Why we need to plant native Philippine trees
The late Ar. Felipe Mendoza, a multi-awarded architect and Likha Awardee, said that when he was teaching architecture students, the first assignment he gave them was to bring samples of leaves of native Philippine trees. It must have been interesting to see how many leaves were brought to class and which indigenous trees those leaves came from. That was quite an unusual assignment.
Architect Mendoza, who I knew personally, was deeply passionate about environmentally friendly design. His assignment was meant to bring to his students’ attention the beauty and bounty of our native trees and how to integrate the knowledge with their design. After all, the Philippines has 3,600 identified native trees, 67 percent of which are endemic, found only in our country. Unfortunately, many of our native trees are disappearing due to deforestation, replacement by invasive alien species and monocrop plantations. Our native trees have also been over-harvested and exported to other countries.
Benefits of native trees
According to the Rain Forest Restoration Initiative, native trees help recover and expand forest habitats for threatened native species of plants and animals. They protect watershed and freshwater resources and secure the livelihood of local people.
The foundation says that foreign or exotic trees are selected for their ability to grow faster and germinate easily but they have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. They tend to alter the soil around them, preventing other plants to grow and thrive. They are not protective of wildlife, especially of endangered animals that prefer to inhabit and nest on native trees.
Endemic, indigenous, exotic trees
Some people tend to classify all native trees as indigenous. Native trees are classified as:
• Endemic, meaning, exclusively found in the Philippines.
• Indigenous, meaning, the species may also be found in similar areas in Southeast Asia, India or Australia, etc.
• Exotic or non-native, which means the tree was introduced on purpose or accidentally into the area.
Interesting traits of native trees
• The Philippine “Mahogany.” Collective name given to a group of tall trees that once comprised the bulk of Philippine rainforest (apitong, bagtikan, yakal, lauan pula or puti, guijo, tanguile, etc)
• Apitong (Indigenous). Used in heavy construction and as erosion control and planted in watersheds; streetside tree, for public open spaces
• Bagtikan (Indigenous). Important commercial timber, extremely valued for plywood manufacturing; highway and avenue trees, for public open spaces
• Bignay (Indigenous). Our native berry, evergreen ornamental tree for screening, windbreak and regreening programs. It can be easily propagated to populate the urban areas.
• Ilang-Ilang (Indigenous). Fragrant flowers used as leis, essential oil used for the perfume industry; wood used as plywood; Madagascar’s ilang ilang plantations harvest tons of flowers yearly for Chanel, the French house of perfume
• Ipil. Valuable timber for heavy construction, house building, posts and beams, furniture; bark used for rough cordage; ornamental tree, roadside and shade tree which withstands termite attacks
• Kamagong tree and its mabolo fruit (Indigenous). Critically endangered; prime timber used where first-class timber is required, from house construction to handicrafts; elegant roadway tree, should be planted everywhere in the urban areas
• Manggang Kinalabaw (Cultivated variety). Our national fruit, the apple of the tropics; evergreen, used as shade tree, not recommended for planting in public places, parks and roadways due to its popularity
• Molave (Indigenous). Endangered, fast-growing, drought tolerant, tough, durable wood used for high grade construction, manufacture of high-grade furniture, interior works; ornamental tree, roadside shade tree, pollutant abatement
• Narra (Indigenous). Critically endangered national tree of the Philippines; adaptable to most types of soil, resilient, deciduous, easy to plant and grow; high-grade quality wood for house interiors and exteriors; shade and street tree for public open spaces
• Red Lauan (Endemic). Wood used for furniture and cabinetry, for veneer and plywood, hardboard, boat planking, and decking and building construction; avenue trees for open public spaces
• Tanguile (Endemic) Vulnerable. Used in cabinet work, for veneer hardboard and plywood, sash and mill work, and general building construction
• Yakal Saplungan (Indigenous). Endangered; used for widespread heavy construction, shipbuilding, bridges, railroad ties, posts; grows quickly; used as roadside trees in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore
What can we do to protect and promote native trees?
We can start by promoting an urban forest management. Studies have shown that trees in cities, especially native trees, help clean the air by removing carbon from the air, getting absorbed and stored as cellulose in their trunks, branches and leaves. This process is known as sequestration. With a good management of trees in the city, existing tree cover is sustained together with large, healthy trees.
Planting trees provide shade for parked cars and sidewalks, making the city more walkable and livable, thus addressing the urban heat island phenomenon. Streets lined with trees are known to reduce particulates from car exhaust fumes by as much as 60 percent. Imagine how that can help improve the air quality in Edsa and other major thoroughfares.
Native greenery can also provide huge visual appeal to any area and can improve the design of a streetscape. Trees likewise prevent stormwater runoff from reaching water courses with toxic chemicals such as engine oil and lubricants collected from roads and sidewalks. They capture and store rainfall in their canopy and release water into the atmosphere.
What else can we do?
Our landscape architects, urban planners, developers, schools, and local governments should promote more strongly the planting of native trees. The Baywalk in Manila went through three transformation experiments in vegetation for instant landscaping. It is suggested that using native plant species for the longer term be incorporated in the planning process.Sixty years ago, 40 percent of our country’s total land area was forested area. That figure has gone down to 19 percent 10 years ago. Serious reforestation effort is critically needed. The government’s Build, Build, Build program is expected to steamroll the country’s post pandemic economic recovery. Hopefully, we do not neglect serious native tree planting since wood is a green and sustainable building material.
Source: Philippine Native Trees 101 (Green Convergence, Hortica Filipina Foundation, and The BINHI Project of EDC. 2012.)The author is the principal architect of A.P. de Jesus & Associates-Green Architecture and vice chairman of the Philippine Green Building Initiative. For comments or inquiries, email [email protected]
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