Thursday, April 14, 2016

Let's take heed of plant signs and signals

Dr Abe V Rotor

If you grew up in the countryside, chances are your a better reader of nature's signs and signals.

1. Fruits indicate season and place. Certain fruits are seasonal. Duhat, siniguelas and caimito are summer fruits from orchards. Melon, watermelon and squash are summer fruits from the field. Banana and pieapple though they are fruits year round are sweeter in summer.
Wild fruits like bignay and rattan indicate you are near a forest. So with pahotan (wild mango), sapote (now very rare), and native guava. Many of these wild fruits seldom have commercial value in remote areas.

2. Sensitive plants are nature's clocks and sentinels. When the leaves of acacia start to fold, it is time to fetch the carabao from the pasture and to start walking home before it gets dark. The fowls prepare to roost in their tree abode. The stew leaves a trail, as the western sky dims in the setting sun. By now the leaves of acacia (Samanea saman) have completely folded toward each other at the midrib, and the base of the midrib itself is bent on its attachment. This is also true with the leaves of sampaloc, ipil-ipil, and kakawate

If you are walking on a field where makahiya grow, and notice their leaves folded, someone - maybe man or animals - may have just passed ahead. This may serve as a warning signal in jungle warfare.

These plants, among others, belong to the legume family and are equipped with a special organ – pulvinus – that controls the erection and folding of the leaves. The principle is like a balloon. When turgid the leaves are erect; when flaccid, the leaves fold. The pulvinus is controlled by osmosis, that is, the intake and release of water in the cells.

Leaves and pods of acacia

3. Annual plants indicate the arrival of monsoon - habagat or amihan. Rainy season or habagat wakes up the sleeping seeds of saluyot, spinach or amarath (Amaranthus), kamkamote (Ipomea triloba) and gulasiman (Portulaca). In two to three weeks, they may be harvested for vegetables. Amihan on the other hand, which is the arrival of Siberain high, is harvest time for rice and other grains. It is also milling time for sugarcane.

The change in season is also monitored by migrating birds. In the northern hemisphere, when it is cold, birds flock after flock go down south for the summer, and return after winter. We who live in the tropics observe this yearly mass migration.

Reference of time among old folks is built through observation of the natural environment and a lifestyle where the amenities of modern living are absent. This triggers our biological clock, and while it may not be accurate, brings people to a natural sense of time and quaint living.

4. Fruit laden kapok means poor harvest. When you see plenty of dangling pods of cotton tree or kapok (Ceiba pentandra L), expect poor rice harvest. Kapok is sensitive to water stress. It does not have deep penetrating roots. Instead it has large spreading roots that depend largely on shallow water source.

To compensate for lack of water in summer, the tree stores a lot water in its fleshy trunk and branches like how cactus does while water supply lasts. When the stored water is not sufficient to tide up with the long, hot summer months, a triggering mechanism controlled by hormone stimulates the tree’s physiology. The plant bears flowers and ultimately fruits and seeds, a trait universal to any organism facing stress. This is the key to the perpetuation of the species. In short, Nature has provided a means with which an organism’s ultimate biological function to reproduce is carried on. And the more progeny it produces the more is the chance of the species to continue on.

5. Bamboo foretells the coming of El Niño. El Niño is a climatic phenomenon that occurs every seven years, hence the so-called 7-year itch, or the Joseph's interpretation of the Pharoah's dream of seven years of plenty followed by 7-years of famine. The cycle is erratic though, and even modern tools of forecasting may fail to provide us enough preparaton to face its destructive nature.

The worst scenario is predicted by the flowering of bamboo which occurs every 5 to 10 years. Certain species of bamboo flower and die, endangering the forest to fire, and causing starvation of animals like the panda in China which is exclusively a bamboo feeder. Compounding this scenario with scorched landscape, dry river beds and ponds, brush fires, subsidence of the land often leaving gaping cracks, all point out to a major force majeure.

6. Pristine Environment is indicated by abundance of lichens on trunks and branches of trees, rocks, and soil. There are three types: crustose (crust), foliose (leaf-like) and fruticose (fruiting type). They are biological indicators of clean air. The ultimate test is the abundance of the fruticose type of lichens, while the least is the crustose type. On the side of the animal world, the ultimate indicator of clean air and healthy environment is the abundance of fireflies. ~

7. Other indicators from plants. Presence of some insects on certain fruits and vegetables without unduly spoiling their appearance indicate they are free from harmful pesticide residues.
This does not apply to sweet potato with ulalo (larva of Cylas formicarius, a beetle).

On the other hand, beware of crucifers like cabbage, lettuce and cauliflower which have no blemishes caused by pests and diseases - they are likely to contain residues of pesticides.

Secondary shoots (baraniw Ilk) of ampalaya, squash, sayote, and the like come from spent standing crops. They are relatively cheaper.

When the price of tomato suddenly goes up, it means untimely rains spoiled the crop. So with onions, garlic, eggplant, and other dry season crops. ~

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