At first, Alfredo Gonzales found it confusing. They were supposed to protect the Calabgan watershed forest in Aurora province, but they were also being allowed to plant fruit trees.

They were even encouraged to collect rattan wildlings from the forest as seedling massive planting in the DENR-protected area. All their harvest would eventually go to the upland dwellers.

Gonzales, the president of the Abuleg-Calabgan Protected Area Occupants Association, Inc., conceded that they never tried looking at the potentials of the rattan as a forest product in the past.

Gonzales visits the upland dwellers group’s rattan plantation.
Gonzales visits the upland dwellers group’s rattan plantation.

Gonzales and all his members were allowed to lease 153 hectares for agro-forestry under the National Greening Program (NGP). But they would have to stop illegal cutting the trees and start massive replanting of indigenous tree species in denuded portion of the crucial watershed. Calabgan is the main source of water for all adjacent barangays.

According to Gonzales, they were able to generate 10,000 seedlings from the wildlings, which they later planted in h watershed area.

It wasn’t surprising that Calabgan became a priority site for the propagation of Calamus species, which is one of he genera of the rattan palm.

A farmer holds a fully grown rattan cane.
A farmer holds a fully grown rattan cane.

Deep niche

It was listed in the Asean Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation as one of the region’s “100 most precious plants.” Its usefulness is extensively known in Southeast Asia.

“From food to furniture, it has a deep niche in Asian cuisine and crafts,” the center said.

In the Philippines, rattan is also known as uai, kumaboi, litoko, palsan, and tandulang gubat.

Rattan normally grows in primary forests like the Calabgan watershed forest because it requires light gaps for further growth and development. There also species that need adequate light to enhance growth.

But generally, the climbing rattan species cannot stand full sunlight throughout the day.

Characterized by its distinctively scaly fruits, the rattan can also be solitary or can grow in clusters,


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The stem, which is called cane of commerce, when still young is covered with leaf sheaths best with prickly and rigid long spines. When it has grown old, the leaf sheaths naturally rot exposing the cane with distinct nodes and internodes.

“The stem extends for a number of meters climbing up the trees. This is the one that is being harvested. The sheaths are heavily covered with spines where sterile inflorescence called flagellum may or may not be present,” the center said.

Rattan

Amazing by-products

Rattan is reportedly being sought after because of the stem. Cane, its by-product, is the main material in making a variety of furniture and handicrafts.

The cane is also used to make animal traps, cages, walking sticks, tool handles, mats, blankets and racquets.

Combined with other products like bamboo, it produces new designs and by-products of crafts. It can also be used in binding posts and pegs for houses, steps for bridges, poles for fences and the balance beams for boats.

Rattan Furniture (image source - http://pinterest.com/gyip/the-house/)
Rattan Furniture (image source – http://pinterest.com/gyip/the-house/)

There are two processing techniques for the rattan: sun drying or cooking/treating with materials. Both techniques take weeks before the rattan is fashioned out into crafts

The use of sulfur in treating canes provides uniform colors. It is suggested that the desired size of canes are first determined to reduce wastage before it is packed or manufactured. Staining and coloring can be done to complete finishing.

Mature leaflets are won for thatching purposes. While the young leave are used to wrap cigarettes.

It was also gathered that young shoots and fruits of some species are eaten elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Birds and mammals are attracted to the fleshy outer covering of the fruits, which can be used as medicines or as dyes and varnish.

In Laos, it has been used to treat malaria and in childbirth.

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Joel C. Paredes

Joel briefly served government as director-general of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), although he has been a practicing journalist and writer for nearly 37 years. He led a team organized by the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB)  and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that worked on the book entitled “Protecting our Natural Wealth, Enhancing our Natural Pride.”