Philippine Grasses and Wild Plants with Wacky Uses

The year is 2016. We now have designated parks and playgrounds, save for those who live in remote provincial areas. Gone are the days when children can play freely in open spaces, in grasslands, and even in small forest patches.

While modern, mass-produced toys are cool, childproofed and readily available, they come at a price, and most of them aren’t cheap. Thankfully, modern toys aren’t the only thing that’s fun and entertaining. Crude toys such as carved wooden slingshot (tirador), wooden top (kasin) and handmade cardboard dolls are fun to play with too, although it may take some time to create them.

Here we list ten wild plants in the Philippines, which, because of their wacky properties and uses, are fun to play with. But unlike the tirador or the kasing, these plants are available for spontaneous fun. Why, you can even play with them while strolling to lola’s house!


  1. Kantutay (Lantana camara)

Kantutay, also called Kanding-Kanding in Bisaya, is usually found in thickets and waste places, but is now widely cultivated for landscaping and gardening. Its thorny branches and weird-smelling flowers ward off animals and inhibit germination of other plants. However, its colorful, tiny flowers add great diversity in most gardens and it makes a good hedge.

Wacky Use: Carefully harvest the flowers and use as confetti. The plant’s blackberry-like fruits are also great for pretend-play, although according to a source, its fruits may be eaten and used as flavoring.


  1. Makahiya (Mimosa pudica)

Makahiya is one of the most common grasses in the Philippines. We even have a folktale or legend about it. It’s not difficult to identify this plant in open grasslands and thickets. The plant has diffusedly spreading and very sensitive leaves that fold when touched. It also has red florets with pink or purple filaments, which develop into flat pods.

Wacky Use: Locate a thick patch and gently touch each leaf without making them fold up. Watch out for the prickly thorns!


  1. Tikas (Canna indica)

This plant grows along damp places nearby rivers, canals and house drains. Tikas stands taller a meter with very green stems and leaves, contrasted by its very red flowers.

Wacky Use: Although the flowers of the Tikas plant are medicinal, they can be used for fun, too.  Pluck out the petals and use as false fingernails. Simply dampen your nail (saliva is fine, really) and cover it with one of the flowers to don those sexy, long and red fingernails. Also, collect the fruits – pop them or use the pearly seeds for imaginative play.


  1. Sticky” Amorseco (Hackelochloa granularis)

Honestly, we’re not very sure about the local name, so if you know what this is called in your region (Philippines), please share it with us. This plant looks like an ordinary grass, except that it bears hairy, sticky, and round spikelets, which makes this a no-brainer prank tool.

Wacky Use: Pull out a string of spikelets by cutting the entire stalk off the plant’s stem, and throw or stick it onto your opponent’s or playmate’s back. They stick on clothes and skin, and can be very irritating and stubborn to remove like a regular amorseco.


  1. Cadena de Amor (Antigonon leptopus)

Cadena de Amor is a lovely vine that bears little pink flowers. It is widely harvested off open spaces and grasslands to decorate the stage during barrio or school events as floral accents.

Wacky Use: Gather a flowering vine and weave as a headdress, bracelet or other adornment. The leaves are great for fun hand popping, too. To do this, hold out your hand as if you’re holding a glass by joining your thumb and index finger firmly. Cover this hand with a leaf and quickly slap it with your other hand. If you do this right, you should hear a loud, popping sound as the leaf tears at the center.


  1. Santan (Ixora coccinea)

Santan is one of the most common ornamental plants in the Philippines, planted as a free growing shrub or well-manicured hedge. Its tiny, clustered flowers come in delightfully varied colors in contrast with its green leaves.

Wacky Use: Santan is the best flower for tasting raw nectar. To do this, pluck out a fully bloomed flower by cutting its stalk close to the base. Gently pull out its pollen tube to reveal a droplet of sweet nectar, which you can sip safely given that the plant is in a pollution and dirt-free environment. You can also make makeshift flower accessories. Just connect the flowers together by inserting the tip of the stalk of a flower to the center of another. Repeat this process to make a chain. Santan is also great for making flower confetti.


  1. Tuba-Tuba (Jatropha curcas)

Tuba-tuba is widely used to relieve “panuhot” or flatulence. The leaves are heated over fire or hot coal, wrapped around the affected part then covered with a strip of cloth or bandage to keep the leaves in place.

Wacky Use:

Tuba-tuba excretes a sticky sap that is ripe for creating bubbles. No preparation or prop are needed for spontaneous play, simply find a thriving tuba-tuba plant, pluck out a leaf and break the stalk halfway, leaving the stalk skin intact. This will be your bubble wand. The sap oozing from the stalk should be enough to cover the whole of the bubble wand, if not, pluck another leaf and use the sap for the wand. Blow and have fun.


  1. Pukingan (Clitoria ternatea)


Pukingan, also known as butterfly pea or blue pea, is a vine that bears flowers that resemble that of the female genitalia, and pods that are edible when tender.

Wacky Use: Use pukingan flowers to create improvised whistle. To do this, strip off the petals to reveal only the pistil. Be careful not to destroy the base of the pistil near the ovary. Gently, strip the stigma. Position the naked pistil in between your lips, making sure that air flows through as you blow. The compressed air that passes from your mouth through the pistil hole will produce a whistle-like sound. This can be tricky, but once you get the hang of it, you’d be delighted to find a patch of pukingan along the way.


  1. Violet Popping Pod (Ruellia tuberosa)

This plant grows wildly in open spaces and grasslands. It bears delicate violet flowers, and its roots and leaves are used for medicinal purposes. However, for the kid in all of us, a patch of ruellia is a motherload of fun.

Wacky Use: A small patch is enough to keep boredom away. Harvest ripe or mature pods (the browner, the better). If you store the pods in your hand, make sure you don’t have sweaty palms. These pods can explode like tiny bombs when wet. The best way is to drop the pods into a small container of water. Keep at least three feet away because the pods are sharp and might hurt your eyes when they pop. You may also spit saliva on the ground and drop the pods in it.


  1. Tangan-Tangan (Ricinus communis)

Tangan-tangan is a source of castor oil or castoreum, hence it’s called castor oil plant. But unlike other sources of castor oil, tangan-tangan is toxic, and is named one of the world’s deadliest plants in the Guinness Book of World Records, 2007.

Wacky Use: You can use mature tangan-tangan beans as fuel or instant torch. Simply skewer the beans with a stick (usually from a coconut broomstick), making sure they’re tightly aligned together. Be careful not to break the bean in half as you insert it through the stick. Light up the topmost bean. The bean below the burning one should light up when the one above it has burned up. Be careful not to get burned. Wash your hands after handling the beans.

Toys come in all shapes and sizes. But the ones we’ve listed here are readily available wherever plants and grasses thrive freely. The next time you visit the barrio and walk along its rugged road or wait at an open parking lot, you’ll be surprised how a small patch of makahiya or ruellia can make your day. Try one. It’s free and it’s fun.

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