Narra - Nonmedicinal Uses
by Nathaniel Weisser
Description and Rationale
“Preserving the Narra Tree… But why?”
Pterocarpus indicus, what people call Narra trees, is Philippines national tree. They are well known in many Southeast Asian countries such as, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, but they all have their different names. Narra has been used for many years as wood for furniture and house building. The reason it works so well for furniture and houses is because of its amazing ability to resist termites. It usually grows to 30-40 meters high and lives near wet areas and mainly in rainforests.
How does the Narra tree impact the Philippines economy? Is it on the verge of extinction? Is there an important reason for keeping “Narra” trees? What’s special about Narra trees? Does it produce any fruits or vegetables? Could people live without them? What are some special characteristics of these trees that would persuade people to protect them? Why do THESE trees matter?
The fact that Narra wood is wonderful for making furniture creates a problem in preserving the livelihood of the trees. The more people want to build the more they want to cut the trees down. It’s true that the tree is wonderful for building, but there are more benefits we can get out of them besides their wood. Things people don’t seem to think about that are actually very important for our daily lives. Maybe if they were left alone to grow to enormous numbers they would produce enough oxygen and use up carbon dioxide that it would save the ozone. They could even hold enough ground water in place to produce springs underneath the ground. People could even eat the fruits on the trees, and they are probably even high in vitamins. How would people be able to persuade companies to decrease their Narra logging? That will be the hardest task.
The main purpose of this research is to find other great purposes of the Narra tree that will benefit the Philippine society. This will be done through much research and most likely interviews of some environmentalists who focus in this area. If everything goes well with the research and interviews it will possibly turn out to help Filipinos improve their country into something amazing. This country was something amazing and can still be amazing if people want to take that extra step and preserve the Narra tree by replanting and limiting logging them. Everything will be further evaluated, from all point of views and will hopefully be understood by the Philippine country, later on in my paper.
It is hoped that preserving the Narra tree will help preserve the nation and maybe even help squatter people perfect their livelihood. Each characteristic will be looked at carefully and people from the Filipino communities will hopefully benefit from each area.
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Common Names and Synonyms
Pterocarpus indicus in English is called the Narra tree. In Indonesia it is known as Sonokembang, Thailand it is Pradoo, and Sena or Angsana in Malaysia and Singapore. The tree is mainly located in Southeast Asia. To the Philippine nation it is known as Apalit, but they have many local names such as Laga, Nala, Sagat, Taggat, Udia, Dungo, Asana, Naga, and Vitali. These names are spoken in many different areas of the Philippines. It is also the Philippine National tree and is recognized throughout the country.
Kingdom: Plantae (Plant)
Phylum: Magnoliophyta (Flowering Plants)
Class: Magnoliopsida (Dicotyledons)
Family: Fabaceae (Pea Family)
Genus: Pteroscarpus (Amboyna)
Species: Pterocarpus indicus (Hardwood)
There are many trees like Narra, and there are 20 of the same species that come from the same family and they spread out in many places of the world.
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Morphology and Physical Description
The Narra tree can grow up to 33 meters high and 2 meters in diameter but around 7 meters at the base. The tree grows very tall but near the base it forms a dress funnel where it becomes thicker in diameter then the rest of the tree. The tree has many branches that expand diagonally upwards far from the tree and tend to arc down at the ends from the weight of the branch. The Narra leaves are compound-pinnate with 6-12 leaves alternately coming out. Each leaf is about 7x3.5 to 11x5.5 cm and oval in shape.
Narra trees produce yellow flowers with a wonderful smell to them. When the flowers open, they last for a day and then close. They will stay closed for a few days and then randomly open up again by some reaction unknown to people at this time. The flower buds tend to become dangerous on roads due to their smooth slipperiness. When the flowers turn into fruits it will usually became a disc- shaped and flat looking fruit, about 5 cm across. The seeds within the fruits usually number 1-3 and will develop and germinate inside the fruit itself when put in contact with the ground or any planting environment. Each seed develops the same amount of time inside the fruit as it would if it were outside the fruit. In the Philippines the flowering season is between February and May.
The tree produces an amazing piece of lumber and in return a fine piece of art. Colors range from a whitish to a blood red, golden brown, light yellow, and reddish brown. Magnificent art work is formed from this wood, because of its beauty. The grain is usually interlocked, sometimes wavy. Throughout the tree there are knots that form many different shapes.
Narra trees have a wonderful resistance to termites which make it a wonderful tree to use in furniture and other wood products. Sometimes the leaves are used to make certain shampoos and the flowers produce nectar which is used in honey. Everything about these trees is beautiful which make it an attractive tree in neighborhoods and along road sides.
