The trees that line UP memories

| Written by Jo. Florendo B. Lontoc

For an old campus such as UP Los Baños, established in 1909, an iconic tree could simply be any one of those trees that have survived the years since.

Even at its busy academic center, it is not lacking in trees that have been there since any one could remember: the “Fertility Tree” standing like a mother among its brood of acacias at the Freedom Park; or the royal palm trees that still tower over the street from the Carabao Park to Palma Bridge; or the pili trees after which the tree-lined avenue was named; or even perhaps the dao tree before the Student Union building.


The fire trees lane of UP Diliman. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)
The fire trees lane of UP Diliman. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)


Likewise, UP Visayas, having a pre-war building which used to be a city hall until it was converted for use by the university, could choose among those that have survived the transition.

UP Baguio is perhaps defined by what defines the city in general, the Benguet pine.

For other, perhaps newer, campuses, the choice could be more aspirational; that is, a tree to represent their future.

We could ask the campus chancellors to name the iconic trees of their campus, given these options. But the choice is not really as simple.

UP campuses are known tree havens. The system-wide master development plan has special provisions for trees and which trees. Going by the term, iconic trees could be as numerous as the different experiences or associations of constituents with trees on campus. And that entails a survey of all UP constituents who have ever lived.

We ended up asking for that tree which simply stood out in individual memory.

A tree of inspiration

“At the top of my head, it is the ubiquitous tambis fruit trees that I would like to honor in our campus with distinction,” writes Chancellor Liza Corro of UP Cebu.

There are two planted on both sides of the UP Cebu administration building. One is right outside the chancellor’s front window.

“These trees had been immortalized already in a lot of paintings and photographs,” she says. “Likewise, a poem had been written about the tambis trees and their fruits by a member of Tinta, a UP Cebu organization which is into writing poems and poem readings. This poem was read in one of UP Cebu’s celebrations of the Buwan ng Wika, which the administrative staff enjoyed and was really able to relate to.”


The tambis fruits. Photo by By Billie bb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The tambis fruits. Photo by By Billie bb (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The two tambis trees at the UP Cebu administration building. (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)
The two tambis trees at the UP Cebu administration building. (Photo by Bong Arboleda, UP MPRO)


According to Corro, “When in season, the tambis fruits are scattered in front of the building, and the ground is colored with red fruits splattered on the grounds. Janitors patiently sweep the ground to clean up these fruits, which otherwise would be a feast for the ants and the birds.”

“Currently, on the right side of the Admin building is the billboard with the tarp bearing UP Cebu’s tagline: ‘Nurtured to Create, Inspired to Innovate and Destined to Serve.’ It had to be moved a little bit to ensure that the tambis trees are not covered.”

Corro realizes that the tambis trees and their fruits reflect the tagline. “Maintenance people nurture these trees, in the same manner they nurture UP Cebu’s staff who enjoy the juicy fruits when they are in season, some of whom would dare climb up the trees to gather the red juicy, scratch-free fruits.”

Established in 1918, UP Cebu stands alongside UPLB as one of UP’s oldest campuses. “UP Cebu’s tambis trees had long been witnesses to the unwavering service and protest rallies of UP Cebu constituents happening in the Oblation park,” Corro, the campus’s first chancellor, says.

A tree for preservation

Chancellor Carmencita Padilla of UP Manila, UP’s birthplace, chose a tree unknown to many UP Manila constituents although it has been there from the beginning.

The tree had not been in plain sight. “The hundred-year-old dita tree stood between two old buildings: the Science Centrum and the Sports and Wellness Center, both now demolished, behind the two-storey 100-year-old National Institutes of Health (NIH) building,” she says.

“It became the center of attraction when we started planning for the new NIH building.” At an estimated P1 billion, the new NIH building is one of UP’s biggest infrastructure projects. “The tree stood in the middle of the 4,000-square meter lot assigned to the building. The first thought was to cut it because we were informed that it would be costly to preserve the tree in the background of a building around it. But to our surprise, it was declared a Heritage Tree one year before we started working on the design,” she explains.

“Other thoughts entered our mind. Maybe it was a sick tree and needed to be cut. UP Los Baños Forestry retired professor Jose Sargento, a silviculturist, was consulted and he told us that it was a healthy tree and was good for another four decades with proper care and attention.’”

