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Rattan - is it in danger 0708

Page history last edited by PBworks 15 years ago

 Rattan - is it in danger?




by: Caleb McAlpin


Description and Rationale



The Philippines is a very blessed country, one full of resilient people and many natural resources. One of the many natural resources that they possess is Calameae or the rattan plant. Rattan is very flexible, strong, and attractive when cut, as well as fast growing. Yet many forest harvesters are not practicing replanting, and the rattan could be decreasing because of this. Also, because of much illegal foresting, erosion is causing loss to not only rattan plants, but also to good farmable land.


This is a very important issue because the harvest of rattan is a very consistent and perfectly legal livelihood for many of the poorer people in this country. It would be a very sad thing if one day a man who had harvested rattan for twenty years, went out and found only sparse areas of rattan. He would know that if he had only practiced replanting, he could have gone out and harvested some rattan that day. This message could be spread to other illegal loggers as well, that just because its here today, doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow.


So first of all, is harvesting rattan illegal? How much can you get for a load of rattan? How does rattan reproduce? Where does it grow? What is it used for? Is it really endangered? What can I do?


If someone could find a way to spread the word about replanting to the harvesters, then it would be of great benefit; Perhaps in a way that could touch them, such as poem or song. As an action step, I plan to speak to a missionary who lives among many rattan gatherers. This person is well loved by the tribe and will speak well on my behalf since i am unable to journey there myself.


Replanting rattan doesn’t take long, and if it benefits them, then what can it do but good? However, if vast amounts of rattan are harvested, and none is replanted, the we could be looking at a lot less, beautiful rattan furniture.


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Common Names and Synonyms


Rattan is the common name for Calameae. The word rattan comes from the Malayan word Rotan. Yet in the Eastern Dupaninan Agta dialect, the word is Latti. In tagalog the word is, Uway.





Kingdom: Plantae: Plants

Phylum: Magnoliophyta: Flowering plants

Class: Liliopsida: Lilly family

Order: Arecales: The first

Family: Arecaceae: Palm

Genus: Calamoideae:

Species: calameae: rattan



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Morphology and Physical Description



This plant is related to palm plants but is very different in the fact that it cannot grow straight up. The rattan plant is much more like a vine than a tree in that it needs support to grow properly. Its peak height is over 100 m.


Certain variants of the plant are also very similar in appearance to bamboo. The main difference between these is that rattan is not hollow like bamboo is. Another important difference is that rattan is much more durable than bamboo. Bamboo, though strong when young, snaps very easily in age. The durability of rattan, as well as the natural beauty of the wood, is what makes it on demand for the furniture business. Its flexibility allows it to be twisted and shaped into many different kinds of furniture. Still another variant of the rattan plant is the kind with spines. The spines tend to act as hooks for the plant as it grows taller, in order to get more sunlight. It is also a useful defense mechanism in case of hungry herbivores. This wood is still commonly used though, as the spines can still be sheared off.


The stem has several biological characteristics that are very interesting. The epidermis of the plant has been converted into silica, or silicified, while the outer wall has become much thicker. There are not very many stomata on the stem of the rattan. The outer part of the central cylinder has sub epidermal strands of fiber. “They represent the basal continuation of the extensive outer fibro vascular system of the leaf sheath.” American Journal of Botany.


It is also important to note that the water in the plant can only move from the vessel to the tracheids , across a “hydraulic resistance.” American Journal of Botany. This would explain how rattan is able to grow to such a long length as 100m. the vessels will always extend water to the furthest extent of the palm.



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Getting Food


It is common knowledge that the plantae kingdom gets its food from the sun and from the nutrients in the soil. The rattan plant, though native to the Philippines, also has vast population in Indonesia, Malaysia and other south East Asian countries. It generally grows well in the rainforest where, although the soil is not rich, it is the ideal place for its growth.


Most plants in the rainforest have great competition to reach the top and get the sunlight. The rattan plant uses this competition to its advantage as it grabs on to larger plants for support and then slowly grows its way upwards.


