Monday, June 16, 2014

The Trees of Lagro: Nature's Gene Bank and Wildlife Sanctuary

The eucalyptus bears the proverbial  golden leaves - pure gold particles one-fifth the diameter of human hair  embedded in the leaf veins! 
Dr Abe V Rotor

Living with Nature School on Blog 
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday   

Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), relative of the macopa (Eugenia jambalana) and duhat (Syzigium cumini) under Family Myrtaceae

Part 1. Eucalyptus and neighboring trees
This towering eucalyptus Eucalyptus globulus dwarfs the adjacent barangay hall, covered court, and high school buildings, yet she is unassuming. Her lanky nature with dull green foliage with a tinge of blue flimsily hanging like the weeping willow (Salix sp), does not stir much attention of passersby, not even residents around.  

No, she does not exude the regal pose of the narra (Dipterocarpus indicus), the Philippine national tree; the shady crown of the acacia (Samanea saman), the biggest legume in the world; and the coconut (Cocos nucifera), the miracle tree.  Paradoxically all these trees occupy the same compound, the center of barangay activities.

Even as the wind blows the eucalyptus has little confetti to throw, few notes to whistle, little shade to draw on the ground. Yet she is a living Panacea, the Greek goddess of universal remedy from insect bite to asthma to alleviation of mental and physical fatigue.  Her leaves have virtual cure-all power: antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and they exude volatile oil into the air and even as they lay on the ground. She keeps at bay vermin from mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, flea,ticks, to rodents.  Yet, unlike other pesticides, the volatile oil of eucalyptus is refreshing, soothing to the lungs, increasing oxygenation and blood circulation. 

Why, Indisposed feelings are gone! That pep is back! Where have all the flies gone? 
If there is a tree that is a must in the neighborhood, better on the backyard, it is this goddess tree Panacea.   

But wait, there is a hidden treasure in the leaves of eucalyptus, the proverbial "gold leaves," as shown by this photomicrograph.   Gold vein! Microdeposits of pure gold.  This new discovery is more important in gold prospecting where eucalyptus grows, indicating deep beneath the earth lies a "pot of gold."  Asked if it's worth collecting the leaves for gold - Australian scientists wryly said no.  The amount is too little to be worth the effort. Well, gold is gold.

Every time I look at a eucalyptus tree I see Panacea holding a gold leaf.  

 Narra trees (Pterocarpus indicus), the pride of Philippine wood as Philippine mahogany is the best furniture and finish wood in the world, comparable if not better than the oak and maple, including the redwood.  Two of the hardest woods of the world are found here: Molave (Vitex parviflora) and mabolo (Diospyros discolor) or kamagong.   
 Acacia (Samanea saman), is a popular trees in the Philippines, introduced to the Philippines by the Spaniards from Mexico.  Acacia trees have a long life span, some reaching three or four hundred years. Acacia trees in Rizal's time, including those he planted, while in exile at Dapitan, still stand today robust and tall.  The secret of the acacia is, it is self-fertilizing: its roots harbor Rhizobium, a bacterium that fixes elemental nitrogen into nitrates (NO3) that combine with the elements needed by the tree, a characteristics of all legumes. 

Part 2:  Fruiting Lychee in Lagro QC - a Rare Phenomenon 

This is a series of photographs my son and I made on a rare fruiting lychee tree in Lagro subdivision, not far from the boundary of La Mesa Water Reservoir in Quezon City. The tree was planted from seedling by the homeowner and friend Ms Elvie Machate. When she invited me and my family to harvest her lychees, I could hardly believe her, until I saw the fruit laden lychees tree right in her backyard. It's so full of fruits, the branches sagged which made picking easy. Which we did on the roof of her house where we had direct access to the bunches of fruits.

Lychees is a temperate tree. That's why it grows best above the Tropic of Cancer such as in China. I have yet to see fruiting lychees in the highlands. Surprisingly here on the lowland where temperature reaches 36 degrees Celsius in summer, this tree has broken all known adaptive notions about this plant. I had a lychee at home, also in Lagro, and waited for fifteen years. It did not fruit. And yet it was just a block away from this miracle tree. There is another lychee standing at Don Antonio Heights in Quezon City. It must be twenty years, and it too, has not produced a single fruit.

What could be the explanation to this rare phenomenon? I venture two likely reasons.

First, it is a variety or cultivar that had undergone prior acclimatization. Meaning its introduction to a new place was gradual, and not just a single transfer.

Second, it is a mutant that luckily turned out to bear fruits - and of commercial quality at that.

A third, if I may add, it must have been planted by one with green thumb.

Whatever the reason is, it shows nature's way to transfer and spread out species in different places - and given enough time and proper care - will successfully adapt to the new home.

I got some seeds which I am going to plant. I hope I'll be successful this time. 

Closeup of the fruits of lychee, also called lichee
or litchi (plural, litchis); pronounced locally, lichiyas.

This lychee tree is in a backyard not far from the La Mesa
Eco Park in Quezon City

Acclimatization is an adaptation process for exotic species or varieties of plants in places outside their known habitat. The technique is not new. The early settlers introduced grapes, oranges, apples, apricot, and other plants to the New World from Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Their success made us think these plants are native to the place. This actually is a traditional practice since man settled down as farmer.

A dramatic event is recorded in Mutiny of the Bounty, when a ship carrying breadfruit seedlings (rimas) to be planted in British island colonies failed because of a mutiny. Wheat was introduced to the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In the eighties wheat was introduced in our ricefields after the rice is harvested. It was about to take off as a regular crop when the program was overtaken by the Edsa Revolution.

Perhaps the most successful of recent plant introductions is the dragon fruit. It is a hanging cactus (epiphytic) found in the jungles of Vietnam. During the war, the cactus was dislodged from its host tree and began growing on fertile soil. With prop to support it upright it began to bear large fruits each weighing up to a kilogram. In less than a decade dragon fruit can be found in several countries, Israel being the most successful that it is a now major exporter of dragon fruit.

There are many other cases. Our avocado came from Mexico through the Galleon Trade. Corn is perhaps the most adaptable crop - it can grow in tropical and temperate areas . Rice follows to a lesser extent. The japonica rice extends up north beyond the limit of indica rice. Wheat, through overwintering, can grow in very cold countries like Siberia - particularly now that ice is retreating as a result of global warming.

In southern Cebu I found fruiting loquat which is a native of northern China. It is a small tree that bears fruits like the lychee, only that the color of the fruit is dull yellow, and the taste is different. There are fruiting trees of lanzones, durian, and rambutan in least expected places. Surprise? I estimate half of our local plants to be products of acclimatization over the years, and with proper selection and successful breeding, have become native to the Philippines. With today's science and technology, and the current shifting of climatic patterns, we expect more cases of successful acclimatization - whether these are transient or long lasting. ~

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