Countries have adopted flowers as national cultural symbols. The United States has the rose; the Netherlands, the tulip; Japan, the chrysanthemum; Austria, the edelweiss and Ireland the shamrock. The Philippines have several national symbols: the carabao (water buffalo), the narra tree and sampaguita. Sampaguita or kampupot was adopted by the Philippine government as its national flower in 1934 by the then American Governor General of the Philippines, Frank Murphy, through Proclamation No. 652. Filipinos string the flowers into leis, corsages, and crowns. In warm climates, the flowers bloom all throughout the year and are produced in clusters of 3 to 12 blooms at the ends of the branches. The species name “sambac” seems to derive from “zanbaq,” the Arabic word for jasmine. The name sampaguita evolved in turn from “sambac” through the Spanish colonizers of the Philippines, where this name was common.
Below is a conversation between Benjamin and a florist that appeared in “BAHALA NA (Come What May)” about sampaguita:
“What a lovely scent!” Benjamin muttered. “Is that sampaguita?”\
“Yes, it is,” the florist said.
“I thought they only have one row of petals. This almost looks like a rose.”
“The plant bears either a single flower, a row of petals, or flowers with doubled petals, bundled at the top of the branches and look like small white roses and are exceptionally fragrant.”
Benjamin put his nose again on the bloom and asked, “Do they bloom year round?”
“The single flower of sampaguita blooms year round, has white, small, dainty, star-shaped blossoms, which open at night and wilt in less than a day and has a distinct sweet fragrance. It does not bear seed, so it is propagated through cuttings. The Philippines have different domestic species of jasmine growing wildly.”
“How long have they been around? I always remember seeing them everywhere I go.”
“Sampaguita was believed to have come from the Himalayan region during the 17th century. Sampaguita has taken root in the Philippine folklore and religious rites.”
Sampaguita or jasminum sambac, the Philippine’s national flower, is a subtropical evergreen creeping vine reaching up to 2 to 10 ft tall and very fragrant and is used extensively at Flores de Mayo as a garland and in arrangement. It is mentioned in many legends, stories and songs. It symbolizes a whole series of virtues: fidelity, purity, devotion, strength and dedication.
Benjamin looked around, seeing there were no customers around, put on his beguiling smile and asked, “Isn’t there a legend about sampaguita?”
“Yes, there is and it is fascinating.”
“Tell me. I would love to hear it.” He looked around again and still there was no customers yet except him.
“Gladly. Since we are not busy yet, why not.”
The florist began…
There was this young beautiful princess called Lakambini and after her wise father died, she had to take over his kingdom. But she did not know how to govern and there was a danger that the kingdom would be invaded by the neighboring rulers. She fell in love with a young unselfish prince, Lakan Galing, from another kingdom who was ready to defend her kingdom against the invaders. On a hill above the sea when the moon was bright and full, they both embraced each other and promised to love thru eternity. “Sumpa kita.” I promise you.
Lakan Galing was not satisfied with just watching and guarding the kingdom of the princess. He wanted to pursue the enemies. “If the enemy does not come, then I will seek them.” He left with his men on his ships and looked for the enemies. Lakambini was anxious for his return. Every day she went to the hill looking out to sea to find if her love was coming back. However, she waited and waited in vain. Lakan Galing never returned.
A short time later, she died of a broken heart. On her deathbed, she asked to be buried on the top of the hill where she always waited for him. Shortly thereafter, a vine with small white, pearl-like blossoms grew on her grave with a very sweet fragrance. When the moon was full, the leaves rustling in the wind echoed the word of the princess, “Sumpa kita.” The flower was then called sampaguita. This is what the people saw ever after during the month of May.
“That was very sad but totally romantic. I love it. Thank you for telling me about the legend.” Benjamin sighed and bent his head and smelled the flower one more time. He thought of the lady in his wallet.
“You’re welcome. Maybe you might want to buy your girlfriend a plant.”
“I wish I can. I’m sorry. I have no girlfriend. None yet anyway.”
“I can’t believe it. You better get to work on that one.”
Benjamin smiled and waved goodbye.
Copyright © 2013. By Rosalinda R Morgan, author of “BAHALA NA (Come What May”.
All rights reserved. SAMPAGUITA, The Philippine’s national flower