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: http://www.manilatimes.net/denr-must-stop-destroying-forests/118026/
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.