My visit at Los Banos Bamboo, Rattan and Natural Herbs experiment station

Bamboos and the Phillippines, what can I say? I was fortunate to visit my friend Digno Garcia of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who is now busy training communities in bamboo management as part of enhanced National Greening Program (eNGP). The eNGP takes place between 2017 and 2022 and aims in reforesting approximately one million hectares across the Philippines, with bamboo playing a large role in forest recovery.  Due to large forest loss as a consequence of over-harvesting and habitat alteration (World Wildlife Fund [WWF], n.d.), these types of programs are strongly needed.

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This image is taken from my plane as I flew over the Philippines. Strongly visual are the blank mountain areas that should be naturally covered in green (forest, etc.).

Located almost two hours by bus from Manila is Los Banos. Besides being known for its’ attractive touristic destination to the nearby hot springs resorts, it is also known for the University of the Philippines (UPLB) with its focus on agriculture and environmental science.  Digno Garcia invited me for one day to visit the bamboo, rattan and natural herbs experiment station far up in the beautiful and tropical Mount Makiling.This was not only a great opportunity to learn more about the eNGP, but to also learn about different species and propagation methodologies in the Philippines.

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Los Banos Experiment Station. Many of the UPLB students visit the station, but also others from government, policy or research sector.

Arriving at the experiment station, a small type of mountain garden can be found in which multiple natural herbs are planted with all having different usages. Walking along a beautiful path through the experiment station, multiple rattan species (see one of them below), can be found followed by diverse bamboos.

The most stunning were the giant bamboos for me with some being as high as 30meters and older than 30 years. Bamboo only flowers once in its life-time. Depending on the species, it flowers between its age of ten to 30. However, there are also species that flower much later in their life. After the bamboo flowers, it dies.

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Because of its thickness and length, this bamboo species is known as iron bamboo. Due to its strength, it is mainly used for construction purposes. Besides that, it is also known for its beauty.

Most indigenous bamboo species in the Phillippines are sympodial (clumping bamboos). However, this is changing since more species are introduced. At the moment, there are approximately 102 different bamboo species with 30 being imported from China and more from other South East Asian countries such as Thailand, but also South America. A new type of bamboo that I learned about was climbing bamboo. It just climbs up trees and through bushes.

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Very new to me was climbing bamboo! I have never seen it before and thank Digno for explaining it. On this picture, it can be seen as the name already says, bamboo climbs up trees. Some plants are climbing too, but are not bamboos.

Another type of bamboo species that can be commonly found in the Philippines is a thorny type of bamboo known as Kawayan. Main bamboo poles are protected by thorns. Even though this species requires a lot of maintannce in a sense of removing the thorns regulary, it is a very important species that provides many usages.  Having traveled in the Phillippines for a few days, I frequently recognized this species in country sides, of course among others.

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Kawayan bamboo. Even though it is covered in a natural shield of thorns, it is a very important species as it provides many usages.

Before visiting the Philippines, I was not aware that even though bamboo is very resistance towards earthquakes, it is less resistant towards strong winds such as hurricanes. On the image below, bamboo fall as a consequence of strong wind. What amazed me is that some new poles now grow on the side of the roots (see image below).

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New bamboo develops from bamboo that was knocked over by storm

Of course, every bamboo needs to be maintained. Since bamboo maintenance varies a little bit by species, I have mainly learned about clumping bamboo maintenance. As the word clumping already says, most bamboos grow around the mother plant which is located in the center. The bamboo’s that grow closer to the mother plant are stronger since they can directly seek their nutrients from the mother plant. Bamboo’s that grow further away from the mother plant are weaker and may differ in terms of size and thickness.

To maintain its natural growth, old poles need to be removed. The parts that are being left, will degrade naturally and provide automatically room for new shoots to grow. What a beautiful grass as it reproduces by itself. As for the experiment station in Los Banos, old bamboo poles are used as compost. Before it is used as compost, it is cut up into smaller parts.

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Maintaining bamboo is crucial.

Of course, maintaining bamboo is not everything! There is also bamboo propagation, which is especially important to keep on growing bamboo in multiple areas. Propagation training for communities is an especially important part of the eNGP. Fortunately, I received a little propagation training using bamboo cuttings. Preparing all the cuttings is a lot of work and should not be underestimated.

Digno Garcia, thank you very much for having been such a great tutor and provide me with so many learning opportunities and encourage me to take pictures. My next blog will be focusing more on bamboo products in the Philippines, considering propagation and maintenance as the ‘mother process’ of all development.

If there are any questions, corrections or suggestions, please feel free to comment, happy to provide advice and of course to learn.

References

WWF (n.d.). Socioeconomic Root Causes of Biodiversity Loss in the Philippines.

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