Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Congressmen and vines

Steve guided several interesting groups the past week. One day he had a bus full of graduate students in the writing program of the University of Iowa. They were accompanied by their professor and our friend, English professor and writer Robin Hemley, who brought them with his wife and family for a three week tour of the Philippines. The following day he received requests to guide for both a man high up in U.S. Special Forces (whom we choose not identify) and a group of children’s writers from the United States.

The following day Steve guided for five members of the United States House of Representatives who were on a working tour of the Philippines. They were Russ (and wife Debra) Carnahan of Missouri’s 3rd District, Jim Costa of California’s 20th District, Jeff Duncan of South Carolina’s 3rd District, Louie Gohmert (and wife Kathy) of Texas’s 1st District, and Judge Ted Poe of Texas’s 2nd District. It was a pleasure and a privilege for the two of us to spend time with these distinguished gentlemen. Debra Carnahan said that she had no idea what to expect and that the tour “far exceeded any expectations” that she had, and the she was “very glad that she came.” All we knew ahead of time was that California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was supposed to be coming, so we read up on him. As it turned out he was scheduled for other meetings so he was the only congressman in the group who did not come.

Those of us who are frequently on Corregidor are aware that several vine species abound in certain areas. One such vine, suspected by some to be the infamous Kudzu, is actually Cadena de Amor (Chain of Love), also known as Coral Vine, or Mexican Creeper. As you can see from the accompanying photos, it is quite beautiful with its small pink flowers and heart-shaped leaves. It grows along the South Access Road and up the southwest face of Malinta Hill, up the northwest side of Malinta Hill, along the road near the old stockade area, and on the tail past Kindley Field. Small patches are evident in other parts of the island. It is commonly used as an ornamental plant for landscaping.

Another vine drapes the trees and hillside to your right-hand side as you go along the road from the PX toward the hospital. It has blue-to-purple, funnel-shaped, yellow throated flowers, again quite a beautiful plant. Its names include Thunbergia, Sky Flower, Bengal Clockvine, and Bengal Trumpet. Two of the photos show trees covered by Thunbergia. They almost look like monsters, appearing – with some imagination – to have heads, bodies and even arms.

We see drapes of vines we know as Morning Glories from our gardening years in the US, growing wild on the hillside between the CFI row houses and the contract employees’ barracks. It was a surprise for us, not a plant we expected to find here on Corregidor.

Another vine grows on the slope beside the road just downhill from the Youth for Peace sign, at the southward overlook clearing. It, too, has strikingly beautiful flowers, as well as unusual feathery-looking growth enclosing its buds and remaining at the base of the opened blossoms and its fruits. If you look closely at the photo showing two opened Morning Glories, you will also see this vine on the left side with closed flower buds. Since we did not know the name for the plant, we again asked our plant-loving friend Philip Thompson for help, receiving the following information.

The vine is some species of Passion Flower (Passiflora); there are hundreds of spp. and cultivated varieties, including one, Passiflora incarnata, native to the southeastern U.S. where I grew up -- where we call them Maypops. (That one you've found may be our native American species, perhaps, like so many other plants, established here in American colonial days as an ornamental plant -- and now long escaped from cultivation.) The various flower parts are believed to symbolize the crucifixion of Christ, hence the name (3 stigmas for the Trinity; 5 stamens for the wounds; 10 petals/sepals for the 10 faithful apostles, excluding Peter -- because of his denials -- and Judas Iscariot). Its fruit (passion fruit) is edible, and made into juice. Most spp. bear flowers in the blue to lavender to purple range, but I've seen a few tropical spp. in Central America with fire-engine-red flowers.

The Morning Glory Family (Convovulaceae) is really huge (1,000+ spp.?), and especially species-rich in the Tropics. Might be tough to identify the specific spp. native to here, which include the tasty and nutritious Swamp Cabbage or Water Spinach (Ipomoea aquatica) that Filipinos call Kangkong (which of course -- notwithstanding its English names -- is not related to either cabbage or spinach). In the U.S., the family includes some real beauties among flowers, plus of course the sweet potato (which is not related to true potatoes), as well as a few noxious, invasive weeds, including the white-flowered Field Bindweed. I used to grow three varieties of morning glories together in the same planting (Heavenly Blue, Pearly Gates, and a reddish-violet one named Scarlett O'Hara), and the mixture of flower colors looked so marvelous.

By the way, if you want to plant Morning Glory seeds, they have a hard, impenetrable black seed-coat that impedes germination; I suggest taking a fingernail file and filing a spot somewhere on the black seed-coat for a few seconds, just until a little white shows through; then they'll absorb water more easily and germinate almost instantly. Beware: if you over-fertilize Morning Glory with lots of rich nitrogen, they'll just grow like gangbusters without blooming.

Once again, many thanks to Philip.

This will be our last newsletter from the Philippines for a couple of months. We fly to Detroit on Saturday, spend a few days in Michigan, and then take Amtrak to Minnesota for five or six weeks. Some time will be spent in the Twin Cities, much of it on the Iron Range. We hope to fit in a visit with friends in Brainerd. Then back to Michigan in early August, where we will spend time with our children and grandchildren, and visit friends accumulated during the 25 years we lived there. One goal is a combined visit with Everett Reamer, the last American defender to visit Corregidor (2006), and Richard Adams, the last liberator to visit (January of this year). We depart Detroit on August 18.

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