The Caliandra tree (Caliandra calothyrsus) is a nitrogen-fixing tree (NFT) that is often mistaken as Ipil-ipil (Leucaena). Both are nitrogen fixing tress (NFTs) and have similar leaf petioles but those of the Caliandra are wider. When I say both trees are nitrogen-fixing, I mean they have the capability to fix atmospheric nitrogen (the atmosphere is 76 per cent nitrogen) through nitrification process by changing nitrogen into its absorbable form — nitrate– thus, making it easy to be absorbed by soil particles.
Nitrogen as fertilizer is responsible in helping make the leaves green through the process of photosynthesis when sunlight enhances the chlorophyll to build sugar for the plant. The nitrification process is facilitated by the presence of nitrogen-fixing bacteria at the root nodules of the trees. The nodules, when cut are pink, indicating that the nitrogen fixing bacteria are alive. If it is black, the nitrogen fixing bacteria are dead thus the roots need inoculants to ensue their magical phenomenon.
Caliandra is native of Guatemala. The first Caliandra brought to Southeast Asia landed in Indonesia where these were and still are raised and cut as forage for cattle. Caliandra leaves are excellent for cattle, goats, carabao, swine, rabbits and sheep. It produces lean and tasty meat.
In 1990, I worked with the Nitrogen Fixing Tee Association of Hawaii (NFTA) as director of the Igorot Tribal Assistance Group (ITAG). That time NFTA chose ITAG to pilot some NFTs under upland Philippine conditions. They sent NFTA director Jim Chamberlain and Jim Roshetko to spearhead the training here. I and my asst. Richard Botengan were the first beneficiaries to be trained.
We tested the Caliandra together with six more NFTs like Prosopis joliflora, Sesbania sesban, giant Cajanus cajan, Rensonii and Flemingia macrophylla at my five hectare farm in Tublay . The first year was difficult so we used inoculants but on the second year, the trees easily adapted to the terrain, soil and climate. We planted some 5,000 different trees interspersed with pine trees and 25 other exotic tree species.
My farm became the first tree seedbank for nitrogen fixing trees. I also started a 20 head piggery using Caliandra as forage for the pigs. The results on the pigs are excellent. The pigs grow faster than average pigs in the area and the meat is much tastier. I likewise raised rabbits and goats.
In just five years, most of my land was thickly forested leading one BSU visiting professor to say ‘Your place is not a farm, it is a forest”. With the forest, quails, civet cat and different kinds of birds made my farm their habitat. I also raised honeybees.
Our farm is our best vacation place. I bring my family regularly during summer, Christmas and long vacations. The kids frolic under the trees, harvest fruits like lemon, oranges, coffee, pineapple, guavas, pomelo and passion fruit. We barbecue each every evening as we sit in a big bonfire. I brought farmers to be trained there for many years and frequently encourage them to plant trees. We also held Christmas thanksgiving activities with less fortunate families in my wooded place.
Tublay is a place treasured by my family and the staff, farmers, visitors who have been there. We always enjoyed every minute of our stay there. In the years that followed, we trained some BSU and DENR forestry staff and provided the seeds they planted. One is John Tacloy of BSU who did his masteral study using our Sesbania seedlings.
Today, Caliandra is almost everywhere in the region and after 18 years it has spread in almost all provinces. I have not stopped where I started. I still plant Caliandra and raise other seedlings. Jiim Roshetko and Jim Chamberlain have long joined Winrock International and Richard my assistant went to Canada. I am left behind.
After spending years studying and working in some foreign lands, I am back planting trees. It’s because I love raising trees and planting them.
I love gardening and outside my family, they’re the two best things I love next to writing.
That is how Caliandra came to North Luzon and spread all over the countryside. And each year I am thankful for the tree.
So on December, once again we honor the Caliandra tree and the land. <Photo 1>