There are amazing trees spread across our planet. Some of the most beautiful grow in Asia, especially in the Philippines which is classed as a megadiverse country. It has eight types of forest covering seven million hectares of land! Here are 10 incredible trees native to the Philippines to marvel over.
Where are the Philippines?
Before we jump into our list of incredible native Filipino trees, let’s learn a little bit about the country because that will help us understand its range of native trees.
The Republic of the Philippines lies in southeast Asia in the Pacific Ocean just on the western tip of the Pacific Ring of Fire. It’s an archipelago of 7,641 islands which are categorized from northmost to southernmost as the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao areas.
The Philippines are named after Phillip II of Spain. The Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos named the first two islands he discovered “Felipinas” after his King in the 1600s. Not long after, all of the archipelago was named for him too. Today, it’s the 13th most populous country in the world with over 109 million citizens.
The archipelago experiences a lot of seismic and volcanic activity across its 300,000 square kilometers and has a tropical maritime climate that keeps the islands hot and humid. In the rainy season from June to November, monsoons inundate the land, causing damage in inhabited areas.
1. Millettia pinnata (Bani)
Millettia pinnata is a legume tree in the Fabaceae pea family. It’s one of the incredible trees native to the Philippines (and most of southeast Asia) where it’s better known as Indian beech or the Pongame oiltree.
It grows to 49-82 feet (15-25 meters) tall with a canopy of bright green deciduous oval leaves that gently dangle and flutter in the breeze. In the summer months, clusters of pink, white, or purple flowers bloom and attract pollinators.
This incredible native tree produces Pongamia oil that’s efficient in lamps and soaps but has a bitter taste. The tree also produces black gum traditionally used to treat poisonous fish bites. Today, it’s under investigation for its biofuel properties.
2. Bombax Ceiba (Malabulak)
Bombax ceiba is a deciduous tree with a tall straight trunk that reaches 82 feet (25 meters) and bears spikes to prevent damage from animals. Locals called it the buboi-gubat or the cotton tree because its seed capsules produce white cotton-like fibers.
This incredible tree is native to the Philippines and most of tropical Asia, and although it deters destructive animals, it encourages pollinators. Beautiful waxy red flowers appear before its foliage in February attracting bees and Japanese white-eye birds to its nectar.
Another name for this beauty is the silent doctor because its parts were traditionally used in medicine to treat wounds.
3. Lagerstroemia speciosa (Banaba)
Commonly called the pride of India or crepe myrtle, this incredible flowering tree is native to the Philippines and cultivated across the world in warm climates.
It’s a small to a medium-sized woody tree with flaky bark that can reach 66 feet (20 meters) tall. Its glossy oval leaves are deciduous and stunning erect panicles of crinkled flowers that resemble crepe paper, hence its name crepe (crape) myrtle, emerges in summer. It’s fragrant and a pollinator magnet for many types of bees.
4. Dillenia philippinensis (Katmon)
Endemic to the Phillippines, the katmon tree grows in low-altitude forests across the archipelago. It also features the Philippine 25 centavo coin.
It’s a medium-sized evergreen tree that reaches 32-49 feet (10-15 meters) tall on a slender trunk with a wide canopy of branches and leathery, coarsely serrated green leaves.
Its blooms appear in summer, displaying beautiful large white flowers with red stamens. These develop into edible fruits called elephant apples. They taste like unripe green apple, but native Filipinos extract their juice and mix it with sugar to soothe coughs.
Katmon trees are commonly used for urban greening in southeast Asia, but they’re classed as vulnerable, which means they’re facing a high extinction risk in the wild. This is due to deforestation for mining and farmland.
5. Cananga odorata (Ilang Ilang)
This tree is best known for its ylang-ylang fragrance. Chanel reportedly uses it in their famous no. 5 perfume!
It’s an incredible tree native to the Philippines plus the Malesian rainforest ecoregions and it can reach 39 feet (12 meters) tall. When it’s cultivated for perfumeries, it’s kept to a more manageable 10 feet (just under three meters).
It’s a deciduous tree in the Annonaceae custard apple family with pointed wavy-edged oval leaves that reflect the sun, but it’s the flowers that garner all the attention.
Ylang Ylang trees have long-stalked drooping blooms with greenish-yellow petals and their fragranced oil is stunning. It attracts pollinators including bees and birds with its strong, sweet scent.
Flowers mature into black fruit clusters that feed a range of native rainforest doves and the fantastic-looking Sulawesi red-knobbed hornbill.
6. Vitex parviflora (Molave)
Deep in the Philippino forests 90 feet (30 meter) tall molave trees grow at low altitudes and produce purple flower clusters that support insect pollinators and many rainforest birds.
This superb native tree is a member of the Verbenaceae family and produces very hard decay-resistant timber, so it’s in demand for construction projects like railroads and shipbuilding. As a result, and coupled with forest clearance for farming, it’s now a protected species in the Philippines.
On a happier note, recent re-forestation projects have attempted to regrow molave trees across the archipelago.
7. Pterocarpus indicus (Narra)
Narra trees are the Philippines’ national tree and grow natively in low to medium-altitude forests.
It’s a hardwood tree better known as Burmese rosewood. It has purplish timber and rosewood scent, so it’s prized in the furniture-making industry. Unfortunately, coupled with forest clearance, it’s made the Narra tree, an endangered species.
This deciduous native tree grows 98 – 131 feet (30-40 meters) tall with a huge 15 feet (4-5 meter) buttressed crown and a 6.5 feet (two meter) diameter trunk. It’s a large hardwood tree that dominates the forest scape and takes hundreds of years to reach its full potential.
Its deciduous leaves are pinnate and green with 5-11 leaflets and flowers bloom yellow in panicles. They are fragrant and attract plenty of insects for pollination. Its fruit also attracts birds, rodents, and other small mammals on the rainforest floor. It’s an essential ecosystem supporting species.
8. Agathis philippinensis (Almaciga)
This native pine sits in the Araucariaceae plant family and grows across the archipelago in upland tropical rainforests. It’s one of the few pine trees endemic to the Philippines.
It’s a towering pine up to 164 feet (50 meters) and mature individuals can develop a ten feet (three-meter) diameter trunk. Its leathery glossy leaves are evergreen, its cones squat and ovoid, and the bark drips resin (manilla copal) that’s collected and burnt in religious ceremonies.
Almaciga trees are valuable to loggers because they have high-quality timbers that resist decay. Logging and other disruptive landscape activities mean this beautifully scented native pine is now a vulnerable species.
9. Carallia brachiata (Bakuan Gubat)
Carallia brachiate sits in the Rhizophoraceae plant family. it’s native to the Philippines, Australia, Indochina, and most of Malesia.
It’s a large tree capable of reaching 82 feet (25 meters) in height with a canopy of glossy green ovate leaves with darker undersides.
It prefers lowland rainforests and will grow up to 1800 feet (550 meters) in altitude. It plays an important role in the rainforest ecosystem, feeding insects with its yellow flowering nectar stream plus birds and mammals enjoy its lemon-yellow juicy fruits.
Local Filipinos call it the corkwood or Christmas tree and eat its new young shoots, but they’re not the only ones who like the shoots! Corkwood is a host plant for native moth species whose caterpillars enjoy its foliage too.
10. Carabao Mango
Let’s finish up with a delicious tree!
The Carabao mango is a Philippino native and one of the sweetest mangos you can buy. It’s named after the carabao which is the Philippines’ native animal
This mango tree fruits from May to July in panicles of fluffy green-white blooms that attract pollinators. Once fertilized they develop into five-inch-long mango fruits that are yellow with a green tinge.
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