An awed Franciscan friar, Juan Francisco de San Antonio, on coming upon these shores in early 18th century, observed that in the Philippines “the whole year resembles spring.”
Over a century later, Augustinian friar-botanist Manuel Blanco documented 903 Philippine plant species and varieties and their practical uses in the first ever such handbook, “Flora de Filipinas Según el Sistema Sexual de Linneo,” published in 1837.
Through the years, that 887-page book grew monumental. Shortly after Blanco’s death in 1845, a second edition came out, virtually a duplicate of the first but with new species and corrections added.
A third edition in large folio was serially published in six volumes from 1877 to 1883—with over 1,000 plant descriptions and some emendations by editors and annotators, plus 477 detailed color illustrations rendered by art masters of the period, among them Félix Resurrección Hidalgo and Lorenzo Guerrero.
It is now rare, highly coveted by book collectors and botanical enthusiasts, and commanding exorbitant prices. From a mere scientific reference, it has become a cultural artifact. Prints of its color plates are perennially exhibited in museums.
A facsimile edition in English and Spanish, with a limited number of copies, was produced in 1993. It is now also rare and “extremely valuable.”
After 180 years since it first came out, “Flora de Filipinas” is republished by Vibal Foundation under its Filipiniana Clásica imprint.
The monumental book’s fifth edition, edited by botanical expert Domingo Madulid, was launched on April 22 at Blue Room of Exchange Plaza in Makati City, to celebrate nearly 500 years of Philippine-Spanish interaction.
The launch was held on the eve of World Book Day, which commemorates the death anniversary of two literary titans—Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. (Cervantes actually died 10 days before Shakespeare, as
England was still using the obsolete Julian calendar in 1616.)
The event was of such cultural import that it was graced by people like Czech Republic Ambassador Jaroslav Olsa Jr.; Chilean chargé d’affaires Camilo Sanhueza; former Ambassador to Italy Virgilio Reyes; National Scientist Edgardo Gomez; Commission on Higher Education Chair Patricia Licuanan; Foreign Undersecretary Manuel Teehankee; Instituto Cervantes director Carlos Madrid Álvarez-Piñer and cultural affairs coordinator José María Fons; San Agustín Museum director
Fr. Ricky Villar, OSA; University of Santo Tomas’ last Spanish priest Fr. Ángel Aparicio, OP; and such culture luminaries as Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Virgie Moreno, Bambi Harper and Jaime Laya.
Soprano Camille López entertained guests with folk songs celebrating Philippine flora and fauna: “Sa Kabukiran,” “Bahay-Kubo,” “Rosas Pandan” (in Spanish). Then she launched on something called “Valer Kuberch,” unsettling the dignitaries.
One smartly coiffured lady gasped: “What’s that language?”
It sounded like “Bahay-Kubo” in a strange tongue (Dutch? German? but not quite). When López divulged it was the beloved song’s beki version (gayspeak), all burst into hilarity.
Madulid arrived late (three hours) and apologized for the traffic, coming as he did from Marikina.
The former chief of the National Museum’s botany division and lecturer (plant taxonomy and systematics, conservation biology, floristics, ethnobotany) at De La Salle University’s biology department, Madulid also coauthored the 1993 full-scale reissue of “Flora de Filipinas.”
For the first volume of the fifth edition, Madulid selected 150 most common species. It has 352 pages lavished with the original color illustrations opposite each page of text. While the Grand Edition of 1877-83 had its cover richly colored in red and gold, this one is in ivory and oxblood.
The text page contains Blanco’s species and common name; the present accepted or correct scientific name; the local, English and Spanish names; Blanco’s notes in Spanish, with English translation; plant distribution, description and uses; Madulid’s additional notes.
It’s quite an easy read for millennials, even those remotely interested in Philippine flora.
A 10-minute documentary screened at the launch revealed the Philippines now has some 15,000 plant species: 8,000 flowering or seed-bearing; 7,000 lower plants. This is quite a stratospheric leap from the number recorded by Blanco almost two centuries ago.