September Vegetable of the Month is Lubi-lubi (Ficus pseudopalma)


Scientific name: Ficus pseudopalma

Family: Moraceae (Fig family)

Common names: Lubi-lubi, Niog-niogan, Palm Leaf Fig, Philippine Fig

The Philippines is home to thousands of endemic species, and one of them is a fig locally known as Lubi-lubi. I’ve known about this plant since I took up a plant taxonomy course in college, but I only learned that it was also eaten as a vegetable during my field work in La Mesa Watershed when I was already an Assistant Professor.

Lubi-lubi plant

The only lubi-lubi plant we have in our garden is in a pot that’s too small!

This is such a strange-looking fig plant, that when encountered for the first time by an American botany professor whom I hosted when I was still working in UP Diliman, he was puzzled for several moments before he realized that it was indeed a fig. The ‘pseudopalma’ part of its scientific name means ‘fake palm’, due to its palm-like appearance.

Lubi-lubi leaves

The leaves of lubi-lubi are arranged in a palm-like manner, hence the scientific name Ficus pseudopalma.

Be proud that Lubi-lubi is endemic to our country, which means it’s found only here! (Note: It has been brought to other countries as an ornamental, but they don’t bear viable seeds).

This shrub or small tree grows in early successional areas that don’t get too dry during the summer. The ones I’ve seen are not cultivated at all, but are rather “hulog ng langit” (fallen from the sky); they are easily dispersed by fig-eating animals. As long as its fig wasps are present, the fruits will get pollinated and ripen.

Lubi-lubi fruits

Unripe figs or syconia of Lubi-lubi.

We got Lubi-lubi plant in these photos from a friend at the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. when it was still tiny. It’s now bearing fruits (syconia, if you want to be more technical), but unfortunately, I think there aren’t any of the specific pollinator wasps in our area, hence the figs do not ripen. As you can see, the plant is thriving, even though it is in a pot.

The young shoots are the ones consumed, and you’ll maybe notice in the photo that we’ve been picking them. Usually though, the entire apex is harvested, but that kills the apical bud. That may encourage lateral branching, but we don’t do it for fear of killing the plant. Let me know if you’ve ever done it and whether the plant lived or died.

Lubi-lubi in the market

The entire apex is harvested and sold in markets in the Bicol Region. (Photo courtesy of Market Manila)

Pick the young leaves while they’re still reddish. Otherwise, they’ll be too fibrous to eat. This vegetable is popular in the Bicol Region, where it is usually cooked in coconut milk, onions, garlic, and of course lots of hot chili peppers. It also has folkloric uses for the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, kidney stones.

Native Species for Reforestation in the Upper Marikina River Basin

Here’s a quick challenge: Enumerate five tree species that are native to the Philippines. I hope that you at least mentioned Narra, probably the most famous native Philippine tree. But did your answers include mangga, santol, langka, sampaloc, or atis? These latter species are all aliens in the Philippines, believe it or not.

It is indeed a sad fact that Filipinos do not know their very own plant species. Our mentor the great, late Leonardo Co realized this and founded the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc. (PNPCSI).

I spent last weekend in a planning meeting with officers and members of the PNPCSI. I had to travel for six hours to reach the venue — the Project Management Office of the Upper Marikina River Basin and Protected Landscape in Barangay Pintong Bukawe (also spelled Bocaue), San Mateo, Rizal Province. The Society is headed by president Dr. Antonio Manila, who also happens to be the new Assistant Director of the Biodiversity Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

One of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Arboretum of the Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) of Rizal, which was a 2-hectare reforestation area. It overlooked the San Mateo MMDA landfill, decommissioned a few years ago. The area, like many reforestation sites in the country, is prone to forest fires, which hamper the successional development of the plant community.

The place actually recently suffered from a forest fire, but when we visited, some of the trees were already regenerating. Dr. Jose Sargento of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), who was with our group that weekend, said that those that survived the fire (i.e., fire-resilient species) are the best candidates for reforestation. Some of the surviving native tree species we saw were: Akleng Parang (Albizia procera), Malabulak (Bombax ceiba), and Binayuyu (Antidesma ghaesembilla). Notable non-natives in the area were Guava (Psidium guajava) and Duhat (Syzygium sp.), both of which are fruit trees that have become naturalized in the country. All of these trees can be classified as pioneer species that can give the process of succession a little push forward. Dr. Arman Palijon of UPLB was also there and he helped with the species identification.

I’ve had many conversations with people from the academe, NGOs, and private sector about which species to use for reforestation. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of the importance of using native trees in reforesting our mountains. One of the reasons for this is the lack of information and knowledge about our native flora. But a single trip to that small arboretum had already provided us with a short list of potential native trees for reforestation. And there are thousands of native tree species to choose from!

Entire books have been written on why we should plant native trees. Here’s a link to a short newspaper article written Dr. James LaFrankie that gives an insight on the bad effects of planting non-native trees:

So the next time you go tree planting, ask what species you are going to plant, and make sure that they are native to our country.