There are three things that a man or woman must do before bidding adieu to life—plant a tree, write a book, raise a child.
This aphorism has been attributed to many people (the Cuban poet Jose Marti, painter Pablo Picasso, Chinese sages) and even to the ancient Babylonian Talmud, that it must be an important, eternal message: that if you want to leave some mark on the earth during your fleeting time here, do any, or all of these three things.
My energies lately have been focused on the first one, and I’m proud I’ve been fairly successful, though I need to plant more especially in light of the massive deforestation in the country (not to mention the haphazard cutting of old trees being done by the local public works department, in Bicol, Makiling, and other places with old-growth trees).
In my backyard garden, I have a modest collection of Philippine hardwoods such as narra, acacia and kamagong. I bought them when they were young trees, from 10 to 12 feet tall with their roots properly balled up by the gardening center. They’ve shot up a few more feet, new branches have sprouted, and their trunks have widened but they’re still babies in the world of trees.
My thinking was that since I came into gardening late in life, I could not afford to wait until I enjoyed the beauty and fruits of my trees.
In Talisay, Batangas, they have wholesale garden centers that cater to landscapers and large farmlands, and they do allow retail sales of their young trees.
Trees need intense caring after the initial planting. Water everyday, generously, especially if they were planted during the dry months. An occasional treat of fertilizer would also help, but only until they take hold on their new ground and fresh leaves and branches begin to show.
Apart from the hardwoods, I also have a few flowering trees such as champaca, which has sweet-smelling white flowers; banaba, an herbal remedy and a purple delight when it flowers; ilang-ilang; and African tulips.
Another alternative medicine favorite is the droopy-branched neem tree. Its pinnate leaves sway like feathers in the wind, spreading what I hoped were its anti-mosquito elements if gardening lore was true. It’s not, and I have the bite marks to prove it (neither does the citronella plant work against these pernicious Philippine mosquitoes).
Two grand agoho trees flank our old house. They look like sentinels and I give tribute to the foresight of the developers who planted them all over the village about 20 years ago. While agoho looks like a pine tree with its needle-like leaves, it is not a true pine, but it is an evergreen and an indigenous tree.
A good reference book if you want to begin planting trees in your land is Philippine Native Trees 101 – Up Close and Personal published by Hortica Filipina Foundation Inc. and Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy. The “101” refers to the introductory nature of the book; in fact, it features a total of 108 native trees.
The book has wonderful photographs of our native trees, from various angles (and locales) and including shots of their leaves, flowers, and fruits. I would have preferred more scientific and horticultural information about the trees, instead of the personalized essays accompanying them. Still, it is a prodigious piece of work, and hopefully the publishers can come up with another volume.
The publishers’ advocacy is for the planting of native trees as opposed to exotic or foreign species. Native trees are more adapted to the country, its tropical climate that includes regular typhoons, and these local trees would support (rather than damage) the general environment that includes native birds, mammals, and other living organisms.
The Philippines has some 3,600 native trees and we are familiar with only a very few. Unfortunately, I had already planted so many “exotic” trees before I read this book. Also, it appears that most of our popular fruit-bearing trees such as avocado, chico, caimito, atis, and guava are “alien” species.
In fact, I planted several “Indian mango” trees because this is the kind of mango I love—these are the small roundish ones that are best when eaten green or just before ripening. According to the Philippine Native Trees book, the indigenous mango trees are the carabao (kinalabaw) variety, the mapalaho, and pahutan.
Once they have grown, trees don’t require too much care. My champaca trees at the side of the house were growing so well until the ground beneath them were cemented to give way to a laundry area. They caught a fungal disease that we try to keep under control with some organic spray and lots of watering down sessions.
I’m confident my champaca will recover soon. I’ve decided not to underestimate trees following my first tree cut-down.
Lacking experience and good guidance, and as new residents of the house, we thought one old-looking, bare tree, was dead. We scratched the trunk in the only way we knew how to determine if a tree was dead or alive. It was brown and dry. We cut it down. Its roots were too big to be dug out so we let it be.
A year later, I saw a fresh shoot, and then more. New branches soon sprung out from the old stump. I was stumped, yes, but happily so. The tree was alive and growing strong. I don’t even know what tree it is until it grows taller. Its leaves are lanceolate and dark green; I’ll do research or just wait until it can be recognized.
Life and trees, they’re simply amazing.
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