Our recent visit to the home of Neptune Pittman in Guimaras Island brought to mind interesting stories about the Red Palm. That’s because we saw one that’s beautifully growing in her garden resort. Botanically known as Cyrtostachys renda, it is a native of Malaysia that was introduced in the Philippines after World War II
We remember that in those early years, circa late 1950s, everybody craved to have a Red Palm of his own because of the belief that it is a Good Luck plant, especially if one receives it as a gift. But suppose nobody is going to give a Red Palm as a gift to you? Well, there’s an ingenious way to go about it. One lady made not exactly an indecent proposition. She told her friend that she will give her a potted Red Palm as a gift. In return, the other lady would also gift her with a similar plant. Problem solved.
LUCKY NEWLYWEDS – Many people really believed that the Red Palm would bring good fortune to the recipient. Just like a couple in Guiguinto, Bulacan that we interviewed more than 25 years ago. When they got married, their Ninong gave them as their wedding gift a couple of Red Palms. Firmly believing that the two plants will bring them good luck, they decided in all seriousness to multiply the plants as fast as they could so they could sell their propagations as their main source of income. And that’s what they did.
Through their own observations, they discovered a practical technique that worked for their purpose. This was how they propagated their plants fast. They allowed their medium size plants (4-5 ft tall) to become overgrown in their containers. Then they would repot them in bigger nursery bags with a porous potting medium consisting of garden soil, rice hull and old manure. This resulted in the production of many suckers that they eventually separated from their mother plants.
The couple sold their Red Palms at much lower prices than other suppliers in Metro Manila that’s why many plant shop owners, traders and landscapers from the big city went to buy their requirements from the couple. They had been in their business for at least ten years when we interviewed them and had built a modest concrete house with their income from their lucky plant.
RICE FARMER – We also remember a farmer also from Bulacan who converted his rice field into a Red Palm plantation. That’s possible because the Red Palm will thrive even in water-soaked conditions. The farmer became famous as a source of more affordable Red Palms. He was a favorite supplier of the good luck palm for quite a long time until other suppliers emerged who became more competitive.
FROM CHICO TO RED PALM – The biggest Red Palm supplier that we discovered in the ‘90s is the Cainta Plant Nursery established by the late Domingo Alfonso, a Los Baños alumus who eventually became our close friend. By that time, Mr. Alfonso was already preoccupied with developing an 18-hectare bamboo farm in Pililla, Rizal, leaving the operation of the 4-hectare nursery to his son Totoy. Up to this day we don’t know of a bigger Red Palm nursery in the country than the Cainta nursery.
Mr. Alfonso whose nursery must have been established in the ‘60s was well known as producer of marcotted chicos. Farmers as well as plant traders bought planting materials from him. One day, Mr. Alfonso recounted, a plant trader who owed quite a big sum for chico marcots he got on credit returned to the Cainta nursery after several years of not showing up. He brought with him a dozen potted Red Palms which was still very expensive at that time. The man said he did not have cash for what he owed so he thought of settling his account with the dozen Red Palms. That started the journey of Cainta Plant Nursery to become the country’s No.1 producer of the good luck plant.
Cainta Plant Nursery offered the most affordable prices. For example, a six feet tall plant with several suckers grown in a half drum could be had for only P2,500. In retail stores, the same could be priced double the amount. Three feet tall seedlings that are sold for P120 in garden shows could be had for only P25.
MOST FAMOUS RED PALM – Easily the most famous Red Palm in the ‘60s was the one grown in front the home of the late Dr. Dioscoro Umali in Los Banos which was very visible to passersby because it was along the road. It was the “Talk of the Town” when the franchise holder of Toyota Motors offered to exchange a brand new top model of Toyota in exchange for Dr. Umali’s Red Palm. The offer, however, was politely declined. With that news, interest in Red Palm was all the more intensified.