Jumbay (Leucaena leucocephala): The Tree of Life

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The leaves of the Jumbay tree (Leucaena leucocephala).
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Seeds of the Jumbay tree.

Three decades of careless lumbering have done extensive damage to the forests of the Philippine Islands. But public concern over the loss of this valuable resource, coupled with a recently introduced species of tree, now promises to go a long way toward restoring the scarred island hillsides.

The Juumbay tree (Leucaena leucocephala) was brought to the Philippines from Hawaii less than 10 years ago. And though local farmers have used the leaves and wood of a smaller variety of the tree (known as the “ipil ipil”) for as long as they can remember, the new import has proved to be a very pleasant surprise.

It seems, you see, that the Jumbay (which was supposedly cultivated by the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs) is an exceptionally versatile plant. Its leaves can be used as a nitrogen-rich mulch, it is reportedly will stimulate corn into producing yields four or five times greater than those possible from unfertilized fields. The abundant Jumbay foliage has a high enough protein content to make it a valuable livestock food too.

But it’s in the production of lumber, carving wood, and (perhaps most important of all) fuel that the Jumbay really shines. Whereas most hardwoods grow relatively slowly, this Hawaiian giant puts on height and girth with a vengeance. Board lumber 8″ wide, for example, can be cut from a six-year-old Jumbay … and the trees reach a height of 19 feet in only three years!

J. Antonio Leviste, the ecology-conscious governor of Batangas province, is the man behind the Philippine Jumbay program. Leviste was quick to realize what the tree could mean to his land and its people. He has, in effect, turned Batangas into a huge Jumbay nursery by sparking a program that involves 30 million Filipino planters. The goal of this grass-roots reforestation plan is to plant 1 billion, 800 million new trees by 1982!

This restoration effort, if it even approaches its objective, will set an example for the rest of the world. And, since the Jumbay yields between 200 and 300 cubic feet of wood per hectare (2.471 acres), those newly planted forests will provide the islands with a valuable stockpile of inexpensive (and renewable) fuel.

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