It was Governor General Frank Murphy, the last American governor of the Philippines, who proclaimed, by decree on February 1, 1934, the sweet and fragrant sampaguita (Jasminus sambac) as the country’s national flower. Since then presidents and kings, movie stars and sports champions have been receiving sampaguita leis as part of the Filipino welcome.
From vendors that can be found anywhere, people buy sampaguita garlands to adorn saints and personal gods, to welcome guests, to convey good wishes, or simply to decorate and perfume a room or a car.
Fancy garlands, floral crowns, rosaries and other imaginative arrangements are ordered for special occasions such as graduations, birthdays, funerals, fiestas, the arrival of VIPs, etc.
Legend has it that the sampaguita plant sprouted from the gravesite of a young maiden who died awaiting the return of her betrothed. Before he left, the young lovers had pledge love and fidelity and were to have been married upon his return.
Alas, for reasons that are not part of the legend, he never returned, and the poor maiden carried her pledge to the grave. She was buried on the site –at the foot of a large tree, where they had made their pledge, “sumpa kita” (I pledge to you), and the small, white flowers are an eternal testimony of the pledge.
Sampaguita Farms of San Pedro
I’ve learn from Jessica Soho on her recent report that not too long ago, the town of San Pedro in the province of Laguna supplies most of the sampaguita garlands sold in Manila.
Old folks of the town recall that it was Tandang Seto who first picked the little white flowers off the plants in front of houses and strung them into garlands. Tandang Seto would go around from house to house picking the buds himself, but pretty soon he was buying flowers from the townsfolk two centavos for a hundred buds.
Sensing (or in this case smelling) opportunity, the people of San Pedro began to cultivate sampaguita plants, harvest the buds and sell them to Tandang Seto, his sister Tandang Osiang and others like them.
Since then, sampaguita farms ranged from houses with several plants in the front and back yards to entire plots with several hundred, even thousands, fully-grown, flowering plants. They grow to a bushy height of about five feet, with buds growing in clusters at the end of the branches.
Mang Maning, who owns one of the largest and the remaining sampaguita plantations located near the town proper shares that substantial irrigation are needed in order for the plant to begin to flower after less than a year and continue to do so for many years. However, the number sampaguita farms in San Pedro has narrowed down rapidly through the years because of what used to be large areas for sampaguita plantations has been converted into residential areas.
Sampaguita pickers starts at dawn and work until mid-day. The buds are dropped into puches tied around the waist of the picker, and measured out later in liter cans. An expert picker can fill-up to ten cans in one morning. Only full-grown but unopened buds or about four days old are picked for garlands, because full flowers, although most fragrant and prettiest, do not last. The buds are brought directly to the stringers.
The Sampaguita All-Year Round
Making of garlands is a neighborhood affair says Mr. Hardy Legaspi. At the Legaspi Compound in Barangay San Vicente, a team of stringers are working on long tables covered with sampaguita buds beginning mid-morning until early evening daily.
Mr. and Mrs. Legaspi offer services for everyday occasions like weddings, birthdays, funerals, inaugurations, anniversaries, debuts and other special events. Their customers would just have to tell them the kind of arrangement they want for their sampaguita. For those who are interested in making an order can call 847.29.88 or visit them at 41 San Vicente Street, Legaspi Compound, San Pedro, Laguna.
Twelve or twenty buds in different patterns are strung on 24-inch length of abaca twine, usually with a ylang-ylang flower as centerpiece. The garlands are tied up ten to a bundle, and distributed out to vendors all over the city and some nearby towns.
Mrs. Baby Legaspi explains that the sampaguita blooms year-round, thus harvesting and stringing are also year-round activities. A double-petal variety is seasonal, but the popular single flower sampaguita blooms all year. Prices vary according to seasons. The sampaguita becomes more expensive during the rainy and typhoon months.
Through rain or shine, the demand for sampaguita garlands remains constant. And as constant as the sampaguita’s fragrance is the reminder of a hapless maiden’s pledge of love.
Related link: San Pedro’s Jasmin by Arnold