The true meaning of trees

By: Joel Ruiz Butuyan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | October 19,2020 - 08:00 AM

Seven months of quarantine restrictions have given me and my wife the time to embark on a wonderful hobby that we would not have been able to do under the work schedule I had before the pandemic.

Before COVID-19 disrupted our lives, I was commuting weekly between my Makati City office and Alcala, Cagayan, where my family is based. Work has been as heavy as it was before the pandemic, but working remotely from the province has afforded me the time to turn off my computer and head to our farm lot to work the soil, late in the afternoon until sundown. Our three hectares of agricultural plot is located on a hill that has a view of the mountains, corn and rice fields, and the Cagayan river.

From the stories of old folk, our lot used to be thickly forested, full of narra trees, and home to wild chickens. The previous owners cleared the land and turned it into a cornfield. We set out plans to restore its old forested glory, with a few spaces devoted to our farm house, grass grounds, and pockets of flower gardens.

Our research opened our eyes to the various types of trees that are classified either as endemic, native, or exotic to the Philippines. Endemic trees are the most wonderful kind because they are exclusively found only in the Philippines and nowhere else on the planet. They include mangkono (our ironwood), batikuling, bagoadlau, mayapis, and katmon.

Native trees are trees that naturally grow in our country but they also grow indigenously in neighboring countries, such as narra, molave, kamagong, and bagras. Exotic trees are foreign trees that were introduced to our country through human intervention, examples of which are acacia, mahogany, and gmelina.

If our endemic trees seem foreign while exotic trees sound local to our ears, the irony speaks volumes on how we’ve transformed our islands with flora that are alien to our fauna. This also demonstrates how we’ve driven our endemic trees to the remote fringes of our forests, rendering many of them in danger of extinction. In contrast, exotic trees occupy premium location and care in our parks, roads, and front yards.

In our search for guides on how to recreate a forest, my wife stumbled upon the “Miyawaki Method,” which was pioneered by a Japanese botanist named Akira Miyawaki. The method involves planting 420 native seedlings within a 100-square-meter area, consisting of a mix of large canopy trees, medium trees, small trees, and shrubs. The technique forces the trees to compete to grow faster to get their dose of sunlight. It has been observed that the Miyawaki Method ensures that plant growth is 10 times faster and the resulting plantation is 30 times denser than conventional ones.

My wife has embraced the method, and of the large canopy trees, she has planted dao, malabayabas, mayapis, almaciga, ipil, and bagras; of the medium trees, she has planted narra, molave, rarang, and kamagong; of the small trees, banaba, ylang-ylang, tibig, kalingag, lubeg, bignay, and marang, and; of the shrubs, kamuning, pandakaki, malatungaw, and mali-mali. The Facebook group Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts is one helpful resource in getting referrals on where to buy endemic and native trees.

The Miyawaki method has been adopted in more than 3,000 areas around the world. Since it requires little space, it’s a perfect model that allows the creation of many pockets of forest in park-starved cities like Metro Manila.

My wife has also identified an area that undulates below our future house as a place reserved for her meadow of flowers. She has planted the boundaries of her meadow with native flowering trees, including ones dubbed as “Philippine Native Trees Better Than Cherry Blossoms.” These include malabulak, salingbobog, ylang-ylang, banaba, katmon, rarang, molave, and lamog.

I have no idea if I will ever live long enough to see our trees turn into a forest. But as one farmer said to his son, “(t)he true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

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