Did you know that there is a term for a mature, superior quality tree? In the forest, one calls it a mother tree. We’d like to highlight its constant plight and celebrate its fundamental unique qualities that greatly contribute to the forest ecosystem and human survival.
What is a Mother Tree?
Any tree can be a mother tree. It should be mature enough and have reached optimal growth level. Due to its robust growth and development, a mother tree is highly resilient to weather disturbances, unsusceptible to pathogens and gives steady supply of high quality seedlings for natural propagation in the forest and future tree planting activities. Mother trees are essential in supplying good quality seeds and wildings for rainforestation (or forest restoration using native trees) programs.
Haribon, along with other organizations under the network Rain Forest Restoration Initiative (RFRI), promotes protection of mother trees, especially premium dipterocarp (short-term for Dipterocarpaceae) species. Dipterocarp means two-winged, which makes these tree’s seeds very easy for wind to carry in long distances. The seeds of these species have the potential to be widely dispersed which results to further diversification of the area and discourage monoculture. Through this process, it naturally provides an extensive range for wildlife’s source of habitat and food. In fact, our country’s prime raptor, Haring Ibon or the Philippine eagle typically resides and favors this type of trees.
According to Professor Suzanne Simard, forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia, all trees in a forest ecosystem are interconnected, with the largest, oldest, “mother trees” serving as hubs. The underground exchange of nutrients increases the survival of younger trees linked into the network of old trees. Mother Trees are connected to all the other trees in the forest by this network of fungal threads and may manage the resources of the whole plant community. Simard’s latest research reveals that when a Mother Tree is cut down, the survival rate of the younger members of the forest is substantially diminished. (Jane Engelsiepen, 2012)
Unfortunately, there is no formal study and recognized database available mapping out the presence of mother trees in the Philippine’s remaining 24 percent forests. Most of the information at hand is based on informal listing or observed accounts of experts on the field—foresters, Bantay Gubat or forest guards, People Organization (PO), farmers, advocates and groups and individuals who engage in forest restoration and protection.
In “The seedling nursery survey on Leyte Island, The Philippines” by Nestor Gregorio, et. al, the general scarcity of information of superior mother trees that produce high quality native tree seedlings along with the lack of knowledge among seedling producers and seed collectors about its characteristics mean that they are getting or collecting poor quality seeds instead of propagating premium native trees.
It is disturbing to note that although there are laws that should protect mother trees from cutting or harvesting, it is widely disregarded by many illegal loggers and timber harvesters due to mother trees’ inherently premium quality that sell for a high price in world trade.
Save Mother Trees for our future
There should be firm implementation of the law to protect our country’s premium native tree species to prevent them from vanishing altogether. If fully implemented, there will be no shortage of healthy native tree seedlings. The need to import invasive exotic tree species for tree planting activities will be lessened which will make our forests and landscapes flourish with biodiversity. Ultimately, survival of all living species that depend on forest’s ecological services will be secured, including us humans. It’s because of the generosity and resilience of our mother trees.
“Trees Communicate,” Jane Engelsiepen, 2012
“Inventory and Assessment of Mother,” Nestor Gregorio, et al., 2010