Saturday, March 28, 2015

Yogyakarta: Trains, temples, buttery fruits and Ramayana gamelan ballet


 A train is fun -- it just is!  The train from Malang to Yogyakarta was so cute!

Indonesia is known for its batik (a process of using wax to dye patterns into fabric).  The train curtains had little locomotives batiked on them! W
e enjoyed the beautiful tropical vistas of volcanoes, some active, and some less so.  

There were rice paddies that stretched into the distance, as well as crops like papayas, Taro, and sugar cane -- it is amazing what views a train window can hold.

Yogyakarta, or Jogja as it is sometimes called, is a city watched over by Mt. Merapi -- a very active volcano. It is a treasure trove of culture, art and religious heritage. The world's largest Buddhist temple is there ... Borobudur! Various Buddhist kings worked on it from around the 8th century through the 14th century & it is raised on many levels. I won't describe it much, since you'll see it in the video, but I would like to mention that It was once mostly buried in volcanic ash!  It must have been quite a feat to excavate and bring back to the surface (in fact UNESCO helped restore it in the 1980s). 
All visitors don a short sarong over their clothes and around their waists as a sign of religious respect before making the climb to the top of the temple. Most of the visitors were Indonesian Muslims and there were LOTS of school tours there on field trips. 

Each level is intricately carved in hundreds of stories from the Buddha's lives and you could spend all day examining them.

Mt. Merapi smokes over
Two ladies selling umbrellas
under an arborescent Pandanus

Borobudur temple is surrounded by a large pleasant park area with interesting trees as well.  I saw one of them that I thought Mas Edi at Purwodadi Botanical Garden had taught me, and we went to touch it and look at the fruit.  

However, a security guard called out at me! "In trouble now!" I thought, but no! The security guard handed me a fruit that he had collected off the same tree, as a gift for me to taste!  This is Buah Mantega or Butterfruit.  It is a Persimmon, but, unlike ours that grows native in the Carolinas, this one from the tropics doesn't have to wait for the frost to blet and ripen it to make it edible! 

Diospyros blancoi is the scientific name. Its peel is brownish and fuzzier than a peach, its pulp is sweet, but not too sweet -- but it is rich, hence the buttery common name. The guard who gave it to us was also kind enough to pose for the demonstration pix in the blog!

The buttery Diospyros blancoi

After we'd seen the temple & talked to many friendly Javanese students, we were ready for a refreshment. We stopped at a warung where we were offered Mangosteen (Garcinia mangostana).

It's a delicious fruit in the St Johnswort family. 
In this case, the seven stigma lobes on the outside of the skin indicate how many sections of edible white fruit there will be within.

It is sweet & tart and looks a little like an English cricket ball.  Queen Victoria once tried, in vain, to have her gardeners cultivate mangosteen (presumably to eat rather than for sport!) I can't blame her -- they are really wonderful!

We also bought another native Javanese fruit guaranteed to delight any herpetologist!  It is Snake FruitSalacca zalacca, a very fierce short palm bearing gazillions of long spines at the base of the leaf blade. The fruit is a dormant Pokeman come to life -- a tear-drop shape with the shiny brown scales of a reptile. Inside it has 2 or 3 lobes resembling cloves of garlic, but tasting similar to an aged, dried apple.

Back in Jogja, it was the evening of the partial lunar eclipse as well as the spring equinox when we decided to walk into town from our hotel, called the Ministry of Coffee.  What is an evening walk like? After dodging bicycle rickshaws and more motorcycles than you have ever seen, you pass little food stalls selling every manner of food, along with toy stores, casket makers (who seem uncomfortably friendly), every kind of household amenity, fruit stands worthy of any still-life artist's attention, and passing cars bearing all sort of surprises (like a load of Jackfruit, Artocarpus heterophyllus on the way to market).

Artocarpus wagon!
When we got to the town's northern Alun-Alun (a kind of old style religious-political "sacred space" near the palace at the heart of town), there was some kind of festival going on. 

We missed the event -- just saw them breaking it down, but whatever it was, there were some very interesting floats, accompanied by marching gamelan bands.


Oh, something else -- Jogja is famous for being a cultural center of Java! Every night there are performances by gamelan bands (playing that gongy, clangy, chimey, hypnotic pulsing river of sound), wayang kulit (ornate shadow puppet theatre) and, of course classical dance performances. The most famous dancing is based on the Ramayana, a 2,000 year old Hindu religious epic about the divine beings Rama & Shinta (Sita).  Their love story has a little bit of everything in it from deer huntin' to kidnapping, to armies of monkeys and lots of live on-stage archery, all with a gamelan background. Some version of this dance has been performed in Java for at least the last thousand years!

