MY friends who see how labor intensive our farm work is keep telling us to plant quick food sources like pechay, okra, sitaw, and other veggies that can yield us food in 45 days. “Stop planting trees that you cannot benefit from in three months,” one even said bluntly. I almost ignored him but I preferred to explain why we are not getting tired of planting and nurturing native trees. Another asked how a balitbitan could be of use. I said it calms me down with its beautiful new leaves, which are constantly changing colors from pink to dark olive green. Her jaw dropped literally because she was expecting edible leaves from my quick response.
Because our name carries with it the phrase food forest, people expect that everything in it is edible for humans. We did not foresee that we want to feed everything in the place and also to create a habitat for all creatures on earth, as much as possible. Because a forest has to have a place for wildlife also, we care even for the smallest of crawling or creeping living things, even those that the naked eye cannot see, and those that fly and land as transients on our trees.
We started simply with a dragon fruit farm in our foresight, not knowing that a DF farm cannot exist without other plants around each cluster. Now it has evolved into a holistic integrated food forest, with everything naturally growing with little intervention like procuring planting materials and making all possible nutrients available to the growing seedlings.
Of the native trees we have planted, there are some that we started from seeds. Can you believe that we planted some of our favorite native trees from seeds? Actually it was how we started our journey on native tree propagation. We received seeds from our landlord who got the seeds from his brother-in-law’s drinking buddy. One of these seeds was ylang-ylang. Who does not know about ylang ylang flowers? It is in that lei with white and green fragrant flowers. I want to talk about the ylang-ylang tree, not because the flowers are in my wishlist, but because the tree itself has become among my favorites.
Here’s why. I am nostalgic everytime its name gets into my mind because we used to have at least a tree at any given time in my youth. One such tree was so large, or so I thought, small as I was then. It did not stop bearing flowers, which gave us steady income. It was right in front of our bedroom window that we literally grew up with its fragrance. Another tree, much smaller, survived when that bigger one had to give way to house repairs that extended the house to where it used to stand. The smaller tree soon had flowers and we continued to get more from the sale of lei flowers. This did not last long but a very tiny seedling came with a pot of rose. Serendipitous as it was, it grew tall but did not bear flowers as much as the first two trees. Again, yard improvement gave up some trees, the last ylang-ylang included in the collateral damage. Ylang-ylang is actually a large tree that is indigenous to the Philippines. When we say indigenous, the tree is native to a place but may also be native to other countries.
To many, Ylang-Ylang is a flowering tree, not knowing that the trunk is also an important timber for construction, boats, boxes, floaters. Even the tiny toothpick may be produced from its wood.
Ylang-ylang oil treats a variety of ailments, including skin problems. Some claim that a decoction from its bark may alleviate fever, rheumatism, ulcers and even eye problems.
Our first attempt at germinating Ylang-Ylang seeds was encouraging with a 100 percent germination rate. The seedlings were so fast-growing that we planted them too soon. It was wrongly timed at the onset of a very long hot summer in 2022. All our ylang-ylang seedlings dried up with the extremely hot weather that lasted for 10 long months. No amount of watering saved any of them, including all katmons, all, but one, kamansi and other native tree seedlings.
In October, 2022, when we had lost almost all our trees, we again sowed more seeds. Of about 15 seeds that awakened, we selected the more robust seedlings which we outplanted in June, at the start of the rainy season. Unlike those we outplanted at the tail end of last year’s rainy season, the six that we outplanted this year stand a good chance at surviving. Their leaves are more vibrant and look healthier now that the rains have been nurturing them. We also learned from colleagues that the planting site has to be nourished with a lot of compost, dry leaves and cow manure. Thus, we prepared a pit of almost eight cubic feet for each seedling. We filled the pit with a rich soil mix that would nurture each seedling until these reach a certain maturity.
I do not have enough readings on the tree as a forest tree and how it contributed to a habitat. Some of my social media friends’ posts, however, say that ylang-ylang is a favorite bird sanctuary at daytime and attracts bats at night. One recent post refers to ylang-ylang as among a favorite firefly rendezvous. Other trees that fireflies love are balinghasai, narra, talisay, dapdap, mabolo, kamatsile, I am specifically excited at hosting nocturnal beings like bats and some birds with ylang-ylang as the host tree. With bats and birds, I am confident our food forest will have a variety of plants and trees from seeds that our winged visitors might bring or leave us.
Remember that when we started we did not have talisay? Now bats stay atop our narra trees and bring us talisay nuts. I am crossing my fingers for our ylang-ylang to make it this time. In two years, our food forest will also be exuding a fragrance you may be familiar with. Why? Well Chanel, Hermes and Dior are reportedly harnessing ylang-ylang oil extracts as base perfume of some of their perfumes.
I am proud to say that I grew up with the scent that is naturally ylang-ylang.