A walk with native trees

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The Tangisang Bayawak (Ficus variegata) is one of about 900 fig trees, each one pollinated with its own fig wasp

The Tangisang Bayawak (Ficus variegata) is one of about 900 fig trees, each one pollinated with its own fig wasp

SEEDS that float in the ocean for years, trees that need specific wasps to pollinate them, and species with only 800 survivors left in the wild.

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These are just a few of the many traits native trees of the Philippines have. Some traits are even more mysterious, obscure, or surprising than others.

On the campus of University of the Philippines Diliman last March, Ronald Achacoso of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc. (PNPCSI) led members of the Rain Forest Restoration Initiative (RFRI) including the Haribon Foundation on a “tree walk,” revealing the mysteries behind some of the most common, most endangered, and most unique of native trees found in the country.

The Tangisang Bayawak (Ficus variegata) with its large buttress is a fig tree, one of about 900 trees in the genus ficus. And each one, in order to produce new trees, needs a specific fig wasp to pollenate them. For those familiar with the tree-ridden temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia may or may not know that many of the trees straddling its ruins are also fig trees, specifically of the species Ficus eliosa.

Achacoso revealed that among the numerous exotic Acacia trees that line the roads on the campus of UP Diliman, sweet-smelling endangered trees from Cebu and Mindanao are hidden.

Bring the leaves of the Mindanao Cinnamon (Cinnamomum mindanaense) to your nose and experience a pleasant cinnamon scent. Its bark can be brewed into a fresh and nutritious drink. Endemic to the country, Mindanao Cinnamon can only be found in Surigao, Davao, and Zamboanga in lowland and mountainous forests. Apparently a fourth location is in UP Diliman, or places like it, where tree-lovers hope to spread word (and seeds) of these unique and endangered trees.

Cinnamomum cebuense kosterm is an endemic and endangered Philippine tree found particularly in Cebu Island, Philippines. According to a study by Dinah Espineli on the cytotoxic compounds of the tree, it is one of the 16 endemic Cinnamomum species out of the 24 found in the country and only 800 individuals are estimated to occur within its range of distribution.

Achacoso brought participants to a special garden highlighting trees native to the Philippines: Washington Sycip Garden of Native Trees, found on the campus of UP Diliman. Named after a prominent figure in Philippine accounting and business administration, the Washington Sycip garden is a “live gallery” of sorts, displaying trees with spike-edged leaves like that of the Katmon tree (Dillenia philippinensis). Or trees with beautiful bouquets of flowers, revealing themselves in time for summer, like that of the Philippine Teak.

The wood of Tectona philippinensis or the Philippine Teak is strong; resilient enough that during the Spanish colonial era, it was used to build and repair Manila galleon ships. The word tectona in fact refers to the Greek word for carpenter. But due to its bark’s appearance, it is commonly mistaken for the Guava tree that has a similar-looking white and flaky bark.

At one point during the tree walks Achacoso lifted up what seemed like from afar, a short bottle-shaped container made out of wood. Indeed, it also floated and operated much like a message in a bottle out at sea, for it was the seed of a large coastal tree called Botong (Barringtonia asiatica) known to be able to float for years until reaching land again to take root and grow.

From dipterocarps named after the Greek words describing their “winged-seeds”, to the strong Bitaog trees (Calophyllum Inophyllum) that line the coasts, native trees of the Philippines stand waiting to be studied. Their biology just as fascinating as their history, ready for people to stop and enjoy both the shade they provide, and the stories they hold. If only more and more people were to stop and walk among the trees.

Help the Haribon Foundation plant more native trees up and down the country. By donating P300 you support the planting and nurturing of one native tree. Visit haribon.org.ph today.

Sources:
Cytotoxic and antimicrobial compounds from cinnamomum cebuense kosterm. (lauraceae) Dinah L. Espineli et. al.

Guide to the Washington SyCip Garden of Native Trees, University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus, Quezon City

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