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Pterocarpus indicus are plants, which mean they gain energy for growth and reproduction through photosynthesis which is very complicated yet important for the life of the Narra tree. They also inhale carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, which people benefit from.
These trees also need plenty of water to keep them alive. The majority of Narra trees are located near rivers, beaches, swamps and lakes. Narra trees favor tropical areas, because of the abundant rainfall. Narra trees live where the least amount of rainfall is about 1300-4000 mm; this is the average in the Philippines.
While at a young age, the Narra tree needs a clear area to grow well. The reason for this is because the roots of the Narra tree are more on the surface. When it is just a small plant other plants can interfere with it and kill it. In the Philippines the Narra tree is found mainly in alkaline soil, but it can also be in clay or sandy soils. They are also able to handle soils of pH 4.0-7.4. Each tree is able to handle about 25% shade but it grows best in full sun.
Once the trees begin to produce wonderful scented yellow flowers they are pollinated by bees and other insects. After they are pollinated it takes about 6 months for them to mature into fruit and once the fruit falls out of the trees they begin to develop. They slowly dry up and then germinate and turn into a tree. The seed pods can be kept for about a year in room temperature and still germinate.
It is also possible to produce Narra trees asexually. This is done by “cutting”; to do this a branch needs to be cut off from the tree itself. Sizes can range from 10cm to 2m wide in diameter. Another possibility would be to tissue propagate, which involves taking tissue from another and placing on another. Some other techniques would be grafting, layering, budding, and marcotting.
For a period in history there was a disease that withered the leaves and the branches would die. It eventually killed off many Pterocarpus indicus trees. Source was unidentified. This took place from 1875-1925. Unfortunately it wiped out many areas of these trees. Oddly though, the disease disappeared and has never reappeared since then. Narra trees have also been infected by fungus, Phomopsis, and this fungus attacks seedlings and then affects the survivability of the Narra tree.
When Narra trees grow, their roots grow near the surface of the ground. Many roots stick out of the ground. They can grow really long and big. Just like in the picture. Because they grow in this way they tend to wreck anything that it is growing near to it, such as roads, buildings, sidewalks, parks, parking lots. Because of the Narra trees massive size, it blocks out a huge amount of light. This will affect any plants on the ground that need a lot of light.
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Origin and Distribution
Pterocarpus indicus is a Southeast Asian tree and tends to grow in tropical forests. They are a native tree in the Philippines but they also grow in many neighboring countries, such as Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hawaii, and many more. They tend to live in low tropical areas from sea level to 1,300 meters above sea level. When the trees grow they are in groups, but the groups are scattered in random spots throughout the forests.
Importance to People
The indicus tree has been serving many people in Asian countries as shade from the hot tropical sun. It has also been used as decoration in many homes and also neighborhoods. This tree is magnificent and is respected among Asian countries.
Narra trees are also very, very good for timber and have an amazing ability of being termite resistant, and also have a wonderful scent. It is a very hard wood and very durable for furniture and other construction. Each piece of timber shows a gorgeous pattern of red and orange colors forming a masterpiece. Often it is used for precious handicrafts such as desks, chairs, chests, frames, floors, carvings, boats, tools, and instruments. The quality of the wood is amazing and is ranked one of the best woods in the world, because of its durability and numerous uses.
Not only is it used to make things but it is a wonderful oxygen making tool for our atmosphere. Planting Narra trees to a great extent would increase oxygen production. A Narra tree can grow two meters a year, in the right conditions. Right conditions would be on deep, watered, and fertilized grounds, with little shade.
Even the storage of fresh ground water would increase, because when trees are preserved in areas where there are hills the trees hold the ground all together which keeps the water in one place. Water then gets a chance to go through the ground into springs. Otherwise the water would run down the hills causing erosion plus mud slides and wouldn’t be able to seep through the ground into springs fast enough.
Narra trees also have a wonderful nitrogen-fixation system. Because of its nitrogen-fixing and its seasonal leaf fall, it creates wonderful fertilized mulch on the ground. This makes it a great tree to lace on bordering areas of farms and gardens. It will fertilize the soil but will also cover plants with its shade, so it is not useful throughout crop fields.
Another area for the usefulness of Narra trees would be utensils. Tools are perfect to make from this wood. It’s strong and durable, plus it is easy to shape and cut out of the tree itself. Instruments are made out of Narra lumber and they make fine ones too. Narra also makes long lasting furniture for homes, because of its strength.