One of the bad guys, Marica,
preparing to transform himself 
into a Golden Deer.

And, finally, here is a surprise -- to me!  This is the flower of Couroupita guianensis, commonly called the Cannonball Tree. It is not something I expected to find, since it is from Tropical America. 

This gorgeous and complex-looking flower gives rise to a fairly large, woody round fruit, shaped like a cannonball.  

We found it while visiting a Buddhist monastery established by a Zen order from Japan.  The monastery garden was shady, tranquil and charming.

A Staghorn Fern (Platycerium sp.) and a stag with horns in a meditation garden -- something for a botanist to contemplate! 
Next time we visit the fabulous Kebun Raya Bogor and the 2 million specimen strong herbarium there, learn some new herbarium techniques, and visit the lush mountain gardens and the herbarium at Kebun Raya Cibodas. Thanks for following along! 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cruisin with a Kelapa in Kuching; Indonesia Visit: Horticultural Saints & Purwodadi Botanical Garden!

Crusin'with a kelapa
Visiting another herbarium -- during a lunch break!  All herbarium curators want to nose around and see how another herbarium is run and arranged.  I got a brief but delightful visit to the Sarawak FRC Herbarium -- a big, working one -- with my friend and fellow systematist Linda Liman (who you saw in an earlier blog).  On the way back to work we stopped for a soft drink --- from green kelapas (coconuts) that a gentleman was selling under a tree near the road. A hole is hacked in the top of the kelapa, a straw put in and the next thing you know, you are cruisin with a Kelapa.  It was great -- not too sweet --- a little big to put in your backpack, though when you are done!

The Tenacious Linda Liman (in yellow) on an Herbarium Quest



We are here in Indonesia for a visit to some beautiful botanical gardens, great herbaria and some shrines and temples -- also associated with plants!  Our first stop was the city of Malang -- up on the Tengger Plateau. This used to be a Dutch military colony -- since it is higher and cooler, the Dutch introduced apples and they are still grown today. We lived in Malang in 2008 for about half a year.  It is an area ringed by live volcanoes; Gunung Semeru the large one, nonchalantly puffing away.  Our first little journey on this blog is to a village outside of Malang --- Gunung Kawi.

This is a pilgrimage town for people coming to visit the graves of 2 popular Muslim saints, who are of fairly modern times. They are Mbah Djoego and Iman Soedjono, and they were patriots, war heroes (against the Dutch occupation), farmers/horticulturists and miracle workers.  They were not too successful against the Dutch, but they helped the people in the countryside a lot.

They are said to have brought in some rare horticultural trees, including one called the Cerme,  Dewa Ndaru or  "Tree of God." It is actually a shrub from South America, Eugenia uniflora, another common name is Surniname-cherry. It has a small but sweet, edible fruit. The one planted by Mbah Djoego is watched over  at all times and protected by the shrine keepers --- because it is a magic tree. Pilgrims want to get a leaf or a fruit, wrap it in a bank note and plant it at their home for good luck. Sorry -- no pictures were allowed of this money-tree! People present offerings of flowers at the shrine (an Indonesian custom for visiting most  important memorials, not just religious ones)  -- baskets of roses and scented Ylang-ylang flowers.

An interesting thing about this particular shrine is that it attracts Muslims and non-Muslims alike, because blessings and good fortune are not limited to just a single religion here.  There are some Chinese temples also at this site, not far from the main portal gate to the shrine.  You can get your fortune told at the Ciamsi house  -- knowing Indonesian helps in this situation!

Gunung Kawi Portal to shrine of Mbah Djoego and Iman Soedjono.

 The Two Saints Working Together to Spread Good Agricultural Practices

Fragrant Offerings of Roses and Ylang-ylang (Cananga odorata -- in the Pawpaw family, Annonaceae)

The Ciamsi -- where fortunes are read

Inside the Ciamsi.  The red sticks (64 of them standing up in the cylinder) are shaken until one stick falls out from the cylinder.  This number on the stick gives you a fortune.


At Purwodadi: Earlier we saw flowers for prayers, but this time (above) we have a preyer on a flower, a Nelumbo nucifera

Kebun Raya Purwodadi, just outside of Malang, was the first garden I visited in Indonesia when we lived there 7 years ago. We were awed by its beauty, diversity, and the kindness of the people we met there, Esti and Deden Mudiana. Well, some things never change! The herbarium and garden both look better than ever, and Esti, Deden and the entire garden and herbarium staff made us feel like we were right at home.