Because of strong support from other plants, the rattan plant does not need deep roots. It can therefore easily get all the nutrition it needs from the very shallow layer of top soil. Water is also not a problem in its habitat, as it rains regularly in the “rain” forest. Rattan can be grown domestically; however, it is not within the price or time range of most Filipino farmers and gatherers. In order to grow rattan as a cash crop, farmers would have to buy trees and plants that would grow along with the rattan, as rattan needs support from other trees. One would need to own an orchard of some kind in order to sustain the rattan. Also, most impoverished Filipinos cannot afford to wait 10 years to be able to harvest their first crop, which is how long it would take for the rattan to grow.




Rattan reproduces sexually. It produces a scaly fruit which carries the seeds. The number of fruits per plant can vary but come in clusters like grapes. The fruit will drop when ripe. It generally does not matter how far the fruit drops from the parent, because unlike most plants, rattan needs other plants for support. Yet the popularity of the plants fruit among people, for food, is an aid in widening the growth range of this plant. The seeds are edible.


Environmental Factors


As mentioned, one thing these countries still have in common is their rainforest. The average temperature of a rainforest is between 77 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average yearly rainfall of 50 to 260 inches. Rattan can survive at an altitude of 300m, yet requires light and water to grow.


There are no seasons in which rattan grow. In the tropical rainforest there are normally 2 seasons and neither one has a drastic enough difference to cause rattan to grow at a certain time.


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Origin and Distribution


Rattan is a tropical plant that tends to grow heavily in south East Asian countries, as well as Africa and parts of Australia and the East Indies. It grows in the last remaining rainforest of the world, such as the island of Borneo in Indonesia, and in the rain forests of the Philippines. Other native countries include Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh.


Importance to People



Rattan is a very useful plant. It is a source of income to many very poor people. When harvested by native tribes such as the Eastern Dupaninan Agta, a 2 meter long stalk can only bring in 5 pesos. Yet the way rattan makes its money and gains its importance is by making long lasting, quality furniture. Because of its durability and unique tone, rattan is used in making furniture. It is sturdy and bendable. It can be cut in to strips and used to weave baskets, fans or lamp shades.


In order to be of any use, rattan has to be treated. The first step is removing the skin by scrapping. The normal tool for this is a kitchen knife. The cane must then be air dried for a time. This drying time differs. In order to improve on the quality of rattan, it must be boiled or steamed; this process kills off bugs, fungi and larvae that might be buried in the stem. Boiled rattan is also more durable. If rattan is boiled in diesel oil, a tan-like color stains the wood and decreases the need fro varnish.


Once the rattan has been treated, it can be bended and twisted in ways that create attractive furniture. Also the shaved skin can be used to weave things, such as baskets and lamp shades.


Rattan is also very important to humans as well as to the environment because it is a very reasonable alternative to logging other kinds of wood. Rattan is much easier to harvest in the sense that it takes less heavy equipment to cut down. A narra tree would take a chainsaw and a lot of gas to cut down, while a full grown rattan stalk only needs a bolo. Also, it grows much more quickly then many other trees, and can be used as a food source if all else fails. The current demand for rattan is fairly high.



Survivability and Endangered Status


Though rattan sounds nearly invincible because of its ability to use other plants, and its quick growth rate, it is coming into danger. Rattan does have a quick growth rate and if people realize that they can harvest this instead of other woods, without replanting, rattan could end up just like many other endangered plants.



Jut as well, rattan does not cost very much when unprocessed and raw. Therefore, people need to cut down and sell more in order to make a living. They are, however, taking advantage of the rainforest and are not replanting.


In a very big way, logging of other trees is endangering the rattan plants as well. Because of very heavy logging, great erosion is caused during rainy season. Trees, rice fields and plants such as rattan are all washed away by the flooding.


Logging is also a danger to rattan, because rattan plants cannot grow on their own strength. Rattan needs to have other trees to cling to in order to grow upwards. As the Philippine rainforest slowly diminishes so will the population of this beautiful plant. It is undefined how much rattan is left. No one has ever gone out and counted. Not even the harvesters know. However the point is still the same, if we do not conserve, we will start to see less and less of the rattan plant.



