Narra: Philippines' tree icon

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

ASK any elementary pupil if he knows what the country's national tree is and he will reply, "Narra." But ask him again how narra looks like and he will never say a word. The reason: most children these days don't see any narra tree.

In fact, narra is on the brink of extinction and only the most determined and relentless conservation campaign will preserve it.

"Today, the Philippines has only small, scattered and endangered remainders of the tree," laments Roy C. Alimoane, director of Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation Inc. based in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.


Narra belongs to the plant family called Leguminosae. There are about 20 species in the world but only four can be found in the Philippines. Except for botanists and foresters, the species are difficult to distinguish from each other.

Narra is very attractive because of its flowers. However, it is highly esteemed because of its timber.

"It (timber) is moderately hard and heavy, easy to work, pleasantly rose scented, takes a fine polish, develops a range of rich colors from yellow to red, and has conspicuous growth rings, which impart a fine figure to the wood," wrote T.E. Hensleigh and B.K. Holaway, editors of Agroforestry Species for the Philippines.

Regarding the strength properties of narra, the Woodworkers Source said that the bending strength of air-dried wood of narra is similar to that of teak, which is considered to be strong. Strength in compression parallel to grain is in the high range. Other species in this range include teak, white oak and hard maple. It is moderately hard and resistant to wearing and marring. It is a heavy wood. The wood is high in density.

As furniture, one author commented: "In durability, in beauty of its grain, and in the beautiful finish it takes, narra ranks with the best cabinet woods in the world."

It is used in the manufacture of high-quality furniture, peels and veneers, paneling, and parquet-floors. The narra wood, if it is available, is also preferred for the manufacture of inlays, musical instruments, clocks, piece-works, billiard tables, piano cases, and sculptures.

In 1987, the Philippine government prohibited the felling down of narra trees and its collection in natural stands. However, the forest-cultivation for industrial purposes was excluded from this regulation. Today, the remainders of narra trees can only be found at the coast of Isabela, in Bicol, in Mindanao and in the forests of Cagayan.

But apart from its aesthetic values, the narra has other significant service to humanity. Little is known that narra has a purpose in the health and well-being of man; it has a unique healing powers waiting to be tapped by man.

In the past, narra is used to combat tumors. This property might be due to an acidic polypeptide found in its leaves that inhibited growth of cancer cells by disruption of cell and nuclear membranes. During the 16th and 18th centuries, narra was valued as a diuretic in Europe.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on May 09, 2011.


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