9 Philippine Native Trees Better Than Cherry Blossoms

Monday, June 13, 2016

cherry blossoms benguet

We Travel, We Care is a series of essays discussing and exploring issues related to travel and tourism.


Lately, I'm finding myself more and more interested in trees. And no, that wasn't a metaphor. I literally am interested in trees – in love, even. When I'm walking 'round town or whenever I ride my bicycle, I'd stop just so I could inspect trees, especially if they're flowering. I have this desire to accurately recognize trees on sight, so much so that I've decided I'd take up Forestry as soon as I have money to spare. But for now, I'd have to make do with what I read on the Internet and in The Shrub Identification Book  I'd scored from a book sale. (If you have any tree-related book you're no longer using, can I have it?)

At any rate, while many in the travel community rejoiced at the news of a soon-to-be cherry blossoms park in Benguet, my reaction was, "Whaaaat the heck?" and a face-palm. Now I'm no expert and I'm not claiming that I am (just in case the first phrase wasn't clear enough), but from what I know about trees and biodiversity, introducing exotic flora is almost always (not always, but almost) bad for the environment. See, planting trees isn't enough. The "endemicity" of the tree species must also be considered. This means that whatever is planted should be native to the area, it should already be growing there. You ask, why is this important?

Everything is connected. Every action, even the tiniest ones, reverberates across and affects everything. Flora depend on fauna and vice versa. So, if you plant an exotic tree, it would have no ecological significance and would only compete with the native flora for nutrients – the former completely overpowering the latter in most cases. Haplessly introducing a species to an area could make it a dead zone. As my Biology-major friend noted, "The intention [behind the cherry blossoms park] is good, but in an ecological perspective, just no." 

So, to stay true to my advocacy of raising awareness, and promoting responsible travel and love for the environment, let me present to you this list of some of the many trees that are so much better than cherry blossoms. They are better for the sole reason that they are native to the Philippines; they are our own. They are vital to maintaining ecological balance, and make up our natural heritage. Remember: "support local" does not only apply to local products and domestic travel.

CELINE'S NOTE: Golden Shower (Cassia fistula) is an introduced species and is not native to the country. Acacia (Samanea saman) was introduced in about 1860 from tropical America. The Palawan Cherry or Balayong (Cassia nodosa) is also prehistorically introduced. Fire Trees (Delonix regia) are from Madagascar. Caballeros (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) are also an introduced species. In other words, all these trees are not native to the Philippines, hence the exclusion.

9 Philippine Native Trees Better Than Cherry Blossoms

1. KATMON (Dillenia philippinensis)
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Dillenia philippinensis
via tropical.theferns.info
Katmon is found only in the Philippines, being common in forests of low and medium altitude throughout the islands in primary and secondary forests. It can also be used for urban greening and is a favorite among garden enthusiasts.
Dillenia philippinensis
via seventeeneightyfour.blogspot.com
The fruit of Katmon, whose acid is mixed with sugar to make a traditional cure for cough,  is known as elephant apple. The fruit is edible with a flavor similar to a sour green apple and is used to make sauces, jams, and flavoring for fish. Katmon's flowers are large, white, and are about 15 centimeters in diameter with reddish pistils and stamens. This evergreen tree can grow as high as 15 meters and its wood is suitable for furniture. When quartered, the wood has a beautiful silver grain similar to a quartered oak, whose features are suitable for furniture and cabinet making. 

2. MOLAVE (Vitex parviflora)
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Vitex parviflora
via tropical.theferns.info
"Molave forests" can be found all throughout the Philippines. It is common in both secondary and open primary forests at low altitude. Aside from the Philippines, Molave is also native to Indonesia and Malaysia.
via Fredd Ochavo
Molave can grow up to 30 meters and its wood is one of the hardest. It is used in railroad ties, ship-building, and high-grade construction where strength and durability is necessary. The flowers are purplish, numerous, in clusters at the end of small branches. Its leaves, resistant to fungal, termite, and lyctus beetle attack, are used as fodder. Molave is also often used in reforestation projects in the country.

