The internet is a marvelous invention and I learned a lot in just a few days of texting and emailing with Gerardo “Geff” Cedeño, the man behind Facebook’s Philippine Native Hardwood Tree Seedlings site and proprietor of Geff’s Nursery of Sariaya, Quezon. It’s been a personalized webinar on Philippine native trees and reforestation.
Among our unrecognized and unappreciated fruit trees, Cedeño Vibered, are: alupag (Philippine lychee) whose fruits are sweeter than Chinese imports; amugis that has yellow fruits tasting like sinigwelas; duklitan with star-apple-like fruits; lamio that bears yellow sweet-sour fruits that can be made into champóy, something like Vietnamese sweetened dried plums; lipote and makaasim narrow leaf with fruits that look like but taste better than duhat.
Balobo (Philippine almond) nuts have maligat (sticky) kernels that become crunchy snack food when roasted or cooked in syrup. The nuts can also be ingredients of higher-value products like chocolate bars. Balobo fruits in August and can yield about 100-150 kilos of nuts per tree or 30-35 tons per hectare of 240 trees. Cedeño also pointed out that kamagóng is the mabolo tree that in 7-12 years can start bearing nutritious fruit rich in antioxidants.
Premium lumber species for houses and furniture are critically endangered. These and others were the ones that went into Galleons (Madrid’s Museo Naval has a panel with sample pieces of about three dozen species). Very few remain and seedlings are in short supply for want of mother trees.
These include amugis, akle, balayong tíndalo, balayong aso, apitong, balobo, kalantás (Philippine sandalwood), daó, duñgon, duklitan, ébano, guisok-guisok, hagakhák, kamagóng mabolo, kamagóng gubat, kamagóng ponce, yakál, supa (Philippine aromatic oil tree), toóg (rosewood), ypil (Moluccan ironwood), yakál manggachappúi, yakál kaliót, yakál blanco, and yakál sapluñgan.
Logging, slashing, and burning are easy. Reforestation and tree planting are not. Seedlings don’t grow by themselves. They need water and protection from fire, weeds, goats, cows and other ruminants, falling branches, etc. etc. Humans are sometimes the worst. Early on I planted dozens of kawayang tiník, the common bamboo that is hard to kill. They are half-dead because neighbors harvest their shoots when no one’s looking.
Here are some of Cedeño’s suggestions for reviving what remains of my orchard of diseased coconut and papaya trees and a mahogany grove. With seedlings of about 60 species, I like to think I’m doing my bit to help the environment and in the preservation of our native trees. May the tender seedlings survive with the help of these practical tips:
- Farm workers, including coconut harvesters and woodcutters, tend to be single-minded. They let nuts and tree trunks fall where they may; carts and trucks charge in and back up anywhere; everyone hurries through the undergrowth, slashing away at nuisances, delicate and expensive seedlings included. Their understanding and cooperation are essential.
- Ideally, planting should be done at the start of the rainy season that since Noah’s time has been May to October. Now it rains even during supposedly rainless months like March and not in supposedly rainy months like September. We also have more frequent El Niños and La Niñas. Cedeño advises having coconut husks on the ready, to pile around seedlings as mulch so as to retain soil moisture.
- While small, tree seedlings could be mistaken for worthless scrub. Marking them is vital and patpát (stakes) do the trick. Ideal are bamboo lengths 1.5 to 2.0 meters long and 1.5 inches wide stuck in a triangle, two per seedling. These serve as markers to distinguish seedlings from weeds and brush, warnings to workers scything. Cedeño suggests the use of herbicide (commonly available brands are Slash and Samurai) to control weed growth thereby reducing the dangers of physical cutting and grazing goats.
- Seedlings should be identified and labeled from the outset. It will be very difficult to tell what is what when they are grown because leaves will not always be visible from the ground.
- It’s best to plant trees of the same species together. Some, like dipterocarps, have to be at least seven to eight meters apart while others can be planted more densely. Dipterocarps are not only towering but also have buttress roots. Yakál sapluñgan, for example, rises to 50 meters and expands to a two-meter diameter. Planting the same species together simplifies layouting and makes the place look better.
I will not be as fortunate as the farsighted Hilario Davide, Sr., father of the retired Chief Justice, who as a young man planted molave trees in a remote Cebu mountain barrio. He lived long enough to see those same trees build a library, his gift to future generations. I will not be around when the yakál sapluñgan reach the heavens but perhaps I may still feel breezes rustling through young trees on my little hillside.
Note: Mr. Gerardo “Geff” Cedeño reports that his nine-year-old kalumpit trees began fruiting two years ago and now yield 40 kilos of fruit each. He expects the harvest to build up to about 100 kilos per tree over the next six years.
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