Survivability and Endangered Status
The mass popularity of the Narra tree affects its chance to exist. Since the Narra tree is a wonderful wood people want it and have been cutting great numbers for a long time. In a few countries the tree has gone extinct and in some countries the tree is endangered. During 1985 Narra tree exports were up to 3 million kg of wood. The mass number really affected the amount of trees growing. Later, in 1986, it decreased to 2.3 million kg and then in 1987 it dropped to 430,000 kg. After that the Philippines placed a total cutting law and since then there is no loggin of Narra trees aloud.
The constant need for high class quality wood is very dangerous for the existence of Narra trees. If it weren’t for the law in the Philippines, Narra trees would be extinct in these areas. Things need to be taken into action. Planting and cultivation of Narra trees needs to be done. Anything that will produce more Narra trees would be more then appreciated in countries that make a lot of money from the exports of Narra.
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What is the importance of the Narra tree in the Philippines? After much research, it was found that the Narra tree has many useful assets. They can be used for production of furniture, for soil mulch, and are used for their beauty in populated areas. In later research it was discovered that the trees have been popular which resulted in increased illegal logging. In many areas of Southeast Asia, Narra trees have become extinct. Here in the Philippines they have been protected by cutting ban on all Narra trees. It is important to consider the endangered factor of the Narra trees before taking any step to improve the forests of the Philippines. If endangered factor is ignored and Narra trees are cut and used in production, then they will end up extinct and people will not further enjoy the presence of the Narra tree. Below are possibilities with advantages and disadvantages and events that are already or have already have been taken place.
For hundreds of years trees have been cut down and used for houses, furniture, tools, transportation, bridges, and many more things. Many of these trees are Narra. Amazing crafts have been produced from Narra trees. Since they have such wonderful resistance to termites, they are a perfect wood for productions. If Narra farms are made and trees are grown, cut and then re-grown, then exports of Narra timber could be massive, just like it was in the early 1980’s. Filipino people could gain more profit which would help the economy and help avoid unsanitary living conditions and provide better homes.
1. Production of Narra timber would increase jobs for people of the Philippines. Job opportunities in the logging industry would increase. Jobs in the production of the timber would increase. Even jobs in selling the products would increase. Over all, jobs would be more plentiful and poor people would have better opportunities to make money and provide a preferred livelihood for their families. My interviewee, Dennis Trijo, agreed with me in this area and said that the wood was very expensive here in the Philippines because of its quality.
2. If massive farms are made, more fertilized soils will also be produced from the trees. This is because Narra trees produce wonderful mulch on the grounds and have wonderful Nitrogen-fixation. They could help other plants grow up to be lush and fertile plants. Dennis Trijo, worker at Manila Seedlings, explained to me that many farmers like to bring these plants up to their farms and plant them there. I asked him why and he said it was because it made good soil.
1. The amount of farm or protected areas to produce an amount of trees to be exported would have to be enormous. There would have to be a whole department dedicated to watch over and produce enough Narra to export but also to keep alive in the Philippines. This would cost a lot of money and would take much planning and devotion to the job.
2. Once huge exports are made the concern for extinction is lost and people begin to not worry about the survival of the Narra trees. Great amount of logging will take place and the Philippines will start to loose Narra trees once again. After what the Philippines experienced in the past they shouldn’t face the same issue again. God says in Genesis 2:15 “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Another words, we need to watch over our trees and maintain them and keep them living. He doesn’t want us to go destroying the trees that He created.
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Avoiding Mass Carbon dioxide
It has been proven that Narra trees turn Carbon dioxide (CO2) into Oxygen. There have been events taken place to plant trees in the Philippines to turn the CO2 produced by the factories and vehicles into pure oxygen that people can breathe. The more trees that are planted the more oxygen is produced. It’s a common fact and Philippine officials have taken action. Groups involved in programs such as Green Philippine Environmental Plan (GPEP) have taken action and have gone forward in helping the Philippine Environment. Another group would be Manila Seedlings Bank Foundation (MSBF). They help provide plants for any buyers who would like to help improve this nation with trees and other plants. I helped exceed these activities by buying a plant of my own and planting it in my own yard. I’m trying to encourage the task that needs to be taken in this country. (My actions towards this possibility are located on the “Action Step” page)
1. Since the human body needs a lot of oxygen then it is more then necessary to plant trees that do the job to produce oxygen. Health will increase in the Manila area. It is said that the Manila pollution is horribly bad for the human health. Since this is horribly true, the more oxygen making trees produce, the more people gain their health.
