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Garden of Native Trees opens

Officials flank the stone signage of the garden. From left (in front): Zuellig, Sycip, Deriquito, George Sycip (in green), Sarmiento, Sotalbo, Gomez, Saloma, Luistro and BRC Marketing and Communications Director Elizabeth Locsin

(July 15)—Biodiversity hotspot.

That was how one guest described the Washington Sycip Garden of Native Trees (WSGNT), the latest addition to the University’s botanical landmarks.

Located between the University Theater and the UP Film Center and designed by the Office of the Campus Architect, the 4,700-square-meter area is dotted with over 100 different species of young native trees from all over the Philippines.

The trees are organized according to family  and separated by brick pathways. The Garden features trees rarely seen outside their native habitats. One such family is the rainforest-dwelling Dipterocarpaceae, some members of which are highly prized for their timber.

Some of the trees are already well known to botanists. The Bolon or Platymitra arborea was described in 1877 by the Spanish friar Francisco Manuel Blanco in his historic Flora de Filipinas.

Others are relatively recent finds, like the Akleng Butarek (Albizia butarek sp.nov nom. ined.), which was discovered in 2010 by the late botanist Leonard Co growing along the tributaries of the Palanan River in Isabela.

Prior to the project, the lot was used as a parking lot by patrons during screenings and performances at the neighboring venue.

The project is a collaboration among UP Diliman, the Zuellig Group through Bridgebury Realty Corporation (BRC), the San Beda College Alumni Foundation Inc. (SBCAFI), Hortica Filipina Foundation, Inc. (HFFI) and the Department of Education (DepEd).

Guidebook Cover

The WSGNT joins the UP Arboretum and the National Science Complex as locations where one can find a notable number of native trees in UPD.

The WSGNT began in December 2012 as a gift of the Zuellig Group to SGV & Co. founder Washington Sycip for his 90th birthday

Serving as consultants and resource persons were former Chief of the Grounds Services and Arboretum Division Emiliano D. Sotalbo, MFFI Managing Director Imelda Sarmiento and UP Professor Emeritus Dr. Edgardo D. Gomez. They were instrumental in the conceptualization, design and sourcing of seedlings for the garden.

The original plan was for 90 species of native trees to be planted, but as the project drew on, the number grew to more than 100.

The Zuellig Group is also sponsoring a program where public high school students will be invited for regular dendrological tours of the garden “in order for the high school students and the Filipino youth to become aware of the rich biodiversity of the Philippines and to know more than just a few names of native trees.”

To help the students during these tours, a guide book jointly published by the BRC and HFFI will be distributed. Compiled and written by Sarmiento and Sotalbo, it contains comprehensive, pertinent information about the various trees in the garden.

DepEd Undersecretary for Partnerships and Linkages Mario Deriquito noted that the garden will “definitely be a favorite destination of off-site classes and educational trips not only for our young learners but also for us adults, who might have already forgotten what our native trees look like.”

The DepEd, he adds, considers this project important “not only because of its educational and environmental value, but also because it is the fruit of an effective partnership,” so that “they may imbibe the values that will make them not only responsible stewards of the environment but also engaged citizens working with one another to make our country a better place.”

The WSGNT was formally turned over to the University of the Philippines last July 5 in ceremonies attended by UPD officials led by Chancellor Caesar A. Saloma, the Zuellig Group led by BRC Director Daniel Zuellig, DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro and Washington Sycip himself.

The turnover means that responsibility of caring for most of the garden now falls upon the University, while the HFFI, who provided some of the trees, will look after others until sometime next year.

For his part, Saloma iterated his commitment to the project for the rest of his term and enjoined those present to visit the garden as often as they can.—AKR