon strangle its
host tree, hence it is called strangler's fig. Here its host is acacia
(Samanea saman). (UST Manila)

Closeup of the interlacing roots of the parasitic plant, a process called inarching.
When two roots cross each other, their point of contact is welded by their cambium
layers. This is repeated at different locations as the plant grows amalgamating
the roots into one massive structure as shown in the lower photo. (UST)

Dense growth of balete at Sacred Heart Novitiate, QC

This towering balete has killed its host tree and has replaced it as
the emergent (tallest tree) in the forest. On close examination the
interior of the "trunk" is hollow forming a continuous shaft after
the benevolent host has been totally consumed by rot and termite.

The tree house in the novel Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
is most likely a balete tree. A spiral stair was built in the shaft to reach
the family's dwelling atop the tree. (Mt Makiling, UPLB Laguna)

Balete covers ruin of church in Magsingal, Ilocos Sur.

Balete has indeed a bad reputation. In fact its real name is strangler’s fig because it slowly strangles its host tree to death, using its trunk as if it were its own until it decomposes underneath its interlacing roots and branches. Years after nothing can be traced of its once benevolent host.

The juvenile balete is popularly made into bonsai, and the young tree is domesticated into shrub and grace our homes, roadside and parks. But in the forest, it is a monster, taking over towering trees. Some wrest with the emergents, trees that rise above the canopy layer of the forest, virtually piercing through the cloud. The tree house in the novel Swiss Family Robinson written by Johan Wyss in the 17th century, was built atop a huge balete. A proof of this contention is that the core of the trunk is hollow, which could only mean, the tree strangled its host tree to death. I had the chance to climb the Swiss Family Robinson tree at the Disneyland in Los Angeles, USA, through the tree’s interior spiraling stairs. From the tree house everything below is Lilliputian. Here the Robinsons were safe from the beasts of the forest; it served as their watchtower, too. Of course the tree in Disneyland is made of steel and concrete, but it appeared real the way it is described in the novel.

Anyone who gets near an old balete will develop goose bumps. Imagine walking along Balete Drive (Quezon City) at night and meet a white lady. Old folk will tell you it was a balete Judas Escariot hanged himself. Others will relate how a kapre (black hairy monster) sits high up in the tree, his long thin legs dangling with its cavernous prop roots. But in India and other parts of Asia, the banyan tree, a relative of the balete (Family Moraceae) is the home of kind spirits. Banyan is the longest living tree species after the Redwood and the Bristle Pine. Unlike the latter, the banyan actually “walks around,” its prop roots colonizing the immediate surroundings so that a centuries-old tree may reach a diameter of twenty meters or more. Imagine how massive and extensive the banyan is – it can house a temple under its prop roots, making it Ripley’s living house of worship.

"Betrayal cloaked with benevolence - the skill of actors. The balete stands and waits - the hanging tree for traitors." (AVR)

No comments: