One beauty that has long charmed tourists and residents alike in the summer capital every Christmas season is fast vanishing.
The wild sunflowers (Tithonia diversifolia) no longer dot the hills and remaining landmarks untouched by urban sprawl.
Introduced by the Spanish through the Galleon Trade with Mexico in the early 1600s, the shrubby plant with flowers that bloom starting October and end late January, inspired many writers, poets, painters and songwriters.
It is in fact the city government’s adopted symbol for its famed yearly Panabenga Festival.
Since its inception, Baguio’s Panagbenga Festival revolved around the environment and the preservation of flowers especially the sunflower. Sunflowers are famous for their big, bright yellow flowers which face to the east at sunrise and move track to the west over the course of the day.
Other than that, the sunflower has gained more popularity when it was chosen as the official logo of the Panagbenga festival.
The yellow color of the petals signifies peace and happiness brought about by the festival. In the Cordilleras, wild sunflowers simply grow in the mountains and on the mountainsides and add hue to the green view when seen from afar.
Local residents found benefits from sunflower as a medicinal plant and as a potential mulching and compost material.
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Going, Going, Gone
Bu the days of the sunflower are now numbered.
Dobbels Wallang of the Cordillera Ecological Center, an NGO helping create local solutions to solve global environmental problems, said there are two main culprits behind the fast vanishing sunflowers.
“Urban sprawl has taken much of the land that these plants used to grow on”, he said.
But he did not mince words by naming the second factor. “It may sound funny to you but in reality organic gardening is the second reason”, he added.
He explained by saying that right after the rainy months—June to September—organic vegetable growers start cutting down sunflower bushes by the truckloads.
They compost these and use it as fertilizer for their crops.
A visit to a nearby farming area in Tawang, La Trinidad, showed a mountain literally cut of all wild sunflowers.
If organic gardeners are benefitting from the sunflowers, it is depriving apiarists or beekeepers and their bees from getting the best and tastiest nectar.
Arthur Shontogan, former councilour and a president of a beekeeping association explained that the best nectar for honey production are those that the bees get from sunflowers.
“I think it is unfair for organic vegetable gardeners to cut every sunflower plant they see because our bees will have no place to forage for the best nectar”, he complained.
“Bees in fact pollinate sunflowers and that is the reason why the shrubs are multiplying in many places. Killing sunflower plants is like killing the golden goose”, he quipped.
Fertilizer and Bio-pesticide
The importance of the sunflower cannot be undervalued, we noted, as we spoke to an agriculturist, Prof. Bony Ligat of the Benguet State Univeristy (BSU).
“Sunflowers are the easiest and fastest to compose to achieve carbon for fertilizer. Not only that, sunflower extract is being used by many farmers as biological pesticide”, he revealed.
“At the National Rootcrops Research and Training Center, they have in fact identified sunflower as an effective rootcrop storing additive which repels, weevils, ants, mites and other that cause rotting of tuber farm crops.
Writers, Artists Bow to the Sunflower
To the members of the Baguio English Schools Association and the Baguio Arts Guild, the sunflower, they say, the sunflowers to give inspiration to artists – to write songs, poems and stories and to fill canvasses with color and life.
One, titled “Sunflowers and Ivy” went this way: “My heart seeks the city of pines…..sunflowers. They seem to bloom, for those who are lonely. And turn melancholic days sunny”.
But the reality exists that the future of the sunflowers of Baguio and Benguet, is not bright at all.
Not unless, people start planting them.