Saturday, July 15, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of pandan flower and fruit

Pandan [Pandanus tectoris] The pandanus or pandan illustrated by Kamel is most likely Pandanus tectoris. There are many pandan species, about 800 trees and shrubs, belonging to the screw pine family like Pandanus odorus, P. latifolius, P. utilissimus, P. odorantissimus and Pandanus amaryllifolius Roxb. The last cited species is a small shrub whose leaves are used as a mild spice to flavor water, rice and other dishes. A refreshing tea can also be made from P. amaryllifolius leaves.

P. amaryllifolius is largely cultivated and an extensive wild population is unknown.

While P. amaryllifolius is associated with cuisine, Pandanus tectorius or screwpine is a useful tree since its leaves are used for weaving mats, baskets, hats, fans and, in the past, sails for the outrigger boats like the barangay and paraw.

The multi-branched tree grows well to a height of about 8 meters on sandy or rocky shores, where it serves as a windbreak. The tree has aerial roots. Leaves are M-shaped in cross section and notorious for the fine thorns that line its margins and midrib. Flowers are dimorphic: white male flowers have large white bracts while females appear in a head. Both appear at branch tips. The flowers develop into a globular shape, with separate pieces or phalanges that mature to form a deep green color to a orange brown fruit. Kamel illustrates the pandan flower cluster and a portion of the fruit.

Uses: While the fruit has an edible core beneath the fibrous husk, it is hardly eaten in the Philippines and left to mature and fall, whence it becomes animal fodder. Pandan, however, is cultivated because its leaves are used for weaving and may even be found in inshore areas as ornamentals or as barriers because of its thorny leaf. Cultivars of the pandan are available commercially as landscaping material. The dwarf and the varigated varieties are popular.

Friday, July 14, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of lychee

Lechias. Fresh lychee [Litchi chinensis Sonn.], native to the provinces of Quanzhou and Fujian in southern China, was a harbinger of Christmas. Eagerly awaited like the mandarin oranges and the sweet chestnut, all from China, the appearance of this trio in the Philippine market in late November or early December bode that Christmas was coming. Canning, however, has made the fruit available year round and the successful cultivation of a cultivar developed in Thailand has allowed the tree to flourish in the tropical surroundings of Bulacan rather than the temperate climes to which lychee is endemic. Canned lychee is available year round while the fresh fruit is available even beyond the Christmas season.

The tree is dimorphic, with fruiting females and non-fruiting males. The males, however, are needed to pollinate the female flowers. Lychee is pure delight. Eaten ripe it has a sweet white pulp surrounding a hard brown pith. It can be mixed with other fruits, used as a glaze or used for baked goods. Its distant cousin Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum), introduced from Indonesia in the 1950s grows well in the Philippines.

The inclusion of lychee in Kamel's compendium raises the question whether he found the tree growing and fruiting in the Philippines or whether he drew the fruit and leaf from lychee fruit being sold in the Manila market. If Kamel drew from a living specimen, then lychee was introduced much earlier to the Philippines than is generally supposed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of palm flowers

The flowers of palms, like coconut are not immediately obvious because they are generally very small and not colorful. Kamel has drawn the coconut flower with great attention to detail.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

josef george kamel, s.j. drawing of palm leaves

Kamel illustrates details of four species of plant, which he identifies as palms (from top left to bottom right): pandanus, buri, coconut and areca or bunga used for the chew called nga-nga in Tagalog, ma-ma or mamun in Visayan.

While its leaves are palm-like, Pandanus odorantissimus, the species Kamel illustrates elsewhere, belongs to the Pandanaceæ family. Buri (Corphyra elata Roxb.), coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) and bunga (Areca catechu L.) belong to the Palmæ/ Arecæ family. Of all plants, palms are the most iconic of the tropics. They are also economically useful plants. Pandanus leaves are used for weaving mats, baskets and containers; buri leaves are used likewise. Buri is a favorite material for wide-brimmed sun hats and an alternate to nipa for roof thatching. Coconut's usefulness is endless. It leaves can be woven to make temporary roofs, containers and ornaments. The mid-rib of the compound leaf is stripped and bundled together to make a broom. Its trunk is a sturdy lumber used for temporary post of bridges because it is impervious to water. The list is endless. Areca bound people together because the act of chewing nga-nga was used as a way of showing goodwill; this traditional practice is fast disappearing among urbanites but persists among cultural communities.