The gnarled Balete tree can be found as wild or culture tree almost everywhere in the tropics. It is told, that already Robinson Crusoe has allegedly lived in a Balete tree. In the Philippines it grows in almost all regions pines. “Banyan-Tree” and “Balete-Tree” are also common names. The Balete tree is belonging to the family of fig trees (Ficus). About ten of 800 species are growing in the Philippines.
I. Biology of the tree
The tree is one of the epiphytes, i.e. fruits – perhaps transported by birds – can also develop on other host trees. It feeds on the substratum located there. Later, the Balete tree can crush the host tree to death. The Balete tree has a short trunk with a grey smooth bark, a broad tree top and usually grows to a height of height of 10 -20 meters.
The branches are protruding and wide-ranging. From the side branches we see the development of a network of tentacle-like, downward-growing and increasingly widening aerial roots. If they have reached the ground, the tree gets a growth push and the air roots are changing into supporting roots or buttresses. Soon they integrate themselves into the main trunk and then they are hardly distinguishing from it. The root system is broad and flat.
The oval-to heart-shaped leaves are as shoots reddish and then they are grow growing to leathery, green shining, six to nine centimeters long leaves. The little flowers and fruits have no special feature or use.
II. Economic utilization
The economic benefit is limited. The softwood of the Balete tree is not regarded as of high quality. The latex juice also contains india rubber, however, is apparently not used. From time to time ropes are manufactured from the young aerial roots. In folk medicine, the brew of the barks is used to relieve skin diseases and against worm disorders.
Due to its wide treetop the Balete tree is a relatively beautiful tree, suitable for planting in avenues and parks. Older trees can be a tourist attraction. That brings us to the next chapter.
III. Old and prominent tree in the Philippines
Particularly three Balete trees in the Philippines are given prominence due to their age and size.
At first we mention a tree in the little village Maria Aurora (Province Aurora). It is a tourist attraction and is in the glade of a Balete park. This Aurora tree reaches a height of about 65 meters. Trunk and rootstock above ground take the considerable area of about 16 meters. It is said sixty adults are necessary to embrace it. Besides the unavoidable bird dung and spider’s webs – the tree with its broad root system offers inside limited climbing possibilities, smaller caves and passages. The climbing possibilities have already led to tree damages in 2010, however. There is apparently no reliable age detail on the tree. It is only said the tree is more than 600 years old, a wording which leaves the true age open. Sometimes it is suspected the Balete-Tree in Aurora is the “oldest and biggest tree in Asia” (1). However, this assumption into can be called into question. There are for example co generic Bayan trees in India whose treetops have over 400 square meters. And botanists of the Diliman-University have determined scientifically an age of about 1360 years for another balete tree veteran in Lumabao (Province Negros).
This tree grows in the municipality of Lumabao in the midst of a rice and coffee plantation. It is told, that 42 people are necessary to get their arms around the tree, twenty persons fewer compared with the obviously younger balete tree in Aurora. This tree has also a kind of cave in the tree inside. It is also called “Wonder-” or “Christmas-Tree” because at nightly hours thousands of glow-worms often fly around its foliage.
There are only few data about a balete tree in the village Lazi on Siquijor. Its age is estimated to more than 4000 years. The mythical tree with its many root tentacles is sometimes considered as ghoulish and “abode of evil”. “At night, with its creepy extended branches and hanging roots, it can be mistaken ace a monstrous swamp creature to grab everything within its reach (2).