The Versatile Ipil-ipil
By: Zacarias B Sarian
Very few trees have as many important uses as ipil-ipil – one of the most versatile trees in the Philippines.
Consider its major uses:
It is a source of fuel wood and charcoal for household and industrial use.
Ipil-ipil leaf meal is used in the manufacture of commercial feed for livestock and poultry.
It is used as forage (either grazing or soiling) for farm animals.
It is a rich source of organic fetrtilizer.
The tree itself is often used as a windbreaker as well as a nurse tree for shade-loving crops.
It is planted to prevent soil erosion.
In addition, the ipil-ipil is one of the easiest trees to grow. It will thrive even in stony areas where few other trees would take root. And since it has a deep root system, it can tolerate drought much better than many other trees.
James L, Brewbaker, professor of horticulture and genetics at the University of Hawaii, says that the root system of ipil-ipil is as deep as the tree is high.
Though the tree is not native to the Philippines, it is so widely planted throughout the archipelago that most people consider it indigenous to this country. Actually, the tree is indigenous to Central America where its usefulness has been well-known since tiem immemorial.
Ipil-ipil is known by the scientific name of Leucaena latisilique. Earlier, it was also known by other scientific names- Leucaena glauca and Leucaena leucocephala. Whatever its botanic name, the tree is a versatile species that Filipino farmers should grow more extensively.
There are many types of ipil-ipil. The University of Hawaii’s college of tropical agriculture has atleast 341 varieties, strains and hybrids. These belong to three basic types. The small shrubby type is exemplified by ordinary ipil-ipil trees growing in the Philippines. It is usually five to eight meters tall. The second type is a tree of intermediate height and is represented by the Peruvian type of ipil-ipil. The third type is arboreal varieties are collectively called “giant ipil-ipil.”
Brewbaker reports that Leucaena latisiliqua probably evolved in the midlands of Guatemala, southern Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. The predominant ipil-ipil in this region is tall. He adds that about 2,000 years ago when the Maya Indians moved down to thelowlands, they took with them the shrubby or low-growing types which produced more flowers.
The shrubby type which is now widespread throughout Yucatan and the west coast of Mexico was encounterd by the Spaniards in the 16th century. They quickly recognized its use as a livestock feed.
The Spanish galleons brought the shrubby ipil-ipil to the Philippines in the 1600s. The same type was introduced to Hawaii from the Philippines in the early 1800s. There, the tree is called “koa haole.”
The tree is now quite common throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and it is also being widely planted throughout Africa and South America.
But no country in the world has more experience and interest in ipil-ipil than the Philippines. We have a great opportunity to improve not only our own agriculture but also that of the world making full use of this remarkable tree.
Although the tree has been studied extensively in Hawaii, it’s commercial potentials are not as green there as in the Philippines. But the basic findings of the Hawaiian researchers could be utilized by the Philippines and other countries as well.
Many Filipinos are currently interested in the giant type because it grows fast and produces a lot more leaves and wood than the ordinary variety in much shorter time.
Promising giant ipil-ipil varieties brought to the Philippines are mexico’s K8, better known as the “K29 from Honduras; the K67 from El Salvador, seedy giant; and k340, a hybrid that is partial sterile and low in mimosine content.Mimosine, an alkaloid; when eaten by pigs and poultry in excessive amounts, it causes falling of hair or feathers.
A good Peruvian type of ipil-ipil is K6, a native of New Guinea.
The giant ipil-ipil may be easily distinguished from the ordinary variety. It has larger stems and leaves, pods and seeds; and it grows into a tall trees (about 50 feet high) in just six years.
In july 1975, I visited Brewbaker’s ipil-ipil trees at the College of Tropical Agriculture’s experiment station in Waimanalo, Oahu. There, I say for myself how the giant trees dwarfted the ordinary type.
In one experimental planting, a row of ordinary ipil-ipil was planted beside a row of the giant type. At the time of my visit the ordinary ipil-ipil was barely a meter and a half tall and heavily laden with fruit pods, while the giant variety was already five or six meters tall, with only a few flowers and with lots of green foliage.