Planning to join a tree planting event?
Hold up, you might be doing more harm than good.
As far as helping nature goes, “Plant a tree” probably rules the Top 10 list of things you can do for nature, beating out “Recycle” and “Don’t litter.”
And for good reason.
I’ve been taught since I was a kid, and you probably were too, that trees create oxygen, store water, house wildlife, and that planting a tree does a whole lot of good in the world.
It does, but too bad they never taught us how to do it the right way.
It turns out, many tree planting activities today are flawed, creating “forests” that fail to give these benefits.
I was disappointed that while I may get that warm fuzzy feeling of having contributed to the conservation of the environment, the actual help I do may be less than what I think.
Because not all trees are equal.
Some of them are actually better at restoring nature simply because they originally made up the forest when it still existed instead of being imported from someplace else.
One of these exotic species I’ve encountered that end up damaging the local environment instead of helping it is Mahogany. It is also one of the many trees prioritized for planting in the Philippines.
Take for example, the government’s own National Greening Program, a project that aims to plant 1.5 billion trees by 2016. Of the 25 million seedlings prepared as of 2011, guess how many are exotic to the country?
I’m singling out Mahogany because its pretty special in its own way.
Even though it grows naturally in South America and not in the Philippines, Mahogany grows really really well here because it can transform the soil until it becomes what it needs to survive.
Sounds like a superpower right? It actually sounds kinda cool, in a super villain kind of way.
So why is this bad?
Because it prevents native trees that face extinction from growing.
You see, mahogany is self-centered and vain. It doesn’t care what the others around it are feeling. It won’t share its position in the food chain and if you don’t like it, GTFO.
It just so happens that soil with a serving of acidity that Mahogany loves so much isn’t so good for other organisms.
This makes them very invasive and able to choke out other plants. I learned from this review of local reforestation studies that the pseudo-forests they make up are often devoid of wildlife when compared to natural forests.
You won’t see much bacteria in the soil, insects on its leaves, birds on its branches, nor anything else you’d expect to find in a real forest.
You can see the difference for yourself by visiting Bohol’s man made Mahogany forest in Bilar, which is as close to a biological dead zone as you’re gonna get.
Here’s one example I found of what we are set to lose:
You might be familiar with Narra because it was either your section in grade school, or you remember an Araling Panlipunan lesson on how it’s our national tree.
Well, Narra is classified as Vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
And it’s not the only one.
I did a quick search on the official Red List of Species that revealed that Molave, Apitong, Rafflesia, and 682 other native plants (so far) are threatened with extinction.
I didn’t even know we had that many.
This massive disappearance is mainly due to habitat loss, meaning the destruction of forests, which is made even worse by their natural range being taken over by exotic species.
So should you and I still be planting trees?
Our forests have been steadily disappearing for the past century so if we want to survive for several more, I think we definitely should.
After all, we only have 3% of original forests where native trees grow left in the country. That’s primarily thanks to decades of both legal and illegal logging, conversion of forest lands, unsustainable management, and a number of non-Mahogany related factors.
Just do it correctly and remember what it is you’re planting for.
If you’re looking to grow trees to cut them down later on, find an isolated area and go crazy with mahogany.
Bonus: Wildlife can be picky when choosing where to live. Most nests of the critically endangered Philippine Eagle, the largest in the world, are made on native trees like Red Lauan (also critically endangered) that reach over a hundred feet high. Click here to learn more about the Philippine Eagle and see the rare photo of it getting ready to feast on a monkey.
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