The extraordinary ordinary Malubago tree

The beach as playground for these coastal community children in Dancalan, Bulusan

Children in Dancalan, Bulusan playing under the shade of Malubago trees lining the beach area of their coastal village.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge. Notice the exposed roots of the Malubago trees that serve as a natural barrier from the tidal flow.

Malubago trees as viewed from the ocean’s edge of a coastal village in Dancalan, Bulusan.

One does not have to be an expert in shoreline conservation and preservation to see the effect of growing Malubago trees along the sea shores. I did see it myself in my recent beach walk along the shore of a coastal community half kilometer away from the frequently visited Dancalan Beach Resort.

This coastal area however is not frequented by visitors since easy access here entails passing by some coastal rural homes lining the major road. Although the beach sand is still in the range of a light-colored sand, this beach area is not a ‘resort’ area. It is a rural coastal community populated by mostly fisher folks. Women were busy weaving karagumoy hats when I passed by and they kindly showed me the way to reach the beach just a few meters from their residence.

Children were playing under the Malubago trees, running around with crescendos of shrieks and cries oblivious of my presence as I walk and take photos in a leisurely pace along the shore. The sea view from a new location was just the thing I needed to compose some new images in departure from my usual beach photographs. But what really caught my attention are the Malubago trees along the shoreline of the coastal village.

The Malubago trees although unassuming and modest in appearance  did not escape my observation because these trees dominate the landscape in this long stretch of almost white beach. The beach vegetation as far as my eyes can see are mostly coconut and Malubago trees. The Malubago stands where other vegetation failed to grow. Some of its roots are exposed to the sand but still very much standing exhibiting its resiliency to the elements. It does not encroach the sea but only occupies the demarcation of the shoreline and the residential houses. Obviously the trees serve as the first line of defense in times of typhoons and sea storm surges yet it flourish with its shy flowers peeking out of the almost heart-shaped leaves.

The flowers are described as bell-shaped by some botanists. For me, the Malubago flower appears as a half-open yellow hibiscus — shy and seems to decide not to fully open to evade attention from flower pickers. Maybe this strategy pays off because there are fruits in almost all of the branches securing the next generation of Malubago trees.

I learned however from googling that Malubago can also be propagated by means of stem and branch cuttings. Making a fence out of the branch cuttings is an easy way to propagate the Malubago. With a firm grip on the ground, the cut branch will grow to a brand new Malubago tree even if left to its own devices.

The Species Profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry (www.traditionaltree.org) states that Hibiscus tiliaceus (Malubago’s botanical name) main agroforestry uses are soil stabilization and coastal protection. It can grow in extreme environment and is also drought tolerant. Fast to grow and forms walls of thicket if not pruned which makes it ideal as windbreakers along the shores. And this is the reason why it is used for coastal protection : “The long spreading branches root where they touch the ground enhancing the tree’s ability to stabilize soil on slopes, along river banks, swampy areas and shores exposed to moderate  coastal tides.”

But just like anything that is familiar and common, we tend to take the Malubago tree for granted.

Malubago Flower

Malubago flower is cousin to the showy ornamental hibiscus.

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

More of Malubago tree here:

http://www.clshade.net/agroforestry/tti/H.tiliaceus-beach-hibiscus.pdf

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

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