The narra is the National Tree of the Philippines. It has many desirable properties.
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The narra has several alternate names. In science, it is known as Pterocarpus indicus, and belongs to the pea family. The timber industry likes to call it rosewood – a term more properly applied to trees of the genus Dalbergia. Another name for the timber is padauk wood. In the Philippines, it has many different names, such as naga or asana. The Gaia Discovery website lists 19 different Philippine names for this tree. The Philippines is a multicultural country with many different dialects, so it is natural that many different names should exist for the same tree. Besides, there are four different species of narra in the Philippines. Besides Pterocarpus indicus, there is Pterocarpus blancoi, Pterocarpus vidalianus, and Pterocarpus pubescens, which differ from one another in the morphology of their fruits, seeds, or leaves.
Narra is the National Tree of the Philippines – their Pambansang Puno in Tagalog. It is a typical rainforest canopy tree; and like many denizens of the world’s rainforests, its numbers are dwindling. However, it probably will not suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs and the trilobites because some rural Filipinos like to have at least one specimen growing in the vicinity of their house. Nevertheless, it is a sad fact that many urban Filipinos have never seen their national tree in real life.
The economic value of rosewood has contributed to the narra’s decline. Several of the Pterocarpus species have reddish wood of various shades. It is a prime raw material for cabinetwork. The Wood Magazine website claims that it is stronger than oak and easy to work with.
As you would expect, since it belongs to the pea family, the narra enriches the soil through nitrogen fixation. (Of course, legumes do not fix nitrogen by their own power. Bacteria called rhizobia attach themselves to the legume roots and convert atmospheric nitrogen into compounds that plants can use.)
Another benefit of the narra is the shade it provides. In this respect, it is comparable to the much lamented American elm. Fortunately, narras have not been decimated by similar diseases.
Pterocarpus indicus bears clusters of attractive yellow flowers that develop into indehiscent disk-shaped winged fruit. They somewhat resemble the fruit of the elm tree.
The genus name of the narra reflects the morphology of its fruit. Pterocarpus comes from the Greek words “pteron” (feather or wing) and “karpos” (fruit).
All in all, Filipinos chose wisely when they made the narra their Pambansang Puno.
(Note that Pterocarpus blancoi is not a spelling mistake for Pterocarpus blanco, believe it or not. Also note that some literature treats Pterocarpus blancoi and various other species of Pterocarpus as synonyms for Pterocarpus indicus instead of treating them as separate species. This is not surprising when you consider the fluid nature of current scientific taxonomy.)
Gaia Discovery: Averting Narra’s Threat of Extinction …
Wood Magazine: Padauk