We share our campus with a wide variety of wildlife – from the ubiquitous Eurasian tree sparrow (Passer montanus) to the transient Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), from the lowly makahiya (Mimosa pudica) to the tall, stalwart Narra (Pterocarpus indicus), from the giant red tree ants to the newfound Hydranea ateneo. But my absolute favorite campus resident is a little known and noticed tree that lives quietly at the very edge of the campus, right at the culvert between Ateneo and Miriam – a Barringtonia racemosa.
This tree was introduced to me by Trinket Constantino many years ago, and I fell in love with the graceful beauty of its inflorescence which belies its funny local name – Putat. This always gets a giggle out of people who hear it for the first time!
When not in bloom, it is admittedly quite ordinary. Its dark green, glossy (when not covered in dust) leaves might make it look like any other tree. Once in a while though, long strands of pearly pink buds appear and burst into spectacular blossoms. When in full bloom, the Putat looks like it is covered with long, vertical strands of pink cotton candy. Perhaps some of us have noticed this when we pass by Gate 3.5.
The beauty is fleeting, sadly, and soon the flowers fall either due to rain or wind. On the ground, they remind me of tiny delicate ballerina tutus – still pretty even after being discarded.
The flowers lucky enough to be pollinated eventually develop into seeds that look like walnuts! Trinket and I have been trying (unsuccessfully, so far) to propagate the Putat so that we can plant them in other areas within the campus.
We don’t know exactly how this tree came to be here. We can only speculate that this Putat is a remnant of the former swampy ecosystem that existed here before this area was developed and urbanized. Similar swamp-loving trees also exist on campus, found near the edges of our creeks – there is an impressive Barringtonia asiatica or Botong tree, found near Paseo de Reilley, and the wide canopied Terminalia catappa or Talisay. What we do know is that this Putat is one of the last – if not THE last – of its kind in this area. Its rarity, as well as its standing as a native Philippine tree, is more than reason enough to celebrate it!
The Ateneo is home to many more fascinating plants and animals. While we are rushing about trying to accomplish the tasks of the day, they breathe, fly, crawl, grow, and flourish under the nourishing sun and rain. There is much to learn and appreciate within this campus – teeming with vibrant life and beauty – if we only take time to look and appreciate, for indeed we find God in all things.
Ms. Abby Favis an Instructor at the Department of Environmental Science, and is program manager for campus sustainability at the Ateneo Institute of Sustainability.