According to studies, the roots and branches need at least 20 meters around it to breathe. For the tree to survive the construction, technical and scientific expertise had to be provided to the design contractor.

“The thought of the life and death of a tree became a discussion point with the architects,” Padilla adds. “After several meetings, we included in our terms of reference for bidders for this NIH building the item that the dita tree was part of the design package and that the contractor would be fined if the tree dies. The approved design has the dita tree fronting the lobby of the 18-story building, expected to be completed by the end of 2019.”

Padilla hopes the tree will be an icon for urban ecology, “where nature and humanity are harmonized.”

Trees for the senses

“My favorite trees before I became chancellor was a kapok tree in one corner of the AS Parking lot, and a row of fire trees on the street next to it,” UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan says.


A towering kapok tree beside the AS Parking Lot. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)
A towering kapok tree beside the AS Parking Lot. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)


“As the summer set in around April, the kapok tree would bloom, its pods releasing cotton-like balls that look almost like snow when they fall to the ground. When the fire trees bloomed, it was a sight to behold as well, the street turning crimson. Together, the kapok and fire trees signaled, in the past, the end of the school year. In the new academic calendar, it remains a marker of the end of the second semester.”

He adds that there was “Just one drawback with the kapok: I suspect I share with others an allergy to the kapok, so it is indeed a sight to behold…and to sneeze at.”

Tan, whose previous columns on a national daily show his interest in trees, took the time to check if another tree he loved still existed:

“I actually was able to confirm the other tree that I loved. It’s kalingag or cinnamon, scientific name Cinnamomum mercadoi. It’s on the hill near the pond in front of AS 101. If you rub the leaves hard, or scratch the bark you’ll catch a faint whiff of cinnamon.


The kalingag tree by the Rizal park at AS. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)
The kalingag tree by the Rizal park at AS. (Photo by Jo. Lontoc, UP MPRO)


“I thought it would have been iconic because it has been there for years, and AS being such a hub for all students, it must have seen many generations of UP students, and all the activities in AS, from frat rumbles to rallies to the Oblation Run and to everyday lives of UP students,” he says.

The trees of becoming

For UP Mindanao’s Rene Estremera, the relatively young campus’s icons are in the process of becoming. “Being located at the foothills of Mt. Talomo and Mt. Apo mountain range, the campus is blessed with the heritage of an upland forest environment populated with boulders and trees, making the selection of a particular tree elusive,” he says.

According to Assistant Professors Cyrose Millado and Aileen Delima, both of the Department of Biological Sciences and Environmental Studies, the 22-year-old UP Mindanao “may not yet have heritage trees but we have heritage boulders. Yes, huge boulders that have provided solace to students in moments of solitude or fellowship.”

Estremera mentions the rubia trees that line the one-kilometer Maguindanao Road leading to the College of Science and Mathematics, and a row of star-apple trees and a giant rambutan tree located by the main campus entrance, which “have provided fruits for picking or for very cheap prices” for students since the campus pioneer days.

“In the early years of campus development, when the University Avenue and Oblation Plaza were laid out, royal palms were brought in and planted in a circle around the Plaza. These palms have stood for almost twenty years. However, it is feared that they may expire soon, not being endemic to the Philippines and subject to disease.”

In contrast, the sago palm is indigenous. In 2006, UP Mindanao kicked off the UP Centennial celebration by planting this choice bio-resource. It is still being planted by researchers who are committed to continuing the sago research project, one of the first in UP Mindanao to be recognized nationally.


UP Mindanao's Oblation Plaza is surrounded by royal palms, with to-og trees planted to replace them in the future. (Photo from Rene Estremera, UP Mindanao)
UP Mindanao’s Oblation Plaza is surrounded by royal palms, with to-og trees planted to replace them in the future. (Photo from Rene Estremera, UP Mindanao)


“In February 2013, Dean Reynaldo Abad pioneered the planting of Philippine rosewood or to-og seedlings along the University Avenue, the University Infirmary, the Kalimudan Student Center, the Administration Building complex, and the College of Science and Mathematics grounds,” Estremera reports. “The rosewood trees are expected to replace the role of the royal palms in endowing prestige to the University Avenue and Oblation Plaza.”

“The tree is an indigenous species abundant in the eastern half of Mindanao and is expected to be a very tall tree once they are fully grown,” Estremera says.


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