Climate Solutions

A new leaf on reforestation of tropical woods

Trees grow so thickly on the highest slopes of Biliran, an island province in the Philippines, that the volcanic mountaintops look soft as moss. Below those emerald caps, the rainforest is patchy — trees have been felled by loggers and the land has been used as water buffalo pasture. On the mountainside, poor farmers are being paid by the government to grow trees as part of a plan to replenish the denuded landscape.

HANNAH REYES MORALES FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

These photographs show the leaves from seedlings grown at a remote nursery run by farmers in the village of Kawayanon. Some trees are native. Others are grown for their wood and fruits — illustrating the tension between the preservation of indigenous species and commercial forestry.

HANNAH REYES MORALES FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

NARRA: Pterocarpus indicus. This native tree can quickly grow to 30 meters or more. Frank Murphy, the last American governor general of the Philippines, proclaimed narra the country’s national tree in 1934, as a symbol of sturdiness — the tough wood resists termites. Narra leaves are also used in traditional Philippine medicine.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

MAHOGANY: Swietenia macrophylla. Mahogany is a tree native to the Americas but widely planted across the Philippines, grown for its valuable timber. The government considers the species to be “naturalized” because of its history on the archipelago, where mahogany plantations date back a century.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

CACAO: Theobroma cacao: Communal farms raise cacao as a crop — it’s the plant that produces cocoa beans. In some areas, farmers have permission to grow crops on government land. These plantations are a blend of forests and agriculture where, for instance, cacao grows beneath taller species known as “shade trees.”

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

COFFEE: Coffea arabica. Under the Philippine National Greening Program, a plan to reforest 7.1 million hectares, or 17.5 million acres, by 2028, the government has promoted coffee as a valuable crop. A 2019 audit of the greening program commissioned by the Philippine government determined that crops such as coffee and cacao do not contribute to forest cover, although they do absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

GMELINA: Gmelina arborea. Gmelina trees are adept at sucking down carbon dioxide. They were introduced to the Philippines about 60 years ago. Because they grow so quickly, the species “was once considered a ‘get rich quick’ tree,” says John Herbohn, director of the Tropical Forests and People Research Center at Australia’s University of the Sunshine Coast. But gmelina is “now maligned,” he says, for its ability to displace native species.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

BAGRAS: Eucalyptus deglupta. Bagras is another quick grower with a trunk that is “a striking green,” Herbohn says. Multicolored bark, with hues of green, blue and orange, gives the tree the nickname the “rainbow eucalyptus.”

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

YAKAL: Shorea astylosa. A slow-growing native tree, yakal is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. It’s a member of the Dipterocarpaceae family of trees, which drop winged fruits that spread on the wind, similar to the seeds of a maple tree.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

BAHAI: Ormosia calavensis. A native tree that becomes part of the canopy in Philippine rainforests. Its seeds are used in folk medicine to relieve ulcers.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

DAO: Dracontomelon dao. A century-old specimen of this native tropical tree grows at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, a school southeast of Manila, at a severe angle. It was slated to be cut down in the mid-2000s until public support saved it from the chain saw. The dao tree has weathered several severe storms, including typhoon Glenda in 2014.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

BITANGHOL: Calophyllum blancoi. This native species grows so tall and straight it has been used for ship masts. It is found in primary forests at many elevations, including high up in the mossy cloud forests on mountains.

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post

Hannah Reyes Morales for The Washington Post