The Philippine offers nature lovers tremendous biodiversity. Its tropical rainforest is the most species-rich ecosystem on earth. Substantial parts of the archipelago remain unexplored, both on land and under water. The country is remarkable for its dwarf and pigmy species of many ecological families. Unfortunately, the natural environment is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Logging and mining, dynamiting of coral reefs, and enormous population pressures are having a devastating ecological effect. For the conservationist, a journey through the islands may be both exciting and depressing.
Fertile volcanic soil of the Philippines, abundant rain and sunshine, and the wide range of habitats and elevations give rise to an incredible variety of plant life in every category, from mosses and lichens (including 1,000 species of fern) to giant trees (about 3,000 species).
Plants are mainly of the type found in Indonesia and Malaysia, although Australian (e.g. eucalyptus) and Sino-Himalayan (e.g. rhododendron) types are also found. Over 10,000 species of plants have been recorded from the region and about 60% of the 10,000 plant species are grown only in the archipelago. The Philippines has 54 species of bamboo, a fast-growing woody grass, throughout the islands. It’s used for an incredible variety of purposes: houses, bridges, fences, furniture, fish traps, wall-matting, baskets, hats, flutes, and much more.
At sea level, bays and estuaries are fringed by dense mangrove. Nipa palms, commonly used in the construction of native huts, also thrive in brackish water.
Most of the forests of the region, tropical evergreen rainforests, yield many kinds of commercial hardwood timbers. In the higher forests grow pines, and on the lower slopes bamboos, coconut palms and banyan trees.
Coconut palms are generally found below 30 meters elevation, while at 300-1000 meters dense tropical rainforest contains vines, ferns, orchids, and huge trees with buttressed trunks. The dipterocarp hardwoods, known collectively as Philippine mahogany, predominate here. The molave group of hardwoods is also important. Above 1000 meters the trees change from tropical hardwoods to temperate species like the Benguet pine of northern Luzon. Above 5,800 meters trees become progressively stunted and finally give way to scrub and grassy upland on the highest slopes.
Coconut trees are almost everywhere, constant that you are in the tropics. Unquestionably the Philippines’ most important tree, it has many uses: coconut milk to drink, meat to eat, wine to imbibe, heart of coconut for salad and lumpia (egg roll), coconut oil for tanning and cooking, and cocowood for building.
The now scarce beautiful narra is the national tree and has bright yellow flowers, and its durable wood is much favored for furniture and flooring. Other plants used for building and furniture include nipa palms, (important for roofing); rattan (for furniture); mahogany (for building and carving) and bamboo (for housing and furniture).
The land also produces a bounty of delicious fruits. A visit to Manila’s markets will introduce you to the wealth of tropical fruits available: avocado, bananas, breadfruit, chico, duhat, guava, langka, lanzones, papaya, pineapples, mangoes, siniguelas and the hugely smelly durian.
Filipinos also use many different herbs for medicinal and culinary purposes. Mountains and lowlands that are not farmed often have a thick covering of cogon – a tough grass with razor sharp edges.
Flowering plants include gumamela (hibiscus), kalachuchi (frangipani), bougainvillea, water lilies, water hyacinth and over 1,000 species of orchid. Many of these are found nowhere in the world. Wild orchids grow in mountainside rain forests, especially in Mindanao.
Celebrated varieties include the waling-waling (vanda sanderiana orchid) of Mindanao, whose blooms measure up to 12.5 cm. across and last six weeks, and those of the Cattleya genus. It is said that no other archipelago has as rich a variety of orchids and other plants as the Philippines. These flowering plants enhance the beauty of rural Philippines.
The national flower of the Philippines is the sampaguita (jasmine) – a small star-shaped white blossom with a pleasant, lingering fragrance, made into garlands worn by Filipino girls and given as a gesture of welcome to visitors. Mabuhay!
Source: Philippine Handbook by Carl Parkes
Philippine Guide by Jill & Rebecfa Gale de Villa
The Philippines by John Cockcroft
Until next time. The Philippine story continues.