Terrific AgroforesTrees

By Michelle Domocol

Inflourish: Cebu Blog

In previous articles, I described the environmental recovery and reforestation techniques practiced at Healing Present. In this post, I’d like to continue our chat about agroforestry and forest restoration.

We select a variety of indigenous trees that will survive the current conditions of Healing Present’s site. We also choose them for the ecological benefits. Generally, all of the species chosen for reforestation enrich the land by:

  • increasing soil fertility,
  • supporting native wildlife,
  • feeding food pollinators like bees and butterflies, and
  • controling soil erosion
Photo 1. Healing Present crew grow, plant, and monitor the health of the native agroforest trees.

Healing Present’s crew cultivates hundreds of tree species (Photo 1). Many of these species are already established or waiting to be planted. The current rainy season and typhoon repairs delay our progress sometimes. But I want to highlight 5 indigenous trees and the important roles they play in our restoration:

1. Toog (Petersianthus quadrialatus)

When respected and left alone, this towering giant can grow to 65 meters. As part of an agroforest and restoration site, Toog has the ability to repel pests like destructive woodboring beetles. Toog are homes to important wildlife and mitigate the loss of tropical forest biodiversity.

2. Dakit (Ficus benjamina)

On a sunny day, you’d want rest against a Dakit’s trunk and under its canopy. On average, its leaves and branches spread to a 21-meter crown. The canopy provides the best shade for people, shade-loving plants, and animals. Thankfully, the shade also suppresses sun-loving weeds. On top of that, Dakit attracts vital seed-spreading wildlife like birds and bats. It can endure degraded soil and quickly occupy abandoned areas that need reforestation.

3. Kapok (Bombax ceiba)

Traditionally, Kapok’s seeds and pink blossoms were used for food and medicine. In Healing Present, kapok is primarily planted for its ecological functions. Like Dakit, it can quickly occupy barren woodland. Its fragrant flowers also attract key pollinators like bees and birds. In addition, a 25-meter tall Kapok tree can serve as a boundary marker. A group of Kapok can also form a living fence.

4. Banaba (Lagerstroemia speciosa)

Banaba (Photo 1) is more than the gorgeous purple flowers. Agroforesters treasure banabas and their ability repair unstable soils, control erosion, and add nutrients to formerly degraded forests. Beyond those incredible qualities, banaba can be pruned. The pruned leaves, fruit, and branches can be food for livestock and medicine.

5. Kamagong (Diospyrus blancoi)

Finally, we arrived at the beloved Kamagong. With its reddish, velvety mabolo fruit, Kamagong has so much more to offer than furniture timber. Kamagong in restoration projects are amazing partners in soil erosion control and wind-resistance. Wind-breaks and wind-resistant trees are like environmental guardians in a country so vulnerable to typhoons.

There you have it…5 rockstars in Healing Present’s growing reforestation project. I hope you get inspired to learn more about our precious environmental heritage and the various ways to protect it.

Related Articles

Resilience and Recovery after Typhoon Odette

By Michelle Domocol

Back to Inflourish: Cebu

At Healing Present, we continue to rebuild and recover from the destruction and aftermath of Typhoon Odette (Photo 1). Luckily with amazing supervision from the founder and the farm operations crew, we are making progress. We have deep gratitude for the Healing Present staff who continue to repair, rebuild, and replant the portions of the farm/forest that were damaged. Sylvia, Mario, Ariel, Jaime, Jerry, Marvin and Yeng Yeng all  rebuild and adapt Healing Present to this era of more severe storms and lethal wind velocities.

Photo 1. Building re-construction and repair after the typhoon. Photos from Sylvia Suson.

Typhoon Odette left us with detached roofing, broken windows, fallen vegetation and disrepair that results from 189-mph winds. The damage was extensive and heartbreaking. The damage also prompted us to refine our strategies to mitigate typhoons.

It would be misguided to rebuild and revegetate the farm without considering the new characteristics of this past typhoon.

