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Now is best time to plant

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second time is today. —Chinese proverb

There was a time when planting any sort of tree would have been enough. Planting a tree is a pure gesture of hope for the future.

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But hope must be tempered by knowledge and guidance for we face a bleak environmental dilemma.

While our country has some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet, blessed with a rich menagerie of strange and wonderful flora and fauna, it is one of the least scientifically explored and protected, and consequently, one of the most critically threatened biogeographic regions on earth.

Pageantry

We might get a clearer sense of the country’s astounding botanical pageantry, by say, comparing the number of tree species on the entire North American continent (around 700 species) with that found in the Philippines (over 3,500 species.)

Our country has five times more species than an entire continent with a land mass more than 80 times bigger. And yet ominously only 3 percent of our old-growth forest cover remains.

Sadly, inadequate reforestation efforts that focus on replanting a few, mostly exotic, tree species have resulted in a gross underrepresentation of native fauna so that 98 percent of the trees found in the city are non-native.

We are born and raised in an alien landscape where almost all the trees we encounter are unfamiliar to our soil. As a result, an entire generation is unable to recognize any of the trees that once blanketed our country and that our ancestors knew by heart.

With this lost capacity to commune with the land, we are threatened with the loss of our natural wealth and heritage without even realizing it.

Jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) and Medinilla magnifica are two Philippine endemics that no serious botanic garden in the world cannot do without, yet very few have seen these flowering here.

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The Rafflesia arnoldii, the world’s largest flower is proudly adopted as Malaysia’s state flower, yet we rival it with our own rediscovered Rafflesia schadenbergiana. We have at least a dozen more species, including the smallest, more than Malaysia has at the moment.

We are also a contender for having the largest and smallest species of pitcher plants, and rank third for hosting the biggest number of species in spite of our limited land area. We are the center of biodiversity for Hoyas or wax flowers, which are comparable to orchids, with their star-shaped scented inflorescence.

PH oaks, maple

We have more than a thousand known species of orchids, over a third of which are found nowhere else. And who among us would know that we have our own oaks, nutmegs, cinnamon and even maple, when all we see are invasive “ipil-ipil,” mahoganies, Gmelinas and acacias around us?

It is with uncanny foresight and a sense of urgency that Leonardo Co, undoubtedly the most important Filipino botanist in recent memory, founded the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc. shortly before his tragic death.

We have a moral obligation to help restore the balance of nature that has been severely disturbed in our misguided efforts to impose ourselves upon it.

Forest jewels

Leonard extensively documented and inventoried the hidden botanic-forest jewels before they could vanish into oblivion. Yet, he himself was lost in a senseless manner before he could finish his daunting task.

To those who had the privilege of knowing him, he gave us a glimpse of our natural environment, seeing our flora for what they are—marvels of creation.

These transient miracles unfold deep in our forests every single day, playing a secret symphony that we might hear if we knew how to listen.

Discordant tune

Every invasive species adds a discordant tune to this grand orchestra.

Every species lost or replaced is one less note that weakens its harmony. Every introduced species distances us from this grand masterpiece of nature.

Leonard likened the environment to a third-degree burn patient and our current efforts to heal the wounds to applying Band-Aid.

He believed that the key to forest restoration was by knowing what we possess in the first place. “In order to effectively protect the environment, the people must nurture genuine care for it and no one can learn to care for what one does not know.”

Stewardship

Only then can we effect significant change and the succeeding generation’s reconnection with the land, and nurture a renewed sense of stewardship and appreciation for the wealth we squandered.

In lighter moments, Leonard punctuated his talks with his patented Jedi-speak “May the Forest be with you.” Indeed, there has been a great disturbance within and much has to be done before we can restore the precarious balance of nature. We need to reconnect with this wounded land.

Thus, let me rephrase the Chinese proverb, the best time to plant a native tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

(Ronald Achacoso is treasurer of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society Inc.)

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TAGS: Environmental issues, forest, Tree
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