Next to the Lantern Parade in December, the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City attracts more visitors than usual every summer for what has become another campus hallmark—sunflower season!
During this time, commuters passing through University Avenue are greeted by a most wonderful sight—sunflowers teeming on both sides of the thoroughfare, the saucer-sized yellow blooms sprouting from leafy plants that stand some five to six feet.
The beautiful stretch of flowers prove so inviting that it has become common for those in private vehicles to stop by the roadside, take a few quick photographs and then drive off in satisfaction. There is something about the sunflowers that radiate cheer and positive energy that people rarely come away from the encounter without smiles on their faces.
This can be seen in the shots most of these snap-happy souls have taken to posting on Facebook, thereby encouraging many others to visit UP as well to have their own sunflower pictures taken. Indeed, so beguiling is UP’s annual floral spectacle that people who see it can’t help but interact with the sunflowers and record those moments for posterity.
This kind of public enjoyment has become an inspiration for those in charge of sunflower-planting at the State University every summer. Engr. Alden Jose Aynera, acting director of the UP Campus Management Office (CMO), which functions under the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Community Affairs—says, “Nakakatuwa kasi talaga, lalo na pag nakita mong ang dami-dami ng mga bulaklak.It’s not usual that you see something like this in the city.”
The flower is a marvel in itself. A heliotrope or a sun-tracking bloom, the sunflower is a composite of tiny flowers located at its center which is surrounded at the perimeter by yellow elongated petals. One sunflower, Aynera notes, is composed of up to 1,000 to 2,000 of these florettes. “Actually, meron ‘yang mathematical matrix.”
As for the sunflower tradition in UP, it reportedly began in the late ’70s to early ’80s. According to Aynera, research shows it was under the directorship of Dionisio O. Liwag of the then Campus Landscaping Office and Arboretum that sunflowers were first planted along University Avenue.
Why sunflowers were chosen, considering it is not indigenous to the Phililppines, is the subject of conjecture. “It may have been experimental. It could have been the initiative of the director, or a directive from top management, under then (UP) president Soriano,” Aynera speculates.
In any case, the exact life cycle of the sunflower—from 45 to 60 days—could have been an incentive for those who thought of first planting in on campus. “Maganda ang naging resulta. Nag-click naman. So I think that’s why it was continued every year since,” adds Aynera.
The planting schedule of the sunflowers is actually timed according to UP’s commencement exercises in late April. That is, the flowers must ideally be in full bloom come graduation, for the appreciation of the UP community and visitors to the campus.
The process begins with the procurement of sample seeds from three potential suppliers in Tagaytay in January. The sample seeds are planted and within five days to one week, it is determined from among the three batches which one seems to be growing well. Seeds are subsequently bought in bulk from the source of the best-growing variety.
Planting begins in early February. This year, the CMO staff started planting on February 6. The best medium, they have found, is a 1:1 combination of ground soil, compost and rice husk (ipa). Holes are made on the ground at approximately one foot intervals, with as many as five seeds planted in each hole.
The sunflowers require everyday watering. Sufficient water is needed to germinate the seeds, especially since the ground tends to be particularly dry with the onset of summer. Water is extracted from a nearby creek with the use of a pump to cover the length of the planted area. When the plants have already sprouted, the surrounding soil is cultivated to foster growth. Growth enhancers such as urea and complete fertilizer are applied as needed.
Despite such careful nurturing, the desired outcome is not always assured. Aynera recounts that last year, the flowers bloomed later than expected. Graduation was already nearing but the sunflowers were still not in full bloom, which was said to have alarmed university officials.
A CMO consultant said this may been the result of a certain variety of worms attacking the plants. But in Aynera’s opinion, climate change may have been the major contributing factor to last year’s “late bloomers”. “When we planted the sunflowers, it was still raining which is an unusual occurrence at that time of the year. This affects the plant’s growth and life cycle,” he explains.
Aynera hopes that this year, the flowers will bloom according to the projected schedule.
At the time of our interview in mid-March, the plants were already thriving, and measured nearly two feet in height. If all goes well, they expect to see buds by late March even as the plants continue to grow taller.
The sunflower covers a 600- to 800-meter stretch on University Avenue starting from the corner of C.P. Garcia Avenue and leading all the way to the Oblation Plaza, in front of Quezon Hall (Administration Building).
Aynera has directed the planting of sunflowers in select areas of the Ampitheater as well as this is where the commencement exercises are held.
Due to limited resources, the CMO is unable to preserve, handle or store sunflower seeds from the previous year’s crop. Besides, Aynera points out, there’s not enough quantity of mature seeds that is left once sunflower season is over. “We have enemies of all kinds like birds who eat it and also humans. Nauunahan kami,” he says, shaking his head, referring to those who pick the sunflowers even if this is prohibited.
Aynera avers that with the vast area involved, it is simply impossible for UP’s security staff to act against sunflower thieves. Sad to say, on graduation day itself, a lot of visitors tend to help themselves to the flowers after they have their pictures taken beside them. “Sobra silang natutuwa, kinukuha nila,” Aynera contends.
Minus those irritants, however, he says that the overall public goodwill generated by UP’s sunflower season is definitely worth the time, effort and resources the university puts into it.
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