2. The Narra trees need to be put into polluted areas such as highways, trash sites, rivers, and some buildings. When the trees are planted in these areas they grow up and they display a wonderful sight for people to see. It will turn the city of Manila, its trash sites, into beautiful displays. Since it will look wonderfully beautiful, more programs will be done to make the rest of the country look as beautiful as where the Narra tree was planted.
1. If the Narra trees are planted near roadsides and buildings they will cause cracking in the cement areas. Narra roots tend to grow near the surface of the ground, so wherever they are planted they will grow roots onto anything nearby. If it’s next to a highway the roots will crack the sides of the roads and ruin the surface of the roads. The same works with buildings too. Mr. Dennis Trijo told me that when you plant the tree you need to space it from anything around it, because they grow real big and get in the way of other things.
2. If Narra trees are made to cover ugly and unsanitary sites such as trash dumps, polluted rivers and nasty living conditions, then the need to improve those areas may be abandoned and the trash problem won’t be fixed, but just remain hidden.
For my action step I decided to visit a plant nursery. It was located on Quezon Avenue on the corner where it intersects Edsa. The place was called Manila Seedlings Bank Foundation. Everything was extremely amazing to me, because before you enter into the nursery you have no clue that any of those plants are even there. I got off the train and really didn’t know where it was, I was just trying to follow some directions I found online. Once I entered into the area I was very surprised and amazed at how in the midst of the city there can be an area where so many lush trees are sitting and purifying our air.
I met a man, Dennis Trijo, who was a security guard but said he helped people find their plants and he knew things about them. I asked him why “he” was helping me and he told me it was because there was lack of workers there so he took that responsibility. Not only did I have a security guard helping me but I had a man that knew a few things about plants. I was safe security wise and also safe with knowing that he knew what he was talking about.
We talked a little bit and I interviewed him some and after awhile of talking he explained to me that once the Narra tree grows to a big size they are an expensive wood and you could make lots of money from them. He told me that it was a popular tree for people to buy and farmers loved it too. I asked him how to raise these trees and he explained to me that I needed to space it from other plants and I needed to water it and then let it grow. That was about it.
To help gain some income in his job I bought a Narra tree for myself. It was a small tree inside a plastic holder. I thought, since these trees do wonders for the economy I might as well buy one and try to help the nation a little. So I paid for it and then told him I was thankful and said goodbye. Once I got home I had the privileged of planting the tree in my yard. Hopefully this tree will grow taller and more magnificent. If it does I will be contributing to the progression to save this planet from over load on CO2 but also to make this country and this world look beautiful.
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Possible Future Direction
After discussing with Dennis, my guide at MSBF, I found out that Narra is a favorite tree among people and that farmers love it for their farms. Since it works so well in farms, it’s the perfect tree to share among farmers way up in the mountains that need all the advice we could possibly give them for reforesting and farming. This could possibly be a good ministry trip and a wonderful opportunity to share to the tribal people the wonders of Gods creation. How he made trees like the Narra tree to do jobs that would help make tribal people’s lives much easier. This is a great chance to share God’s love for people like them.
During much research, I discovered many organizations that are trying to plant trees all through out the Philippines, on hillsides prone to mudslides, on streets, in parks, on housing properties, everywhere. Groups such as ICA (Institute of Cultural Affairs), MSBF, Trees for Life, and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources), try to restore and protect the forests and their trees. These kinds of groups are wonderful to get involved in. Some have some programs that involve the public to plant one tree for themselves. There have been many of these programs and they have planted many trees. To protect and restore God’s creation shows our devotion and awe of what He has given to us. We can show our great stewardship to the Lord by helping out the Philippines and restore the forests.
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It is somewhat astonishing that the Narra-Tree (Pterocarpus indicus / Red Sandalwood tree), belongs to the national-symbols of the Philippines, especially because in the past the tree could be found in most deeper and middle regions of South East Asia and because nowadays the Philippines have only small, scattered and endangered remainders of the tree.
What kind of a tree is it? The Narra-Tree is a deciduous, relatively short-stemmed tree. In case of good growth-conditions it can reach a height of over thirty meters and a trunk-scope of two meters – in the lower parts up to seven meters through buttresses. In the rule however these maximum-dimensions are seldom. The treetop shows long, somewhat disarranged side-branches, that first rise upward and then bends downward. The smooth, feathered, oval-elliptical leaves are 7–11 cm long, 3–5 cm wide and have a distinctive top. It is reported that the young leaves and blooms of the tree should be edible. In the Philippines, the tree mostly blooms in the months of February until May - often before the leave flushing. The blossoms on panicles are brightly yellow and fragrant. Mostly they open after a shower and bloom only one day. The multitude of falling blooms can make streets slippery. After 4–6 months we can see the development of hairy, 4–6 cm disc-shaped pods with 1 -2 cm broad wings. They are dispersed by the wind and can also float in water. After two or three years – as can be seen in some avenues - settlings can grow up to decorative, shadow spending and relatively wind-solid trees.
