U-Turn At Deadend

by Juan L. Mercado

“I’m now 72 and just heard about these trees,” emailed former Evening News  reporter Melody Santos-Drexler from San Francisco. “Some cashed in by imports of exotic species,”  Leonor Lagsca of  Iloilo  wrote..  “Gmelina from  India  or   Malaysia ’s  candlenut tree  shoved our native trees into the cellar.”

There’s a “bumper crop” of local trees research,” notes Dr. Jurgene Primavera. “Awareness of native flora has gained critical mass, sweeping in the industry sector. But where is the supply?”

Tongue-in-cheek, Primavera describes herself as “zoologist by training, aquaculturist by profession, tree lover and planter since the 1970s. Time magazine, in 2008, named her among “100 Heroes of the Environment.”

Ramon Aboitiz Foundation just published “Native Trees in the Visayas”. This book vets scientific data on 101 native trees into layman’s lingo. It displays  “white lauan” in Negros Occidental to the four meter tall “Kalingag”. Cinnamoun cebuense kost grows only in forest fragments of Cebu’s Tabunan and Cantipla.

“Effects (of exotic tree imports) have been heart-breaking”, is RAFI’s understated introduction. “Now, we promote planting of endemic tree species. (Follow up) ensures survival of planted trees. Today, eight out of 10 trees in RAFI projects do not fall by the wayside.

Providence gifted this country with almost 3,500 tree species. But imported is sikat”?  Touted as fast growing, nine foreign exotics dominated government  replanting programs for decades. But they lacked resiliency of natives, during typhoons or droughts.

‘Iloilo’s River’ Esplanade is lined with Royal Palm trees — a monoculture of  roystonia elata hauled from  Cuba.  On the other end is Cebu’s 296-hectare  South Road Properties. Ten years after opening, it remains a treeless semi-desert.

In between are clones, notes Imelda P. Sarmiento who edited Philippine  “Native Trees  101:” In Forbes Park, Ayala Ave, Ortigas or roadsides, selection is  cramped between foxtail and date palms to “the alien podocarpus and golden showers — yellow blooms for P-Noy.”

The book uses 137 personal stories to illustrate 108 native trees. They include  the critically endangered “Starburst” to “the Landscaping World’s Toast”—“lubi-lubi or niyog-niyogan. This “is a start toward reintroducing our own trees to our own people.”

Since 2004,  Mindoro pine (pinus merkussi) caroomed into International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red  List” of endangered trees. Calapan  City councilor Girlie Ignacio campaigned  to roll back “hometown” threats  to  Mindoro ’s own.  Jesuit scientist Peter Walpole has shown it grows in Zambales, plus Indonesia. “We will popularize this tree in our urban areas,” Ignacio says.

“Shades of Majesty” is an earlier 212-page book that zeroes on 88 tree species. After that came “Beach Forests and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines”.

The later received a Best Book Award from National Academy of Science and Technology. Co-authored by Primavera and Rex Sadaba, it spotlights 140 species.

Eighty include the familiar “talisay”, “dita”, “ipil” to “tugas” Most can grow up to 200 kilometers inland.

The “Washington, Sycip Garden of Native Plants” tacks a living dimension on these studies. What was a parking lot at University of the Philippines Diliman until 2012, has been converted into a park that showcases 101 native trees. It honors a soldier, scholar to much-awarded founder of the country’s largest  professional services firm.

A red brick path today meanders along “islands”. They display trees with tags that provide data  from scientific name to tree tales.” This is education by show-casing.  As Albert Einstein once joked: ”The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education”.

The critical need is for nurseries that provide seedlings, Primavera says. That’d call for a dialogue among a “triad of sectors”: (a) Scientists who know  the trees, (b) suppliers and  nurseries to  grow saplings, and (c) Landscape designers, developers and architects who create the demand for  trees in public and commercial places. 

The agenda has to crunch numbers. Landscapers require planting of hundreds of trees, yet of the same species. Why?  Need we abide monoculture for our streetscapes and public spaces?. Natives trees can bridge variety gaps.

There’s the issue of sizes. Landscapers require”B and B”: up to 15-meter tall trees ready to be “bagged and burlapped”  Start instead  with 1-/2-meter saplings. This is a challenge for local governments too. They get P68 billion in this year’s budget. Invest in trees, not waiting sheds, basketball courts or allowances, as is the habit.

Landscape designers must  convince gardeners and suppliers that there’s a market for native trees. Nothing works better than a buyer with cash.

“Does it make a difference whether we plant foreign mahogany from Bolivia rather than molave from the Philippines?”, asks UP professor of plant diversity James LaFrankie.  “Yes, and the reason in one word is ecology.”

Native species have a relationship to land, water and organisms that developed over millennia. “No such relationship exists for the alien newcomer. Ten hectares of mahogany is a ‘dead zone’ in terms of biodiversity”: no birds, no insects, no seedling beneath the canopy. “There is no future for 10 hectares of mahogany. It will remain as it is, until cut and replaced.”

“The alternative is Juan to rebuild forests with native species. Such schemes have been practiced for years by many Southeast Asian communities…The result for our children will be forests that grow.”  We need to U-turn at a deadend.

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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