Science and Environment

Typhoons decimate Phl ‘kastanyas’

Rudy A. Fernandez - The Philippine Star

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The tree population of the Philippine variety of chestnut, locally known as “kastanyas,” has been decreasing over the years.

The decline of kastanyas stands in the country’s forests and lowlands has been attributed to a number of factors, according to forestry experts and researchers.

Several years back, the Los Baños-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) reported that the local chestnut tree (scientific name Catanopsis philippinensis) has declined owing to deliberate cutting of the trees for various purposes and to overdependence of fruit gatherers on trees in the forest.

Others have disappeared owing to devastating typhoons and earthquake-induced landslides.

Not long ago, for instance, a retired University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) scientist, Roberto Coronel, used to have four Philippine chestnut trees in his orchard of endemic and exotic experimental tree species in Calauan, Laguna, situated about 80 kilometers southeast of Manila. 

Two died while branches of a third were ripped off by the violent winds of Typhoon Glenda when it cut a wide swath of destruction last July from Bicol to Metro Manila, including Laguna.                

Earlier sourced from the UP Land Grant in Siniloan, Quezon, Coronel’s chestnut trees were provided by another UPLB scientist, Virgilio Villancio, to try if the local kastanyas species can thrive in lowland conditions.

Interestingly, too, according to reports, some of the trees are dying of old age.

Chestnut is called by different names.

The European variety is scientifically named Catanopsis vulgaris.

In some places in Southern Luzon, it has long been part of the forest and lowland vegetative landscapes, particularly in Quezon province where it is called “talakatak.” To the Ilocanos in Nueva Vizcaya, it is simply kastanyas.

Both the European and Philippine varieties belong to the plant family Fabaceae. Moreover, their fruits are similar in taste, shape, and color.

The local variety has been known to grow well in Los Baños, too. A few days ago, for instance, retired UPLB College of Forestry and Natural Resources professor/scientist Jose Sargento told The STAR that he had recently seen three fruiting kastanyas trees in a backyard near the southern rim of storied Laguna da Bay in Barangay Mayondon.

Philippine chestnuts also are known to thrive in the Makiling Botanical Gardens and in some parts of the sprawling UPLB complex but it is not known how many of them had been adversely affected by the catastrophic typhoons that had toppled hundreds of trees in Los Baños the past years, among them Ondoy, Milenyo and Glenda. Chestnut is known to be a “shallow-rooted” tree species.

The local kastanyas variety has also been observed to be endemic in some parts of Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Basilan. But in the absence of an inventory, it is not known whether they had been blown down by the devastating typhoons that battered these places, notably Super Typhoon Yolanda on Nov. 8, 2013 and Ruby in the first week of December 2014.

 In the face of the deadly climate change-related natural disasters that have been hitting the Philippines in recent years, PCAARRD has underscored the need to protect and conserve the chestnut trees in the wild and in lowlands with the assistance of communities and local government units.

It was also suggested that “protected tree” tags be placed on visible parts of local chestnut trees with the hope that they would not be touched by people.

A scientist, Dr. Merilyn Rondolo, once told The STAR that fresh and roasted local kastanyas used to be readily available in markets in Nueva Vizcaya and Quezon provinces.

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