World’s biggest flower returns to Banahaw; but waterfall runs dry
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Eight years after Mt. Banahaw was sealed off to human intrusion, exotic wildlife species have begun to show life once more along the foothills and gullies of the mystic mountain, including the rare “rafflesia,” considered the world’s biggest flower.
An inspection and assessment hike conducted during the Holy Week by an environmental watchdog group, however, found that the majestic Cristalino Falls located on the mountain side of Dolores, Quezon, was now again left with only a trickle water beneath its vines and shrubs.
“Rafflesia has returned to Mt. Banahaw and there were no more recognizable mountain trails due to the return of thick vegetation,” Efrelyn Escultura-Calabano, special project officer of Tanggol Kalikasan-Southern Tagalog (TK-ST), told the Inquirer.
However, not all was rosy for Mt. Banahaw.
“In 2009, Cristalino Falls was a beautiful sight with its cool gushing water. Now, the water is gone,” said Escultura-Calabano.
Salud Pangan, park superintendent for Mount Banahaw and adjacent Mount San Cristobal, who joined TK-ST in the inspection trip, said “rafflesia” could reach a diameter of nearly a meter and weigh up to 11 kilos in full bloom.
Aside from Mt. Banahaw, it can also be found on Mt. Makiling in Laguna, Mt. Isarog in Bicol Mt. Apo in Davao as well as Antique on the island of Panay.
Rafflesia, considered a parasitic flowering plant with a distinctive rotten smell, was discovered in the Indonesian forests by a native guide working for an expedition in 1818 and named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the leader of the group.
Escultura-Calabano cited records of known Mt. Banahaw species which showed that “rafflesia” has long been a part of the mountain’s rich flora.
However, it slowly disappeared and became almost extinct after throngs of religious pilgrims and picnickers left widespread destruction in climbs to the mountain, especially during Holy Week.
“The rafflesia flower that we last spotted in 2006 eventually wilted and died,” she said.
The drying up of Cristalino Falls, on the other hand, could be the result of climate change, hot summer season or “man-made” activities, said lawyer Sheila de Leon, TK-ST executive director.
“Definitely, we will recommend an investigation,” she said.
The TK staff noted the absence of the usual throng of devotees and urbanite mountain trekkers who usually came on Holy Week but were only restricted to the pilgrim’s campsite at the foot of the mountain.
“There were only more than 2,000 registered mountain visitors this year,” Escultura-Calabano said.
During their inspection, she said, they found some devotees who managed to sneak into the supposedly sacred spot near the Cristalino Falls, which has been declared as off limits to the public.
“We just allowed them to finish their prayers before they were ordered to return to the pilgrimage area at the base of Banahaw,” she added
In 2004, the Protected Area Management Board sealed off with barbed wire several trails leading to areas in the bosom of Banahaw to start the rehabilitation program that aims to revive the mountain’s natural resources.
Last February, the PAMB declared the two mountains would remain off limits until 2015 to give them more time to recover.
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