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Narra (Pterocarpus indicus)

Photo and copyright: BINHI Let the Future Take Root| Narra | https://binhi.ph/tree/narra/

Description and Characteristics

Known as the National Tree of the Philippines, Narra is a majestic reddish hardwood tree reflecting the same resiliency and strength as that of the Filipino people. It is an enormous tree with asymmetrical corrugated trunk growing up to 40 meters high, two meters in diameter or can even get larger as it grows older (up to 50-150 years). This trunk is vast, firm, and durable, producing valuable timber for furniture making. Narra has a thin flaky bark making it likely to have limited fire tolerance. It has well-developed near-surface lateral roots that grow massive as the tree matures. Narra’s leaves are compound-pinnate, bearing about 12 alternate leaflets. Each leaflet is ovate to elliptic in shape with a semi-pointed tip and develops up to 55 centimeters long, 11 centimeters width. Narra produces countless small fragrant yellow flowers usually in April or May, but these flowers are normally short-lived and fall off nearly all at once creating a bright and vibrant yellow surface in the surrounding area. Moreover, Narra also produces fruits/pods which is one of its distinguishing features. These pods are disc-shaped, flat and have winged margins. Young pods are green and hairy then turn brown and smooth or nearly so as they mature. Mature pods are often woody or corky. Located in the protruding central part of the pod is the seed. Narra is usually propagated using its seeds and requires no special care, average garden soil, and ample water until it establishes.

Parts of a Narra tree. Photo and copyright: Godofredo Stuart | StuartXchange| http://www.stuartxchange.org/Narra.html

Location and Sources

Narra can be propagated from seeds, cuttings, grafting, and tissue culture. It tolerates shallow, sodic, and infertile soils and grows best in locations with full sun exposure. In the Philippines, there used to be ample numbers of Narra trees in different provinces but currently, it is now considered “vulnerable”. In their article entitled Agroforestry Species for the Philippines, T.E. Hensleigh and B.K. Holaway enumerated the period when Narra seeds are available in different locations as follow: January in Nueva Ecija, Leyte, and Zamboanga; February in La Union; March in Ilocos; April in Masbate, Benguet, Quezon, and Surigao; May in Ticao; June in Bulacan, Agusan, and Sorsogon; July in Tarlac and Cagayan; July and August in Laguna; September in Rizal, Capiz, and Mindoro; and October in Tablas, Negros. Narra is called a variety of names in the country and its products are created by local workshops in different provinces which are then promoted and made available online.

Application and Product Output

Narra is highly valued because of its beautifully figured and richly colored timber with excellent working and technical properties. The in-demand wood of old narra is known for its resistance to wearing and marring, rose-like scent, conspicuous growth rings with reddish color, and most importantly, its durability making it ideal for floorings, cabinetry, construction, furniture making, and decorative carvings. Furthermore, it is seawater resistant and that’s why it is preferred for boat-making. Narra wood is also used for the manufacture of musical instruments, inlays, watches, billiard tables, sculptures, piece-works, and other similar products. Wood is also a source of “kino”, a gum used as astringent and for tanning. 

Kino gum from Eucalyptus rossii. Kino was originally derived from Pterocarpus erinaceus, but became a generic name for the red tannin-rich gum from various species of trees including Narra. Photo and copyright: Nathanael Coyne | Pterocarpus indicus – Angsana, https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/TAX/Pterocarpus+indicus+-+Angsana

On the other hand, the young leaves and flowers of Narra are reportedly edible and the flowers can be a source of honey. As for its medicinal benefits, (1) the decoction of shredded bark is taken orally for diarrhea and dysentery, (2) young leaves are applied to boils, prickly heat and ulcers, and (3) bark extracts are used to treat tuberculosis, headaches, and sores, and as a purgative. Leaves are supposedly good for waxing and polishing brass and copper. Narra trees are also planted for amenity purposes because of its stability and wind-firmness, excellent shade, and the ornamental effect of the masses of fragrant yellow flowers. 

Photo and copyright (left to right): JPG Furniture Shop in Catarman, Samar via Facebook, https://web.facebook.com/Nila.Dangdang.felicano/ ; Narra wooden watcheshttps://narrawatches.com/products/classic-dawn-red-sandalwood-and-white
Photo and copyright: Tien’s Narra Furniture via Facebook| https://web.facebook.com/TiensNarraFurnitures

Production and Sustainable Consumption

Products from Narra are traded locally and internationally. Ready-made products are promoted and sold on store-display and online, while other workshops/manufacturers are catering made-to-order purchases. Unfortunately, the high demand and expensive value of Narra made people resort to illegal logging and overexploitation. In the latest assessment of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species done last January 2018, Narra is already globally considered an “Endangered” species. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species also added that due to overexploitation of this species globally, it is estimated that over the next 100 years the species’ population could probably decline by up to 80%. In 1987, the Philippine government prohibited the cutting and collection of narra trees in its natural stands. However, the forest-cultivation for industrial purposes was excluded from this regulation. Different public and private organizations have conducted tree planting activities in the hope of raising the number of Narra trees in the future. The Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation Inc. based in Bansalan, Davao del Sur is campaigning for its mass production with its reforestation projects. In 2011, the government implemented Executive Order No. 26, “Declaring the Implementation of the National Greening Program” wherein the Department of Education is one of the partner agencies and drives different schools to conduct tree planting activities including Narra germination. Last December 2018, The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with the support from Ecosystems Research & Development Bureau (ERDB) who carried out DNA analysis of the endangered Narra, embarked on a robust “genetic diversity” program to conserve forests and lessen the threat in our economic resources. This genetic variation in the species aims to produce healthy reproduction for the conservation and hopefully long-term survival of this species.

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Works Cited

“Government embarks on ‘genetic diversity’ program on narra”. The Philippine Star, 9 Dec. 2018, https://www.philstar.com/business/agriculture/2018/12/09/1875340/government-embarks-genetic-diversity-program-narra. Accessed 3 February 2021.

“Narra”. BINHI Let the Future Take Root, https://binhi.ph/tree/narra/. Accessed 3 February 2021.

Barstow, M. “Pterocarpus indicus”. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T33241A2835450. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T33241A2835450.en. Accessed 3 February 2021.

Stuart, Godofredo Jr. “Narra”. StuartXchange, http://www.stuartxchange.org/Narra.html. Accessed 3 February 2021.

Tacio, Henrylito. “Averting Narra’s Threat of Extinction through Education and Reforestration”. Gaia Discovery, 11 Sep. 2009, https://www.gaiadiscovery.com/agriculture-industry/averting-narras-threat-of-extinction-through-education-and-r.html. Accessed 3 February 2021.

Thomson, Lex. “Pterocarpus indicus (narra)”. Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry, ver. 2.1, April 2006, https://www.doc-developpement-durable.org/file/Arbres-Bois-de-Rapport-Reforestation/FICHES_ARBRES/bois%20de%20rose/Pterocarpus-narra.pdf. Accessed 3 February 2021.

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