MANILA, December 26, 2003 (STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez - Vilma Santos, acclaimed as moviedom’s "Star for All Seasons," has been immortalized in "another world."

It is the world of floriculture, or the art and science of growing and propagating flowers and other ornamentals.

Not long ago, a hybrid gumamela (scientific name: Hibiscus rosasinensis) was launched by the University of the Philippines-Institute of Plant Breeding (UPLB-IPB) in honor of the talented, multi-awarded actress.

Named "Hibiscus rosasinensis: Star for All Seasons," the Vilma gumamela is the first in IPB’s new batch of Hibiscus hybrids, the Celebrity Star Series, to be named after veteran and accomplished Filipino actresses.

A hybrid is the product of crossing of two plants with superior qualities. These superior qualities of both parents are passed on to the seed and results in a phenomenon called "hybrid vigor" or "heterosis."

UPLB-IPB’s breeding program of Hibiscus began in December 1994. The generation of hybrids using locally available cultivates and new hybrids from Hawaii (USA) and Australia was spearheaded by noted plant breeder Reynold Pimentel.

In 1998, in time for the country’s Centennial celebration of Philippine Independence, the gumamelas composing the first batch dubbed "Centennial Series" were named after heroines who dedicated their lives to the country’s freedom and liberation from three centuries of Spanish colonization and four decades of American rule.

This was followed by the Millennium Series launched in 2000, which served as a tribute to Filipino woman-scientists who have contributed considerably to the advancement of Philippine agriculture.

The Hibiscus hybrids in the Celebrity Star Series were selected from the 3,000 progeny seedlings from the mass hybridization conducted in 1998, reported Dr. Candida Adalla, the first woman to become dean of the UPLB College of Agriculture since it was founded on the foothills of legendary Mt. Makiling in 1909.

Dr. Adalla and Pimentel presented Hibiscus rosasinensis: Star for All Seasons plant to Mayor Vilma Santos during the Lipa City (Batangas) 56th Foundation Day celebration last Aug. 25.

The actress-mayor was ecstatic in thanking UP Los Baños for giving her that honor and privilege.

In her extemporaneous speech, the petite actress-politician, in jest, cited the plant’s "semi-dwarf" character, saying that she would be eternally grateful for UPLB’s gesture of naming a gumamela hybrid after her.

Records show, according to Dr. Adalla, that Chinese traders introduced Hibiscus to the Philippines long before the coming of the Spaniards. Fr. Manuel Blanco, a Spanish priest, described Hibiscus in the country in his book Flora de Manila published in 1883.

The American colonizers who came to the country in the 1990s introduced new forms and cultivates. Since then, Hibiscus has become a common planting materials adorning most Filipino home gardens and public places.

More Hibiscus hybrids bred by UPLB-IPB are in the pipeline and planned to be named after deserving movie stars, among them, as intimated to The STAR by some sources: HR: Super Star; HR: Mega Star; and HR; Diamond Star.

Varieties Ara and Assunta, which are both hybrids, and Rica and Rosanna, both open-pollinated, were bred under a project supported by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

The four new tomato varieties are now being introduced to farmers, especially vegetable growers, reported Dr. Josefina Narciso of UPLB-IPB.

In fact, there have been reservations for seeds of the varieties, which are all-season; moderately resistant to bacterial wilt, one of the most serious diseases attacking tomato; and can be harvested 57-60 days after transplanting.

Ara (codenamed XTH 6174) and Assunta (XTH 6137) have the potential yield of 30-50 tons per hectare and have firm, plum fruits (30-60 grams per fruit).

Rica (TmL 95-12) can yield 10-30 t/ha during the wet season and 20-50 t/ha during the dry season. It has firm, plum fruits (30-60 g/fruit).

Rosanna (TmL 95-03) has the potential of 10-30 t/ha during the wet season and 20-40 t/ha during the dry season. It has firm, high round fruits (30-40 g/fruit).

Now, aside from naming their pets after their favorite stars, cinema buffs can add to their collections in their gumamela hybrids named after the movie stars.

Or plant those tomatoes named after the lovable and voluptuous sirens in their backyards or fields and when harvest time comes, they can cheerily say: "It’s time to reap Ara, Assunta, Rica, or Rosanna."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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