Here's Garden Director Ken Fitria Clois Indrawardani and Dave, me, Esti and Deden Mudiana
Part of the Purwodadi Seed Collection on Display

Among the Herbarium Heroes: Pak Saniman, Pak Dwi Narko, Bu Fauzia and Bu Novi

But now let's get outside and see some of this fabulous collection of East Javan biodiversity!

Here's part of the palm collection, being showed off by Esti Mudiana and Mas Edi Sutoyo.


 What's this floating in the water? The fruit of Barringtonia asiatica,  "Fish Poison" Tree! It loves to grow near lakes and streams, but its toxic fruits mean that it can be a bad neighbor!

Mas Edi displaying the seed pod of Nelumbo nucifera.

Thanks for reading this far! Next time more of the splendor of East Java, and a trip west!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Operation Hari Arbor, Urban jungle and the outlaw plant of SC

Kolo Mie -- everybody's favorite!
Kek Lapis Layer cake famous in Sarawak!

Happy Belated end of the Chinese New Year! When it all wrapped up in early March, everyone was ready to eat and enjoy a little dessert! It was also time to throw oranges in the river in hopes of inspiring love: kind of a local New Year's Valentine's Day tradition!

After a long long lapse, it is more than time to blog again!  While preparing my 3 presentations due this month, the old laptop decided to take an unannounced vacation.  This is the test run for the new laptop that came all the way from the Dell plant in mainland Malaysia. I know it must be getting to be spring time at Clemson, since I've seen Facebook images of Liverleafs and read  lots of  comments about "how strange the weather is" in SC.  That, AND everyone is on SPRING BREAK!

Since I'm just a little behind on my tales of the trip, let's think about what happens in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo on Arbor Day, Hari Arbor. Arbor Day here in the equatorial tropics is March 3, since "spring" is really not all that different from "summer,""winter" or "fall"! The Sarawak Biodiversity Centre is not only concerned in going out to indigenous communities to learn about plants and their traditional uses, but also is involved with helping people learn to berfikir hijau -- think green!  SBC joined up with a lot of businesses, community orgs, and state govt offices to help plant trees around a newly finished highway north of town. These areas get a lot of rain, and without trees, disturbed roadsides erode fast! About 50 SBC folks (I must be non-modest and proudly say, one of the largest contingents involved!) joined hundreds of other volunteers way the hey before sunrise to get started on this monumental celebration of putting trees where they weren't before!

 Before we volunteers got to work, we stretched and warmed up to ZUMBA! You haven't  lived until you've joined your colleagues and work buddies for dance and exercise!! Our fantastic fearless leader, the wonderful  Margarita Naming, led the charge and kept up the team spirits of the  plum-coloured SBC powerhouse.

Part of the SBC team,  all warmed up and ready to plant trees! From left to right, Satomi Owari, Traditional Knowledge leader Margarita Naming, Dave Damrel, and the pride of Yale, Fulbrighter Luming Chen. 

Herbarium superstar Fazariah Kipali busts a Zumba move!

SBC tree-planters in action -- we'll never forget Tree #246!

Welcome to the Jungle (the Urban Jungle, that is!)

 Let's talk about the urban jungle. You never know what you'll find walking in Kuching itself, just on an evening stroll around town.  We found this lot -- some construction was going on -- so thck with plants we didn't see how a person could possibly take 2 steps in the at least waist  high seething mass of green. It was a mosh-pit of competition grasses voraciously elbowing sedges; there were orchids rising above clonal armies of ferns,  even vines of Nepenthes -- the Malaysian version of pitcher plant that becomes a vine. There on the outskirts of this photosynthetic free-for-all was an outlaw --- Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica)!  Ask anybody with the SC DNR and they'll tell you this is the (Wanted) Poster-child of the SE USA, famous for kicking out natives and setting up shop.

COGONGRASS - banned in SC!!!

Here it is acting all innocent-like. But that's only beccause the plants around it are even fiercer competitors!

Cogongrass and its rivals.
Your typical neighborhood orchids, growing wild in an urban construction zone!

Nepenthes Pitcher Plants, Malaysian-style

That's all for this entry -- next time look for the Purwodadi Botanical Garden, enjoy a little dance and Gamelan music in the Ramayana Ballet, visit the biggest Buddhist Temple in Southeast Asia, and check out some more fruits that never make it to the local Publix!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Lion Dances, Strange Fruit and Orangutans

Hi !  I tried to post again  last night but the connection was down. So it's the next day and here it goes again!  It's a long one!