The colour-qualities make the very durable hardwood of the Narra-Trees attractive. The heartwood has a yellow-rose to brown scented colour with an ornamental texture that is in some aspects more decorative than such of teak-tree. It darkens upon exposure. The younger, water-transporting sap-wood has a lighter colour. The wood is moderately hard and heavy and has good processing-qualities. If it is dried well, it hardly shrinks, does not tend to crack-formation and is very resistant to fungi and insects. The wood has a pleasant, long persistent cedar-smell. Very smooth surfaces with fine shine can be generated by planning and polishing procedures.
An author is writing, furniture’s from Narra-wood are delighting each homeowner. „In durability, in beauty of its grain, and in the beautiful finish it takes, it ranks with the best cabinet woods in the world"(1). It is used in the manufacture of high-quality furniture’s, peels and veneers, panelling and parquet-floors. But also the arts and crafts prefer this kind of wood – if it is available - , for example for the manufacturing of inlays, music-instruments, clocks, piece-works, billiard tables, piano cases and sculptures.
Tea prepared from the leaves of Narra-Tree has been since old days a remedy against boils and diarrhoea in traditional medicine. But now the extracts of the Narra as remedies are discovered again by the classical medicine and are subject of a new renaissance and commercial exploitation-boom. The former airplane-pilot Virgilio V. Ecarma is the head of this new discovery and marketing. Even on the internet he is offering his ECARMA HERBAL PRODUCTS, praising his teas and capsules as „The Philippine Forest´s Outstanding Gift To Mankind"(2). First with own experience – now more and more with control-group-experiments – he tries to prove the immune-strengthening and -regulating, metabolic, anti-infectious effects of his products. The list of indications is so long that doubts about the effectiveness can rise again. Ecarma is recommending his patented teas and capsules in case of: HIV-concomitants, tumour- and leprosy-illnesses, menstruation-disturbances, arthritis, diabetes mellitus, kidney- and bladder-stones, asthma-illnesses, cysts and colds. Next to his pharmaceutical factory, he built a wellness-centre. A day with cure treatments is offered for 100 $. „A full refund is guaranteed if the patient does not undergo measurable improvement ".
In 1985 the Philippines still exported 3,000,000 kg of Narra-wood. But in the last decades the enormous demand for status-symbols made from Narra caused a considerable diminution of trees in the forests of the Philippines. Therefore the Philippine government decided in 1987 to prohibit the felling down and collecting in natural stands as well as the export of Narra. The forest-cultivation for industrial purposes is excluded from this regulation. But the high prices are still luring wood-poachers and export-smugglers. Often, legal tree-felling is connected with illegal felling of Narra-Trees. Today, remainders of Narra-Trees are especially only located at the coast of the province Isabela, that Sierra Madres, in Bicol, Mindanao and the forests of Cagayan. Data from a nationwide inventory are not available and we don’t know major recultivation-projects of the tree.
However – sometimes wood-dealers still offer in Manila Narra-wood in different quantities at fluctuating prices. In 2000, a „Boardfoot ", (30 cm wide, 30 cm long, 2.5 cm thick) was offered at prices between 1.70 and 2.60 US$ (3). In the internet 2003 a cubic meter was offered at prices between 600 and 700 US$ (4). Its clear, that the price is depending on the texture of wood, width and length.
In the eighties, efforts from sides of the wood-processing industry have been made to replace Narra-wood by the bright-yellow Gmelina-wood. Gmelina-trees are fast-growing in the forest and the wood costs only one sixth of the price of Narra-wood. Gmelina-wood dries however more irregular and is less durable. Now it seems that the Gmelina-wood has become already popular alternative, but it does not reach the status-qualities of Narra-wood.
Let's hope that the substitution will succeed and that we could find again in greater numbers the beautiful, ecologically valuable Narra-tree in the Philippines.
(3) Quoted after: Peter Freudenberg, Thieves´ Wood of Choice, Illegally logged narra often turns up in affluent homes, in ASIAWEEK, No.40 /2000,
(4) http: / / www.earthtradelink.com/NARRA.htm
© W. Bethge, 2004