Could they really be cherry blossoms? A canopy of beautiful pink flowers in full bloom with Mt.Kanlaon at the backdrop would definitely make an iconic image for the highest mountain in the Visayas. A lot of people claimed the flowers looked like the Japanese cherry blossom or sakura which bloom at this time of the year in Japan and other temperate countries. Others claimed they were the local Palawan cherry which is also what the locals in La Castellana call them.
Can cherry blossom grow in Negros Island?
When the pictures of the supposed cherry blossom went viral, I was already following the online exchange of ideas among environmentalists and conservationists especially that of Mr. Errol Gatumbato. Mr. Gatumbato has worked as Protected Area Superintendent of the MKNP and he’s also a well respected biodiversity conservation specialist and advocate.
Mr. Gatumbato shared that his botanist friend and UPLB professor, Pat Malabrigo confirmed that the flowers were that of Antsoan (Cassia javanica ssp. javanica) which belong to the same specie as the Palawan cherry (Cassia javanica ssp. Nodosa). Despite of its name, Palawan cherry, also called balayong by the locals, is is not a native tree species but rather prehistorically introduced to Palawan. On the other hand, the Japanese Cherry Blossoms or sakura (Prunus serrulata) only grow in temperate zone so the only places it can grow in the Philippines are in the highlands of Luzon such as Baguio. So that answers the question of whether the cherry blossom can grow in Negros Island.
Up close with the Palawan cherry
Even if the trees were not the real cherry blossom, the flowers are still very beautiful and a lot of people, including myself, wanted to visit La Castellana to see the flowers up close. Together with fellow nature enthusiasts, we went to the Mount Kanlaon Natural Park (MKNP) office at Sitio Calapnagan, Brgy. Bi-ak Na Bato, La Castellana in Negros Occidental.
There were two sites identified to have the Palawan cherry, one near the bridge approaching MKNP and the one near the MKNP office, just across the unnamed kapehan. The tree was just a few meters from the highway and you really have to look up because the Palawan cherry is already a towering 15-meter high tree.
It seems there were a lot of us who had the same idea that weekend because there were already some motorists who made a stop at our location. MKNP staff Ronnel Inocencio guided us to the spot with the best view of the pink and white blooms. We were lucky to catch the remaining blooms since the flowers are already starting to wither.
Now that we saw what we came for, the next thing to do is to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee under the canopy of trees. The coffee were robusta locally cultivated by Ronnel’s grandmother, Mercedes Inocencio. Nanay Merced told us that the area used to be kakogonan and katigbawan. The DENR started to reforest the area in 1954 with teak, narra, acacia, mahogany, including the Palawan cherry.
The Fate of the Palawan Cherry at the Mr. Kanlaon Natural Park
The MKNP is a protected area meaning exotic species such as the Palawan cherry should not be planted.. According to Mr. Gatumbato, the main purpose of the DENR then was reforestation regardless of species. They have already listed the exotic species but their policy was to exempt the cutting of the trees within the reforestation area for auditing purposes. Their stand was stop planting exotic species and to let the exotic trees in the area die naturally If this policy will still be implemented by the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), then we will still see the Palawan cherry at MKNP and the best time to visit is during blooming season between February to April.
How to get to Brgy. Bi-ak Na Bato, La Castellana, Negros Occidental.
From Bacolod City, take a bus at the Bacolod South Terminal going to Canlaon City and get off at the MKNP office. Just ask around from there.