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February 4, 2014

Philippine Native Trees 101: A Pitch For Our God-given Trees

With regards to the advocacy on the care for environment, trees play a very important role. The benefits we derive from them are both substantial and nearly countless. Many of us think we know so much about trees. Maybe some do. But talking to tree lovers-enthusiasts-advocates reveal more about trees and about us.

Ms. Imelda “Ime” P. Sarmiento, of the Hortica Filipina Foundation, Inc., was gracious enough to tell us not only about trees, but our native trees, which are the focus of their foundation. She said that in all their years as environmental advocates, they have learned two very important lessons: (1) our native tree species are in grave danger; and, (2) the nearly unchallenged introduction of invasive alien tree species has greatly contributed to this alarming situation. The former is known to many of us. But, the latter had gone unnoticed and may have even been supported!

Ms. Sarmiento added a very good assessment of the state of trees in the Philippines, namely; very few countries are as blessed as the Philippines when it comes to trees, we have five percent of the world’s total flora (these include other plants like ferns, palms, grasses, herbaceous plants etc) when we have much less than five percent of the world’s total land area, and we have an impressive 3,600 native tree species, 67% of which are endemic, meaning, found only in our country (i.e. katmon, pili, lipote). These numbers attest to the fact that the Philippines owns one of the most varied, important, and biggest biodiversity in the world. This should not only be seen as a prestige or title, but an asset and a potential at the same time. With trees, we can never go wrong.

Next, Ms. Sarmiento expressed her lament on the present Philippine situation. Though these numbers should make us very proud, the truth is, we ought to be worried because of the sad fact that we hardly see them anymore. A proof of this surfaces when a majority of Filipinos, when asked, could not recall names of native trees beyond narra and banaba (both are indigenous). Some say the akasya and fire tree should already be given “Filipino citizenship” by virtue of having been brought to our country centuries ago and having been planted widely in this country. But this idea defeats the purpose of saving the environment as aliens like these are hardly friendly and could further degrade our already dying biota (Raintree, a.k.a. akasya, is native to northern tropical South America and Fire tree is endemic to Madagascar).

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Finally, Ms. Sarmiento asked the important question: “Why native trees?” Before she answered, she confessed (not in the sacramental way!) that she was a music graduate.  She was very humble to admit having no authority whatsoever to respond to this interview from an experienced priest-environment advocate and a respected and well-read internet “publication” like ManilaSpeak! But, (1) she reads and knows what are happening in our country; (2) she calls on some of our country’s eminent botanist friends; and last but not at all the least, (3) she believes our native trees need help! So, she just pursues… Hence, from her botanist friend Dr. James V. LaFrankie, a New Yorker (author, Trees of Tropical Asia: An Illustrated Guide to Diversity) on why native trees? “…the reason, in one word, is ecology.”  And he continues: “…native species has a relationship to the land, water and other organisms that has developed over a million years. Certain fungi live with the roots, certain insects feed on the plant parts, while others pollinate the flower.  Birds and mammals live along the branches and feed on the seeds. No such relationship exists for the newcomer …” (“Why Native Trees”  Philippine Native Trees 101: Up Close and Personal, 2012). These are strong and disturbing words from someone who knows what he is talking about. Those who have ears should listen!

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Simply put, the foundation’s campaign is plant and grow our native trees and help bring biodiversity back into our environment. Native trees are the cornerstones of local biodiversity while alien trees are not.  With native trees, biodiversity is assured. With alien trees, the environment is endangered.

We are encouraging urbanites to start planting native trees, especially in the urban areas where more than half of us live. With more native trees in the metropolis, most residents will have a chance to view them in their natural habitat. We bring to attention the glory and bounty of our natural heritage. By surrounding ourselves with our native flora and fauna, we ensure their continued existence and the richness of our own.

Plant only native trees. Make a difference. Be different.

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Ms. Imelda P. Sarmiento is the Managing Director of Hortica Filipina Foundation Inc. and Technical Director of San Beda College Alumni Foundation, Inc. You may contact her through (0917) 465.0281.

Photo credit:  horticafilipina.wordpress.com

 

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3 Comments on “Philippine Native Trees 101: A Pitch For Our God-given Trees”

  • Paul Anthony Haggerty says January 6, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Having chosen to spend the years of my retirement in this lovely country I am interested to acquaint myself with it’s fora and flora, but cannot learn much from nice pictures some of which don’t even name the species.
    I should be grateful if some kind visitor to this site would direct me to a more detailed source with close ups of leaves bark etcetera from which I might be able to readily identify the trees and shrubs for myself.

  • Victor Joseph Cruz says January 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    I support this whole-heartedly!

  • Norberto Bautista says September 5, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Why not join some of the plant groups of the country, like the Philippine Native Plant Conservation Society, Inc. (PNPCSI) based at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Bureau near the Quezon Memorial Circle, Quezon Avenue, Diliman Quezon City…. , in order for you to learn the plants, you need to go out of your shell and associate or link with the plant experts. Better still, contact Ms. Imelda Sarmiento directly. You may contact her at — Ms. Imelda P. Sarmiento – Executive Director – Address : No. 10 Dama de Noche Street, Barangay Mariana, Quezon City, Philippines . Email: hortica.filipina@gmail.com
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