Here are some of the overarching management questions that help guide our typhoon recovery:

  • How do we rebuild while considering the new severity of typhoons?
  • Is there anything we can improve our current mitigation systems?
  • How do we cultivate trees near our facilities will not fall and cause damage?
  • Are our trees still resistant to these new, stronger typhoons?
  • Is it possible to manage a forest patch that can withstand the next storm, flood?

In this article, I share an excerpt of our post-typhoon evaluation. This excerpt focuses on tree management and windbreak systems. Improving our tree care and windbreak is one of the many important land management strategies to strengthen our typhoon preparedness.

Photo 2. Periodic tree and windbreak evaluations at Healing Present
Tree care & Windbreak Evaluation

At Healing Present, we plant feature trees, forest patches and agroforestry windbreaks to protect crops and reduce wind damage to our facilities (Photo 2 and 3). As mentioned in a previous article, windbreaks are an agroforestry technique that:

  • create favorable microclimates,
  • decrease wind erosion,
  • increase biodiversity,
  • stabilize soil,
  • buffer noise, and
  • screen undesirable views.

Windbreaks are also a living combination of trees, shrubs and groundcover that may need refinement or improvement to suit our changing environmental challenges.

Here are 5 questions to help evaluate the effectiveness of our windbreaks and other trees:

1) Are the trees and shrubs in our windbreaks planted too densely? Sometimes when windbreak plants are too close together, they block incoming winds. This block can cause too much wind turbulence in the areas you’d like to protect. A protected area can include a building or vegetable beds. Effective windbreaks are more permeable and reduce windspeed; rather than stopping it entirely.

2) Are we giving the trees near our buildings enough rooting space? In general, large and small trees with enough room to grow a wide and deep fan of roots can be less vulnerable to high winds.

3) Are the trees near our buildings healthy and possess good structure? Perhaps Healing Present can decrease the amount of uprooted vegetation by paying more attention to the large trees that are planted close to structures. Ideally, these should have healthy trunks and central leaders. This can be managed with a consistent pruning program. This includes trees that survived the typhoon. Broken branches must be pruned so they don’t fall or cause further damage in a future storm.

4) Are there any isolated or potentially hazardous still standing near the existing buildings? If so, we need to monitor them. Isolated trees could be planted with more vegetation so they buffered from future wind events. Do any trees that survived the typhoon show signs of decay? Old trees showing signs of decay, disease or damaged roots may need to be monitored or removed if hazardous.

Photo 3. Evaluation and care for forest patches and featured trees near buildings.

5) Are we still planting the best wind-resistant species? Some of our trees had medium levels of wind-resistance because it suited storm pressure.  Perhaps we need to integrate some more high wind-resistance species to match the new, supertyphoon characteristics in our area.

When selecting windbreak species, a variety of species, ages, and layers of vegetation is preferred. Local observation is key to effective selection. We can check our property as well as neighbors’ properties to observe which species withstood the storm. Online lists of wind-resistant trees are great, but not always helpful. These recommendations don’t always match your specific climate and soil conditions. At Healing Present, if we notice a species that consistently withstood the typhoon, they may be a great candidate for windbreak re-plantings.

Photo 4. Forest fragments, denuded hillsides, and mixed agricultural areas of the Cebu uplands. Photo taken prior to Typhoon Odette.

Undoubtedly, systemic disaster preparedness is much more complex than evaluating windbreaks and planting wind-resistant vegetation. But it is a significant component to our recovery and repair. On a broader scale, disaster mitigation would be more effective with broader, structural forces like a cohesive national preparedness strategy.

Recovery would be exponentially easier if the Cebu uplands (Photo 4) and urban lowlands were strategically forested or designed to reduce the wind velocity of torrential rains and typhoons. If the upland forests contained continuous stretches of healthy, strongly rooted vegetation, residents could be more protected from typhoon winds. If we, as a global community were more adept at battling climate change, the severity of our storms would be less lethal. The “if only’s” are numerous and layered. And I lament the inactive collective.

Nevertheless, Healing Present is grateful for our operations team and the landscape management strategies that could help us recover from future typhoons.