Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wild Passion in the Jungle

Bubbles Bev (or is it Mae now) told me that a title makes or breaks a story. So, I hope I hooked you into reading my story. Passion, fervor, ardor, obsession, infatuation, excitement, enthusiasm, zeal, craze: these are words that are enough get us all hot-blooded. We all need a little passion in our lives right? But, I hope you laugh a little when I slowly transition into talking about plants and flowers in my story.

Flowers fascinate me, but not just because of their beauty. Why are there flowers anyway? Flowers are well, basically sex organs. They are made for the purpose of continuing the line of the plants that make them. Their form, color, scent, feel, arrangement, etc. all point to the act of pollination. Flowers are either male, or female, but more often, they have both male and female parts.

When was the last time you received flowers? Sent flowers? People have tagged different meanings to types of flowers or the color of flowers, but the reason for the busiest day in the flower shop points to passion. The last time I sent a dozen roses to some one, the recipient said, “I loved them, sweetie! I thought I just wanted you to save the money for dinner and a movie, but these are breathtaking! I’m so glad you got them.” So in conclusion, no matter what they say: Flowers = Chichiiing! Hehehe! I jest.

I’d like to introduce you to the Passifloraceae family of plants. Passiflora means “passion flower” and we have two kinds on Saipan that were introduced possibly by accident. Their flowers are so attractively intricate and it’s hard to imagine that some people don’t notice them. Well ok, one is really small and cryptic. The PIER (Pacific Island Ecosystems at Risk) lists them as an invasive threat to our islands (especially to the Northern Mariana Islands) since their vines can cover other plants. When the conquistadores first saw these flowers in Central America, they named them after their symbolic passion for Christ. These particulars make the passion flower very fascinating to me.

The Fetid Passionflower (Passiflora foetida) is the larger of the two flowers. Look at how beautiful they are in the pictures below. But why is it called “fetid”? Some publications say that the plant has a stinking smell to it. I’ve never noticed their alleged stinkiness. The white and purple flowers are about 5 cm, and the 2 cm fruits are either pale yellow, orange yellow or red. The pulp and crunchy seeds offer a little and often unsatisfying snack, but they really resemble the taste of the more bigger commercial varieties of passion fruits. The climbing vine is hairy with lobed leaves and you’ll see them in trails, open lots and on wire fences. The pictures are from Coral Ocean Point, and the Costco lot. The beautiful Chamorro name for this flower is Kinahulo’ atdao, which means sunrise. I first got introduced to this particular Passiflora while growing up in the town of Canlubang in Laguna, Philippines. My friend Mark A. started eating them off the vines and said that they were called Kurumpot. What an ugly sounding name for such a pretty flower, I thought to myself!

Kinahulo’ atdao (sunrise): Does the name fit the flower?

That fruit's almost ready to eat.
Those are immature fruits in those pom poms. Pom Pom is also the Pohnapeian name of this fruit. The corky or wild passion fruit (Passiflora suberosa), like P. foetida, is also considered a weed vine. The small dark purple fruit is food only for wildlife but the 1.5 cm flower is just as intricate compared to the rest of the family. It is easy to see why people don’t notice them though, since they are very inconspicuous. Suberosa means “wood cork” and refers to the wood-like quality of the very mature vines. The fruit pictures I took at the Marpi area and the flowers pictures are from the Hyatt Regency garden and San Antonio Beach.

A ripe fruit for the birds. Some immature fruits on a creeping vine.The last story I would like to share with you involves a medical doctor that I knew on Guam who fell in love with the Indonesian passion fruit while vacationing in Bali. He loved the purple passion fruit or Siuh (Passiflora endulis. F. Endulis), but knew that customs would not allow him to bring any to Guam. So Dr. L decided to enjoy and eat as many as he can the evening before flying home. He made sure that he swallowed enough seeds whole. Lo and behold, a few months later he had a trellis with a beautiful vine full of immature passion fruits! Kind of a funny story, and I am sure that Dr. L's digestive system "cleaned" the seeds out, but this is a good opportunity to remind you that bringing plants or fruits from other places can have a devastating impact on our island’s unique ecosystem. Introduced species can become invasive and compete with the native flora and may even bring diseases or pests that can ravage the unwitting existing system. We must do what we can to protect an environment that can't do it by itself.

Thank you for letting me share.

The Beachcomber


Beverly said...

lol Love your title! I like how you transitioned into talking from passion to plants. Lewie and I should take you on our bike rides so that you could give us a nature tour of all the plants and trees=)

The Beachcomber said...

I saw SaipanTriGuy yesterday and he said the same thing. I told him that he'll wont get any riding done though nor will he get any swimming done when I'm around because I'll be pointing out too many things. More of a nerd than an athlete, I guess.

Anonymous said...

catchy title haha... The first plant you described - the edible one - is called "kurumpot" in our native Waray tongue, and its moniker comes from the way the fruits are wrapped in cloth-like fibers. In the Waray dialect, "kurumpot" means "wrap around", hence the name.