Native trees must be popularized, says UPLB Museum of Natural History

by Dennise Recuerdo

The University of the Philippines Los Baños Museum of Natural History hosted the webinar Philippine Native Trees: So Rich Yet So Poor on April 12 as one of the events in the 2022 Biodiversity Seminar Series. Over 300 participants attended the event virtually through Zoom and Youtube Live. 

The activity sought to discuss the different species of native trees in the Philippines, their importance to the communities, and what should be done to help address the issues.

“Popularization of native trees, from my perspective, is important because awareness of them by the general public will translate to their conservation and judicious use,” said Florante Cruz, Coordinator at the UPLB Museum of Natural History.

Prof. Pastor Malabrigo shares his knowledge on native trees. Photo courtesy of UPLB Museum of National History

Addressing Threats and Challenges in Popularization

According to the UPLB Museum of Natural History, the Philippines boasts over 3,000 native tree species. Unfortunately, many of these remain unrecognized, poorly explored and ill-utilized. According to resource speaker Prof. Pastor Malabrigo Jr., an internationally recognized plant taxonomist and forest biodiversity expert, “Our Philippine native trees are poorly known, so we need more of (an) information and education campaign.” 

Currently, there are actions on clonal technology on native tree species, identification of seed sources, and simple research from individuals and organizations. However, more work must be done on simplifying and publishing the information to make them mainstream.

Among other vital issues, tree poaching is also a concern. For example, the propagation of agarwood species Aquilaria malaccensis is a lucrative trade according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The resin produced by this tree is used in making perfumes and incense.  

In 2019, the National Bureau of Investigation, in partnership with DENR, seized illegally traded Agarwood worth 2.9 million. While poaching is still a prevalent issue, the Republic Act 9147 or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act bans gathering wildlings in the forest without the office’s permission. 

Prof. Malabrigo, who is also a curator for UPLB Museum of Natural History, confirms that poaching and illegal gathering has also been a concern among botanists. Some fear that when the location of the species is shared, these resources could be abused. However, he believes that “In our information campaigns, we should always inculcate to them ‘yong conservation.” He trusts that people are now more inclined to conservation than exploitation.

Prof. Malabrigo also noted that keeping the location a secret poses a conservation challenge. The locals will remain detached from protection efforts because they are unaware of the existence of these species. “Hindi natin sila magiging partner sa conservation kung patsi-patsi lang ang information na ibibigay natin sa kanila,” he explained.

Benefits of Native Trees

The key benefit of these native trees is their interdependence with other plants and animals in the area. 

“Itong mga [native] species na ito, ito yung adopted sa ating climate [and] particular areas. In terms of symbiotic relationship with other species [and] with other biodiversity in a particular forest, sila na yung magkakatugma, walang negative effects,” Prof. Malabrigo said.

Prof. Malabrigo added that native trees are culturally significant to communities. “Marami tayong mga kultura na nakadepende sa punong kahoy[…]na mawawala kapag nawala din yung punong kahoy natin.”  

Prof. Malabrigo emphasized that among the 3000+ native trees, “Around 300 species have edible fruits,” including the carabao mango, saba banana, and puglasan (or rambutan). In addition, many native tree species have flowers in different colors, which make them attractive for landscaping. Some of the flowers that Prof. Malabrigo showed in pictures included the golden gardenia, ipil, and the banaba.

Prof. Pastor Malabrigo shows examples of trees native to the Philippines. Photo courtesy of UPLB Museum of National History and the Philippine Native Tree Enthusiasts

Other benefits also include the trees’ ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, resilience to weather events, contribution as a food source, and aesthetic value to the community.

Prof. Malabrigo said, “During this last decade, the appreciation of PH native trees and biodiversity, in general, increased unprecedentedly.” He attributes it to the impact of the degrading forests in connection to natural calamities and the rise of interest in plants during the pandemic.

Similarly, in a 2020 press release, the DENR emphasized the importance of trees in preventing landslides and flash floods

The department explained, “The roots of trees hold the soil in place as it fights erosion that causes landslide. It also helps recharge ground water supply, prevents transport of chemicals into streams as well as prevents flooding.” 

Meanwhile, the plantito and plantita trend came to the surface at the beginning of the pandemic. For those who needed the extra money, it was an opportunity to earn and gain a food source. 

(RELATED ARTICLE: HARDIN NI NANAY: Ang Tagumpay ng Kababaihan sa Organikong Pagsasaka)

Planting Native Trees for Conservation

Prof. Malabrigo suggests that local government units should adopt the Flagship Species Program in addressing poor conservation. He stresses that, “Ang dami nating province endemic species, and dapat maging flagship species na ng probinsya na ‘yon.”

He added that these provinces should have the goal of bringing these species to richness. He explained that “Most of the province endemic, dahil nga napakaliit ng distribusyon nila, also have this high conservation threat, yan yung mga critically endangered.” 

In a separate interview, Prof. Malabrigo emphasized that in adopting the program, “First, they need to know which tree species are endemic to their province.”

To identify these native trees, several databases can be tapped. He further expressed, “They can even contact me to know what tree species are found only in their province.”

He also highlighted that these efforts should be partnered with a local ordinance “to declare the province endemic species as their heritage trees or flagship species for conservation.” Through a policy, funds could also be dedicated to the program.

In achieving success, all key stakeholders should be involved.

Prof. Malabrigo said that the DENR, including the provincial and municipal or city level; academic institutions, particularly those offering forestry programs; non-government organizations; and corporations could partner together. 

Meanwhile, the current Enhanced National Greening Program focuses on planting native trees. However, for organizations hoping to aid the program, Prof. Malabrigo warns about the ill practice of merely planting for convenience and sourcing wildlings only because they are most available. 

Planting native trees is not an easy feat. It requires thought.

He advises that, “Walang one shot formula na eto ang maganda diyan.” When choosing a native tree to plant, one should consider the environment and the purpose.

Interested individuals may stream the webinar through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfMkHZ5eo8A 

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