Narra: The Country’s National Tree is Vanishing
A non-governmental organization urged Filipinos to plant more narra trees all over the country as it is on the verge of extinction. “Nowadays, the Philippines has only small, scattered and endangered remainders of the tree,” laments Roy C. Alimoane, director of Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center(MBRLC) Foundation Inc.
Narra was recorded as “vulnerable” in the Philippines, “threatened” in Indonesia, and considered “endangered” in India. It is probably now extinct in Peninsular Malaysia because of exploitation ~ of its few known stands. In the wild of Vietnam, on one hand, it has been extinct for 300 years.
In some of MBRLC’s reforestation projects, narra is one of the recommended trees for planting. “This nitrogen-fixing tree can grow to a height of 33 meters and a diameter of 2 meters,” Alimoane said.
Narra is adapted to flat, coastal plains behind mangrove swamps, sties along streams in the low hills near the coasts or inland valleys, and primary and secondary forests. It is generally found growing in calcareous soils or soils not deficient in calcium. It prefers mist sandy loam or clay loam soils.
Narra, known in the science world as Pterocarpms indicus, is the national tree of the Philippines. In other parts of the country, it is called naga, nalu, antagan, apalit, asana, bitali, dungon, lagcr, hagad, sagat, tagga, tagka, agana, balauning, bital, daitanag, kamarag, udiao, and vitali.
“We should be proud that [narra] is our national tree because [it] has many fine qualities,” says Alimoane. “But we are not the only admirers of narra.” In Singapore, narra is a symbol of the country’s garden city planting program. This attractive tree graced many Singaporean avenues. In Malaysia, narra has been planted as a shade tree for at least 200 years.
Narra is very attractive because of its flowers. “The flowers are yellow, fragrant, and borne in large axillary panicles. When flowering, the buds do not open in daily sequence. Instead, as the buds come to full size, they are kept waiting to be triggered into opening. The opened flowers last for one day. After that, several days may pass before another batch of buds opens,” the Hawaii-based Nitrogen-fixing Tree Association said.
The nature of the trigger is unknown. Whole avenues of narra trees blooming in unpredictable synchrony make a splendid display. In the Philippines, narra mostly blooms in the months of February until May.
The narra fruit is disc-shaped and has a winged margin. Each fruit, which has one to three seeds, takes four months to mature. But unlike most legumes, of which narra is one, the narra fruit is indehiscent and dispersed by wind. It also floats in water and can be water dispersed.
Narra is highly esteemed because of its timber. “It (timber) is moderately hard [and] heavy, easy to work, pleasantly rose-scented, takes a fine polish, develops a range of rich colors from yellow to red, and has conspicuous growth rings, which impart a fine figure to the wood.”
Regarding the strength properties of narra, the Woodworkers Source said that the bending strength of airdried wood of [narra] is similar to that of teak, which is considered to be strong. Strength in compression parallel to grain is in the high range. Other species in this range include teak, white oak and hard maple. It is moderately hard and resistant to wearing and marring. It is a heavy wood. The wood is high in density.”
As furniture, one author commented: “In durability, in beauty of its grain, and in the beautiful finish it takes, [narra] ranks with the best cabinet woods in the world.” It is used in the manufacture of high-quality furniture, peels and veneers, paneling, and parquet-floors. The narra wood, if it is available, is also preferred for the manufacture of inlays, musical instruments, clocks, piece-works, billiard tables, piano cases, and sculptures.
In 1987, the Philippine government prohibited the felling down of narra trees and its collection in natural stands. However, the forest-cultivation for industrial purposes was excluded from this regulation. Today, the remainders of narra trees can only be found at the coast of Isabela, in Bicol, in Mindanao and in the forests of Cagayan.
In the Philippines, the tree adapts to areas with dry seasons which last for six months. It is also deciduous in areas with a pronounced dry season.
Like many trees, narra has three limitations: It has tendency to fork; it is susceptible to fire injury (this is due to its thick bark but it recuperates well); and its branches may break in strong winds.
One kilogram of narra fruits has about 1,200 to 1,300 seeds or 140 seeds per liter. T.E. Hensleigh and B.K. Holaway, editors of Agroforestry Species for the Philippines, say that narra seeds are widely available during the months of January in Nueva Ecija, Leyte, and Zamboanga; February in La Union; March in Ilocos; April in Masbate, Benguet, Quezon, and Surigao; May in Ticao; June in Bulacan, Agusan, and Sorsogon; July in Tarlac and Cagayan; July and August in Laguna; September in Rizal, Capiz, and Mindoro; and October in Tablas, Negros.
The narra seeds can be picked up from the ground underneath the trees and stored in open containers for a year or more.
Hensleigh and Holaway share some planting techniques:
Propagation. Seeds (in winged pods) can be sown in a flood bed (lowered bed) for gennination. Germination averages 24 to 40 percent, four to five days after-planting.
Transplanting. Transplant the seeds that germinate to a seedbed, with spacing of 5 by 20 centimeters for three to four months prior to outplanting as barefoot seedlings. Provide partial shade and mulch the seedbed. Outplant closely spaced (one by one meter) seedlings to minimize branching.
Planting. The desirable height of planting stock is 75 to 100 centimeters if bareroot, and 22 to 30 cm if the seedlings are potted. The most common technique is to bareroot. Cuttings are also used. To direct-seed, put two to four seeds per hole, and then retain only the most vigorous seedling.
Cutting of branches 2 to 2.5 centimeters in diameter and 1 meter long with all leaves and side branches removed and sharpened on the upper ends have 72 to 85 percent survivability, that is. if they are shaded after planting.”