For its Christmas offering, last Dec. 18, 2020, Kamayan para sa Kalikasan focused on the native Pine Tree and endangered endemic tree species.  The resource speakers were Atty. Allan Barcena, Head of Corporate Social Development of Energy Development Corporation (EDC) and Ronino Gibe, Forester and Social Program Officer of the same company.

Atty. Barcena discussed the Benguet Pine that is dominant in Benguet but also grows in other parts of the Cordillera like Mt. Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, Abra and also in Nueva Vizcaya, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.  There are actually 2 kinds of native pine trees in the Philippines : The Mindoro Pine and the Benguet Pine.  If people want to see them, some are still located in Timberland, San Mateo;  in Crosswinds, Tagaytay; Benguet Pine Station in La Mesa Nature Reserve, Caloocan; and Benguet Pine Park in Bukidnon.

These pine trees offer the following benefits:

  • Medical experts recommend asthma victims to walk under pine trees in the morning because the trees release terpenes, responsible for the smell of pines that help clean the lungs.
  • The needles can be boiled as tea and drank to cure upper respiratory tract ailments.
  • These trees provide serenity and serve as inspiration to artists. They have enhanced the creativity of visual artists, writers, musicians as seen in the art works that they have produced.

Our native pine trees also offer economic benefits.  They serve as lumber for construction, and are used to make furniture, wood carving and novelty items.  Currently, they are not included in the endangered list of IUCN; but its population is dwindling especially in Baguio.   Congressman Mark Go filed a bill in the House of Representatives seeking a 10-year moratorium on tree-cutting in Baguio City; however, the bill has not passed.

Ronino Gibe, on the other hand, presented other native trees that can be planted and used as Christmas trees.  He also discussed EDC’s BINHI Program.

As background, Mr. Gibe informed the participants that the Philippines is one of the 17 megadiverse countries.  It has high total number of species and high endemic species; however, it is also part of the top 10 most threatened. That’s why the National Greening Program was established and a total log ban was imposed.

Native trees are those indigenous to a given area in geologic time.  This includes trees that have developed and occurred naturally.  They were not introduced by humans. In a Lexicon of Philippine Trees published in 2003, it stated that there are 3,084 native tree species in the Philippines.  800 of these are endemic and around 929 found also in other countries.  But in current studies done by UPLB, our native tree species has gone up to 4,000.

If the Philippines has many native tree species, why are we planting exotic species? Unfortunately, many are not aware of the existence of endemic species.  Through the BINHI project of EDC, they’ve decided to concentrate and prioritize 96 endemic species that are endangered.  These were selected based on the following criteria:  Biodiversity, ecological factors, and demand due to high economic value, superior mechanical strength, and high aesthetic value.  They used a grading system for all 800 endangered species and those with 60-100% average were the 96 species that they have focused on.  They intend to mainstream all these 96 species from Luzon to Mindanao.  They launched the program last 2008 and currently have 186 partners in different regions throughout the Philippines.

He enumerated 3 criteria why they prefer to plant native trees:

1) These species can easily adapt to the environment since they are native;

2) They are typhoon resilient;  and

3) They are the habitat of native fauna.  They contribute to biodiversity.

Exotic species kill the understory because of the acidity of their leaves that are prolific in regenerating.  During typhoon Rolly, most of the fallen trees were exotic.   He presented a list of exotic trees that must be avoided.  These are: Mahogany, Ipil-ipil, Firetree, Mangium, Gmelina, Palo santo, rain tree/acacia, Golden Shower, Teak, Palawan Cherry, Kakauate, and African Tulip.  These are the exotic varieties that have proliferated in our country.  They were brought for commercial purposes and used by landscape artists in their profession.  In contrast, he showed native trees that can compete with the enumerated species:  Siar, Banaba, Malabulak, Narra, Rarang, Salingbobog.

Mr. Gibe also showed photos of native trees that can be alternative to Christmas trees. They flower and bear fruits during the Christmas season. They are resilient, best for urban landscaping, have high economic value and are critically threatened.  These are:

  • Bagauak Morado, also known as fireworks. It bears flowers throughout the year;
  • Malakatmon found in Bataan, Aurora and Palawan. They are relatively small that grows to around 3-5 meters tall, except for the species in Palawan.  Their flower changes color from yellow to gold to red.
  • Molave is typhoon resilient. It flowers from August to January. The flowers turn from purple to yellow.
  • Philippine Teak blooms flowers from September to December. It is usually found in Batangas and Mindoro. The leaves are small compared to the species in Taiwan. Its flowers turn from pink to purple.
  • Igem-Dagat is used as Christmas tree in Batanes. This cannot be cut because it is endangered. People in Taiwan make these into bonsai. They grow in coastal areas.
  • Mapilig is from the Bicol region. It flowers in November. It is one of the hardest wood; unfortunately it is critically endangered.
  • Almaciga is made into Christmas décor because of its cones. It is found in Samar.

Mr. Gibe also listed 5 steps in conserving species:

  • Conduct tree inventory and documentation – take note of mother trees that can be the source for seeds and wildlings.
  • Establish Mother Trees.
  • Protect the selected habitat.
  • Advocate through documentation, publication and conduct orientation seminars

EDC was tapped by the Botanical Conservation International – IUCN, as the first and only Philippine Implementing partner for its Global Tree Assessment Initiative (GTA).  EDC has assessed 800 Philippine endemic species with 489 published.  EDC is propagating 96 species of the most endangered premium trees in the Philippine forest.

They go into partnership using these criteria:

  • Sustainability of the area is ensured.
  • The area is accessible to the public to enhance awareness raising activities.

To those interested in procuring native tree seedlings, they are available in EDC Nurseries located in Ormoc, Leyte; Valencia, Negros Oriental; Albay, Bicol Region; Kidapawan, North Cotobato; Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija; and in Antipolo near Eugenio Lopez Center for Metro Manila.  Varieties depend on what is being propagated. They are open to partnering with organizations. They can help in providing technical expertise in setting up nurseries for big projects.

Some of the common challenges that they’ve encountered in their “tree growing and tree nurturing” programs are:

  • Ensuring that prospective partner organizations are well organized and stable;
  • Choosing the appropriate species for the location. They usually do soil analysis to match it with appropriate species to grow. This ensures good mortality rate.
  • Appropriate timing for growing plants with the planting plan. Growth of seedlings in nurseries must coincide with the planting season, which is during the rainy season.
  • Maintenance & protection of seedlings need time and resources during its 3-5 years growing stage.

Mr. Gibe narrated their experience in propagating Kaladis Narig in Sibugay, Zamboanga.  There was only 1 existing standing tree.  But in partnership with DENR and the local LGU, it is now reported to have 11 standing trees. Last August 2020, the Kaladis Narig species was declared as heritage tree to protect it from being cut and harvested.

As parting words, Mr. Gibe recommended 4 easy steps to participate in saving native trees:

  • Join the discussion with like-minded organizations that advocate Philippine Native Trees;
  • Take photos and inquire from experts before buying or collecting trees;
  • Visit native tree parks and arboretum and read books on native trees
  • Grow, nurture and advocate native trees only.

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