Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday palaspas of San Antonio, Zambales from the endangered species Cycas zambalensis

Hossana with palaspas of Cycas zambalensis leaves.

It was not in our itinerary this Holy Week to go to San Antonio, Zambales for the Palm Sunday services.  

But a week ago, we were visiting Dr Domingo A Madulid, head of the Botany Division of the National Museum, to check if it's possible for him or his staff to teach high school kids how to prepare plant specimens for botanical identification in a youth camp in San Narciso town.

San Antonio faithful wave Cycas fronds for the blessing.

His ears perked up when we told him we're from that place, and pretty soon he was excitedly telling us of the new Philippine species of Cycas (common name, pitogo) that he and Dr Esperanza Maribel G Agoo of De La Salle University discovered in the hilly grassland of barangay Pundakit in San Antonio in 2005. They were working on a research project funded by the Haribon Foundation's Threatened Species Program, De La Salle U and the National Museum.

Of ten species of Cycas in the Philippines (Lindstrom etal, 2008), this one is found only in the "steep and rugged hills in Zambales" and to honor the province, Dr Madulid and Dr Agoo called it Cycas zambalensis

They've tagged it as a “critically endangered species” considering the threat posed by occasional burning of the grassy hillsides to promote new growth for cattle and goat grazing, collection for the horticultural trade, and the use of the fronds for the palaspas of Domingo de Ramos or Palm Sunday (Madulid & Agoo, 2005) at the start of the Holy Week.  

Close-up of palaspas from Cycas zambalensis.

He urged us to attend and photo-document the early morning Palm Sunday services in San Antonio because, he said, almost all the churchgoers will be waving the Cycas fronds during the blessing ceremony. There were indeed just very few who used the artistically constructed palaspas from the young coconut fronds. These were brought down from the hills, a parishioner told me.  We don't know if it's a zambalensis that's standing near the church with several fronds clipped off. 

May not be zambalensis but a chamberlainii or rumphii.

Before the doors of the church opened for the entrance of the parishioner's to the church, we were able to reach the parish priest, Fr Joey Corpuz, and told him about the zambalensis, with emphasis on it's being a threatened species.

We were surprised that Fr Joey found it very appropriate to cite the endangerment of the plant (and he remembered the scientific name to emphasize that it's endemic in their town), which he compared to the seeming disappearance of the live singing of the pasyon tradition because people now are conveniently resorting to recorded versions.

On the bus ride home later in the day, we read in the newspaper that the theme of the Alay Kapwa Lenten action program of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) this year is environment consciousness.

Bishop Deogracias IƱiguez was reported to have said, “Part of the saving act of the Lord is not just the human person but also the work, the whole of creation, and a very important part of creation is of course, ecology."

For the people of San Antonio, to keep their tradition of commemorating the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, it would be best for them to take measures for the conservation and preservation of Cycas zambalensis.  One way could be to help propagate the species by planting it in their yards or in their farms in the same manner that the imported species Cycas revoluta is used as ornamental plant all over the country.


  •  Madulid, D.A. (1995).  A pictorial cyclopedia of Philippine ornamental plants.  Makati, Metro Manila:Bookmark, Inc.

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