Happy  New Year !  You might think I am a little late wishing you this greeting, since the start of New Year was 19th of February, but right now I can still hear cannon-like fireworks going off in the street near our place.  People just BEGIN the celebration on the 19th and continue the festivities, banging gongs and drums, eating special foods, visiting with friends and family AND fireworks until, well, not sure until how long, because it's still going on and it's the 1 of March!  The night of the 19th was very full of energy --- screeching salvos of colored stars throughout the streets of Kuching.  Families buy really really good fireworks -- you know  -- the kind you would see at the ball park or a 4th of July extravaganza!  The family members themselves shoot these off -- not a hired pyrotechnic person.  And you don't know where the dazzling exploding rainbows and glittering giant spiders pop up and appear in the sky!

 New Years Day we decided to go to see the Lion Dance that was scheduled to arrive at a local shopping mall.  These dancing lions go from shop to shop, dancing and bringing good luck and prosperity for this new year -- the clashing percussion draws people running to see these acrobatic lions, and the crow is full of smiles and excitement.  It is as fun to watch the faces of the people in the crowd as it is to watch the shimmering dance itself!

After New Years, we tried to get back down to normal life --- that means looking at plants!  Sometimes you go to the plants ---- other times plants come to you.  This was the case when  Jovita Elderson, the charming and energetic curator of the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre Herbarium said, "I have something for you".  It was round, the size of a a tangerine, but it looked like a wild gourd. The skin was yellowish, smooth and brittle-leathery, but easy to break with fingers, and it had the same kind of whitish membrane lining the inner rind that an orange has.   Inside it held these segments -- juicy, pearly halfmoon arils around a a good sized dark seed. The aril pulp was slippery on the teeth -- and had a wild tropical taste... just different.   "It's called Langir or Langgir, but the botanical name is Xanthophyllum amoenum."  Jovi said.
  I always play a guessing game with myself (well, actually others nearby have to hear me struggling out loud!) to see if I can guess the  plant family of an unknown.  I guessed and guessed but totally struck out!  This is an uncommon indigenous tree, in the Polygalaceae family  that gets quite large (if you are nerdy like I am, you'll think -- "whoa! I didn't see THAT coming!")   She explained that the MAIN USE  was not the pulp, but the RIND--  it is dried and used to wash hair!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Herbarium Curator and Fruit-finder Jovita Elderson

Baccarea angulata  -- the Tampoi

Still another plant appeared to us --- this time at the Stutong market -- like a large city-sponsored farmers market.
There is a section of the market called Jungle Produce and it literally means it.  The tree that bears these red, angular waxy fruits is locally called Belimbing Hutan  or the Tampoi.  And of course the guess game.  It turned out to be in the same family as poinsettias and spurge -- Euphorbiaceae. -- It's Baccarea angulata -- another wild native tree.  There is not much meat in the arils but they taste to me exactly like Sweet Tarts (remember those?).  I got a little hesitant about eating plants in the spurge family and did some research before the taste test.

Ah! the last thing in the blog title!  Asha Devi Kaushal,  the kinetic, do-everything  and knows everybody person at the Centre asked if we would like to go to see the orangutans at Semengoh Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre,  Of course we said yes!
me & the dynamic Asha D. Kaushal

The Semengoh  Nature Preserve is a wonderful rainforest  setting with 27 free-range orangutans.  When we arrived, the guide walked us through the rules -- don't carry food or water, no flash photos, speak quietly and don't get within 5 meters of the residents.  "There are no cages or fences here," he said, "They are not criminals, so why should they be prisoners!"   The center takes in and cares for and trains orangutans old and young alike, those who have been orphaned and those who have been surrendered by people who have tried to keep them.  He led as through a beautiful and dense stretch of rainforest to the place where orangutans sometimes come to feed.  "During tree fruiting season, the orangutans forage and take care of themselves -- we hardly ever see them.  But we put out food anyway.  Between the fruiting seasons they come here to eat in the late afternoon  --- there are several of them here now."
  I have never NOT heard so many excited people!  Everyone was as quiet as a whisper and positively spellbound as these beautiful russet-colored beings effortlessly glided over  the ropes and up and through the trees. Words can't really convey the wonder. There was a mother with her infant, patiently guiding the baby on the ropes and lovingly tolerating baby-acrobatics on her head -- such a pure and tender interaction touched everyone to the heart.

Thanks to Asha and to the whole SBC crew for getting us out to Semengoh!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Will post again tomorrow I promise!

Hey Everyone,
  Intended to post a long blog tonight, but having a techincal problem getting a video in.  Sorry!!!!! I'll try again tomorrow, I promise!   It's getting late and I need to be bright eyed for tomorrow to get this to you!  It won't be too long :)  DZD