Science and Environment

Leaning tree in UPLB a ‘yardstick’ of typhoon strength

Rudy Fernandez - The Philippine Star

LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines  – A leaning tree at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) complex here has become a yardstick for the strength of a typhoon passing through this university town.

Over the past decade, the almost century-old dao tree in front of the UPLB Student Union building has survived devastating killer typhoons since it was “condemned to die by chainsaw” because of its condition.

Two typhoons last year, Lando and Nona, wreaked havoc on outlying areas but barely dented the tree that has been declared one of UP’s “Heritage Trees.”

The tree, about 25 meters tall, scientifically named Dracontomelon dao, proved its strength when Typhoon Glenda battered Los Baños in July 2014.

The leaning tree was unscathed while many trees on the sprawling 5,200-hectare complex were either toppled, uprooted or left bald by Glenda’s strong winds. Glenda has been decommissioned as a typhoon name by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) for its destructiveness: 106 people dead, about 250 others injured, and P38.6 billion worth of property destroyed.

The dao has survived other devastating typhoons, among them Milenyo (2006), Frank (2008), Ondoy (2009), Basyang (2010) and Pedring (2011).

Milenyo, which pummeled many parts of Luzon on Sept. 28, 2006, triggered a flash flood and landslide in a barangay on Mt. Makiling, killing 15 mountain dwellers. It also ravaged much of UPLB’s foliage.

The university had decided to cut down the tree on June 8, 2005 because it has for years been leaning by 20 degrees.

The tree’s butt (basal part) was presumed to be weak owing to disease-causing microorganisms. It was feared that it might eventually collapse, posing danger to life and limb.

But ecologists and nature lovers within and outside UPLB came to the tree's rescue, asserting that the dao was not sickly or about to fall.

“As a plant pathologist, I examined in our laboratory root and soil samples collected around the dao tree and found no disease-causing organisms,” attested Romulo Davide, retired UPLB scientist and now professor emeritus.

“Very healthy,” said Davide, a former member of the UP Board of Regents and a 2012 Ramon Magsaysay awardee.

The tree, although hallow and leaning, “is not going to fall as alleged,” stressed Armando Palijon, UPLB's only urban forest expert, as cited by UPLB landscape architect Susan Aquino-Ong.

Also among the beleaguered tree’s “knights in shining armor” that came to its succor was then Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Elisea Gozun, who decided after several discussions over the dao’s fate that “the tree can still be preserved” and that it should be pruned instead of being cut down.

As if to show gratitude to its saviors, the tree survived Milenyo in 2006 and the other catastrophic weather disturbances that subsequently bludgeoned this part of the country.

Then came one of its “crowning glories” in 2008 when it was declared a “Heritage Tree” along with 11 others in the UPLB complex.

The search for Heritage Trees on eight autonomous UP campuses, which culminated in a coffee table book featuring 100 historical trees, was among UPLB’s contributions to the state university’s centennial celebration in 2008.

In recent times, whenever a strong typhoon hits this 400-year-old “special science and nature city,” the question usually asked by residents is: did UPLB’s leaning dao tree survive?           

The tree, once the inspiration of National Artist Lindy Locsin when he was designing the Student Union building more than half a century ago, still proudly and majestically juts into UPLB's skyline.               



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