3. BANI (Milletia pinnata; syn. Pongamia pinnata)
Conservation Status: Least Concern

A town in Pangasinan is named after the magnificent Bani. While it is native in southern and eastern Asia, and Australia, Bani is also cultivated in Africa and the USA.
Milletia pinnata
via greenerpro.com
A legume tree, Bani grows to about 15–25 meters in height with a large canopy spreading wide. It may be deciduous (sheds it leaves) for short periods. It is often used as a windbreak or for shade due to the large canopy and showy fragrant flowers. Bani's flowers are small clusters of white, purple and pink. The flowers are used by gardeners as compost for plants requiring rich nutrients. The wood is said to be beautifully grained but splits easily when cut thus relegating it to firewood, posts, and tool handles. For thousands of years, its oil, known as pongamia oil, has been used as lamp oil, in soap making, and as a lubricant.
Milletia pinnata
via wikipedia.com
Read Also: Are You Too Shy to Haggle? You're Not Alone!

4. ILANG-ILANG (Cananga odorata)
Conservation Status: N/A
Cananga odorata
via macysystem.com
Ilang-ilang originates in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It is a medium-sized tree reaching a height of up to 40 meters tall. When grown for perfume extraction, it is grown not more than three meters tall for easy collection of the flowers.
via pinterest.com
The flower is drooping, long-stalked, with six narrow, greenish-yellow (rarely pink) petals, and produces a highly fragrant oil. It is often strung with sampaguita to make leis offered in religious ceremonies. The famous Chanel No. 5 uses extracts of the Ilang-ilang flowers.

5. BANABA (Lagerstroemia speciosa)
Conservation Status: N/A
via Fredd Ochavo
Banaba is native to tropical southern Asia. Known also as the Pride of India, It is also widely cultivated as an ornamental plant in tropical and subtropical areas.
Lagerstroemia speciosa
via Fredd Ochavo
The leaves of the Banaba and other parts are used widely in the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan for tea preparation. Each flower has six white to purple petals and blooms only once in a year at the peak of summer. Banaba is also one of the 69 herbal plants promoted by the Department of Health (DOH).

6. MALABULAK (Bombax ceiba)
Conservation Status: N/A
bombax ceiba
via treesplanet.blogspot.com

Malabulak is often mistaken as the Fire Tree (Delonix regia) – originally from Madagascar – or the Caballero (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) – introduced from tropical America – because of its similarly vibrant red flowers. In Tagalog, it is also known as Buboi-gubat, and Taglinau. It closely resembles the Kapok (Ceiba pentandrum) which is an introduced species.
via szuchiwang.com and wikipedia.com
Malabulak grows up to 25 meters. It sheds it leaves then gets covered in beautiful red flowers that attract lots of insects and birds. Malabulak usually blooms in February.

Read Also: The Flavors of Bani

7. DAP-DAP (Erythrina orientalis)
Conservation Status: Least Concern
cherry blossoms philippines
via whangareiflora.weebly.com
Dap-dap is a thorny deciduous tree growing to 27 meters tall. In the Philippines, it is commonly found along seashores and is frequently planted inland.
dapdap philippines
via flickr.com
Dap-dap's flowers are large and numerous with bright red petals. It is used in traditional medicine across its native area including the Philippines, China and India to treat a range of aliments including joint pain and parasitic infections.

8. SALINGBOBOG (Crateva religiosa)
Conservation Status: N/A
via Fredd Ochavo
Salingbobog, also known as Balai-lamok, is a moderate-sized deciduous tree growing to a height of 15 meters. It may be the closest thing we have to a cherry blossom.
cherry blossom filipino version
via icwow.blogspot.com
The fruit of the tree is edible and high in vitamin C. Salingbobog's leaves are traditionally used to treat irregular menstruation. Its flowers are greenish-yellow which turns purplish later. The flowers are filled with nectar, making it attractive to many insects and birds.

9. NARRA (Pterocarpus indicus)
Conservation Status: Vulnerable
via alltheplants4.blogspot.com
The Philippines' national tree, Narra is found in primary and secondary forests at low and medium altitudes throughout the country.
narra flowers
via Fredd Ochavo
Narra's purplish rose-scented hardwood is much sought-after in the furniture-making industry primarily because it is generally termite-resistant. Its slightly fragrant yellow or yellow-orange flowers bloom from February to May and are a source of honey.

Did you know our national tree has such beautiful flowers?

Read Also: The LNT Principles for Filipinos

These are some of our native trees that could give Cherry Blossoms a run for its money! Want to know more about our country's native plants? Check out the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, Inc.!

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