Dr Abe V Rotor
Bitaog is almost sacred, spirits live in its limbs, people passing by chant bari-bari or tabi-tabi po, to appease them; its flowers are fragrant and they think some soul is hanging around. But kids as we were then simply loved its cool and clean shade for playground. The tree is evergreen, thus it does not litter, unlike the deciduous narra or acacia. Scary enough, unscrupulous loggers would think twice and rather cut down other tree species.
Author (left) and Dr Domingo Tapiador, UN-FAO expert, examine bitaog specimen at UST Botanical Garden, Manila
We kids found a favorite hunting ground with homemade slingshots in a grove of bitaog trees in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. In modern parlance, such a place is called wildlife sanctuary. Here we hunted birds and searched their nests (tarat, panal, sparrow, and the dancing pandangera). We loved to listen to the shrill of cicada, fiddling of crickets; now and then a skink dashes, a monitor lizard scampers, paper wasps warn of our intrusion.
If bitaog deserves more attention and importance today, it’s for its many uses: automotive fuel and lubricant, medicine, insecticide and fungicide, rat poison, and as ornamental tree. Its indigenous use as arrow poison can still be traced in remote areas.
With global warming threatening many tree species, bitaog appears to be among the ultimate choices against sea intrusion, typhoon, smog, erosion, siltation, flood and pollution. And thanks to its natural resistance to pest and disease. No wonder all over the topics and in the Pacific islands, bitaog is now widely cultivated, apparently a revival of not only for its conventional use as fine wood furniture and acoustic back and side of guitar and similar instruments.
It is a modest effort to put up an arboretum to promote the cultivation of bitaog, among other species, in cooperation with the community, emphasizing its potential use as substitute to fossil fuel, and in reforestation and rehabilitation of wasteland (bitaog is resistant to sandy condition, salinity and drought). It is a principal component of agroforestry and in the establishment of parks and reservation areas.
Flower and ballnut clusters of bitaog
Calophyllum inophyllum is a large evergreen, commonly called Alexandrian laurel balltree, beach calophyllum, beach touriga, beautyleaf, Borneo-mahogany, Indian doomba oiltree, Indian-laurel, laurelwood, red poon, satin touriga, feta'u (Tongan) and tacamahac-tree. It is native from East Africa, southern coastal India to Malesia and Australia.
C. inophyllum is a low-branching and slow-growing tree with a broad and irregular crown. It usually reaches 8 to 20 m (26 to 66 ft) in height. The flower is 25 mm (0.98 in) wide and occurs in racemose or paniculate inflorescences consisting of four to 15 flowers. Flowering can occur year-round, but usually two distinct flowering periods are observed, in late spring and in late autumn. The fruit (the ballnut) is a round, green drupe reaching 2 to 4 cm (0.79 to 1.57 in) in diameter and having a single large seed. When ripe, the fruit is wrinkled and its color varies from yellow to brownish-red.