Why Waling-Waling Should Become the National Flower of the Philippines

By: Charita P. Puentespina and Eleurterio O. Fuentes


Among the true and independent nations, their people take pride in the preservation of their culture as manifested in their penchant for names and symbols.

In the extreme, colonial Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka, the East Indies was renamed Indonesia, Siam became Thailand and lately, Burma renamed Myanmar.

There is no sacrosanct in name changes, even if there is no error involved. It is nationalistic in the extreme.

But what happens when there is a perceived error in a name that symbolizes the national spirit. Should the error now be corrected?

 Should the error of a few become a historical burden of the next generation?

 We are referring to the grave error made by the Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce recommending the alien sampaguita to be declared the national flower of the Philippines, by the American Governor General Frank Murphy in 1934 who readily proclaimed it as such.

To be fair to the Secretary of Agriculture at the time, the search committee gave Governor General Murphy three other flowers (all ornamental) to choose from and unbelievably all found in Luzon. The Committee, we are sorry to say, did not extend their search to the vast forests of Mindanao.

By 1934, the Walingwaling, an orchid endemic to the Philippines and only found originally in Davao-Cotabato, foothills of Mt. Apo and Zamboanga del Sur were already known in Europe and has made a name for the Philippines that could be the envy of any flower lover people of the world. The 1927 edition of Sanders' Orchid Guide, which contains “all the best known species, varieties and natural hybrids of orchids in cultivation, including their native countries” has listed the V. sanderiana (its former name) and prefixed it “a magnificent Orchid.” On the 1946 issue of the same publication, eleven hybrids of the Walingwaling were already registered, including the V.Rothschildiana which was recognized in 1931, and the V. Tatzeri, amazingly accepted in 1919.

Vicente Saplala, PhD. (1984), a professor at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, asked: “Is it too late to correct an error?” There are good reasons why Walingwaling should be our national flower and not the sampaguita.

“ Sampaguita (Jasminum sambac) is not native to the Philippines. It is native to India and Arabia” Saplala declared. (See article of Prof. Tito J. Rimando)

“Walingwaling on the other hand is not only indigenous but endemic to the Philippines. Its natural habitat is restricted to the island of Mindanao, spread over Davao, Cotabato and Zamboanga.” Saplala continued. This is further attested to by other publications citing Philippines as the native country of the Walingwaling.

We believe that this grave error, as pointed by Dr. Saplala must be corrected. A country's symbol of the national spirit must reflect the national character and vision of the Philippines.

Waling-Waling a.k.a. Vanda sanderiana as National Flower

First consideration must be its endemicity. Its Filipino-ness is beyond question. It must never be of foreign origin. A national symbol must be native and reflect the national character of the people. I do not see any reason why an alien can become a symbol of the people’s aspirations.

The Walingwaling meets this criterion. It is endemic to the Philippines (only found originally in Davao, Cotabato and Zamboanga) and nowhere else in the world. The Walingwaling plant grows on tall diptherocarps but is never known to be a parasite. It lives on treetops reaching for the light of the sun symbolizing high aspirations of the Filipino.

Second consideration is its role played in the legends, myths and tradition of the Filipino people.

It has been the subject of mythical stories, fiction and legends. One of the most popular fictions about the Walingwaling is the story Beyond Space and Time, by Jesus Manuel Torrento. The story was included in the book “Orienta: Tales and Legends of Asia,” edited by Syoo-Syoo Sien and published by Hongkong Books, Inc., Hongkong, 1986.

The story was originally published in the pre-martial law Graphic Magazine in 1957. It was reprinted in the 1996 edition of the Kadayawan Journal and lately in the Davao Floriculture Journal, 2000 edition.

Lately, Serapion Metilla, a Manila-based writer published a Walingwaling legend in a Manila newspaper. And as attractive as it is, it graces most publications cover as a fitting salute.

Fourth consideration is its national and international popularity, ornamental value and role it played to place the Philippines in the consciousness of the old and New World.

Filipino orchid authority, Dr. Helen Valmayor of UP Los Baños claims that Walingwaling (Vanda sanderiana) has been the single most important parent in breeding among the vandaceous tribes. Can you imagine, Valmayor asks, what our past and new hybrids would look like without Vanda sanderiana? She has paid tribute to this King of Orchids in her book, Orchidiana Philippiniana published by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation in 1984.

Walingwaling has “influenced” hundreds if not thousands of vandaceous hybrids one of which is the wonderful Vanda Rothschildiana (1931). The bloodline of Vanda Gordon Dillon is teemed with Walingwaling genes on both its parents, nineteen crosses or hybridization and twelve direct infusions of its precious genes to come up with an equally beauteous progeny. The magnificent blue of this popular hybrid is definitely from Vanda coerulea, but the tessellation is unmistakably Walingwaling. On more recent development, the newly registered Vanda Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which is an attractive orange-gold with speckles of brown and amber, has on both parents the powerful genes of the Walingwaling. And as stamp, its lower petals bear the essellation of its great forebear.

And fifth and final consideration, its humility. It is never choosy in its growing environs. It is known to flower in the lowlands of Southern Tagalog, the cool climes of Los Baños, even the cold wintry America, subsisting on the lights of a fluorescent bulb.

Its rugged independence is well known. If need be, the plant can live without support. The orchid indeed can be symbol of Filipino independence but it does not shy away from symbiotic relationships with the ditherocarps. As we, the proud Filipino race has been enjoying our independence without cutting ties and living harmoniously and at peace with our allied nations.

And where it grows best, it was declared the official flower. Davao City bestowed the honor in August 5, 1999. A perfect time since it falls on a month where the Walingwaling is at its flowering best.

To our belief, these factors are enduring and can withstand the test of time and change.

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