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Potential Solutions


As time has passed, it has become apparent that the rattan plant is under great danger. At one time very abundant in the rainforest, the population is starting to thin. Many poorer people trying to make a living near the rainforest, depend on this plant as a source of income, yet they take advantage of it. The furniture of rattan can fetch a price as high as 5-10,000 pesos per set, yet the plain rattan itself only sells for around 5 pesos a stalk.


Because of the low price of the actual plant, rattan gatherers need to gather as much rattan as possible in order to make money for themselves and their family. They keep clearing greater and greater areas of its rattan. Now normally, this would not be much of a problem. The only thing that they would have to do is replant. Yet most rattan gatherers do not practice replenishing their rattan supply. So as the gatherers go deeper and deeper into the forest without replanting, the amount of rattan decreases.


Another one of the main problems that the rattan plant faces, is illegal logging and erosion in this country. As many trees are illegally cut down, it becomes hard for the rattan plant to grow. The rattan plant desperately needs other plants around it to cling to in order to grow upwards.


So what can be done about these issues threatening the rattan plant and its harvesters?


Possibility 1


First of all, in terms of conservation, there needs to be more structure. It is a law in the Philippines that foresters and gatherers practice conservation by replanting where they gather. The main problem is that no one from the government will enforce the law. Once every few years someone from the government might come out to the rainforest out of duty. They will ask the foresters and gatherers whether or not they have been replanting, of course the foresters say that they have to keep from getting in trouble. The real problem is that the officials will not go out and see for themselves where the foresters have been replanting. This cycle repeats itself over and over.


To break this cycle, the government is going to have to send in people periodically to check up on the people. The officials will actually have to go out and see the places where seeds are being planted and will actually have to enforce the law.


The Cost/Disadvantage: The government would actually have to keep record of replanting. They would need to send out an official and have the people actually show the official where they replanted. The cost of this would be time and travel.



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Possibility 2


A very pressing problem is that in remote areas, such as Bolos Point, the education is very poor. At the local school, teachers who don’t actually have teaching degrees, educate children up until the 4th grade. Without the proper curriculum, forest conservation is not taught.


If one could look through the eyes of a person who knew nothing of the dangers of logging, one would see a vast rainforest stretching for miles. One would then think, “What difference does it make if I cut down 10 or so trees? Even if I cut down 100? There are millions of trees, it won’t matter.” This is the mindset of the local people. Because of the poor education, they do not realize that bringing back a rainforest would take hundreds of years. They do not realize that perhaps their grandchildren will not be able to benefit from the products of the rainforest because there will be none left; and they are slowly becoming the cause.


The key to this is better education. In this case, it would not be a bad idea, to have a short term missions group go to a remote rainforest and teach about logging and the environment. However there is always the problem of alternatives. If they cannot cut down trees or gather rattan, then they have no source of income.


The Cost/Disadvantage: The government would have to spend a lot of money into better education, mainly for provincial areas. They would need to focus on every little school, sending new books and supplies as well as teachers. They would need to create a well rounded curriculum for all schools. Doing this would cost a lot of money and time.


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Possibility 3


A third solution to this problem, is not only better education to the poor, but helping the rich realize that soon there could be no more rainforest. Looking at the rainforests even now, it seems impossible that so many trees could be completely wiped out. Yet we need to take a look back at history to see that we have probably about 10% of the rainforest that we used to have 200 years ago. People need to realize that at that rate, in the next 50 years, there wont be anymore rainforest, or rattan that grows so lushly in it.


The Cost/Disadvantage: The government would have to sink money into better education. A great amount of money would need to be spent on advertising this problem. Punishment would need to be carried out for lawbreakers. Doing all these things would cost a lot of money and time.




The Action Step


I have been around rattan my whole life, yet for the longest time, I had no idea that it was in danger. Since fulfilling my research, I have discovered that it is a very useful plant and must be preserved.


For my action step, I could have gone to a rattan furniture salesman and told him about the endangerment of rattan, but what good would that have done? The salesman never sees the gatherers, and the word of rattans endangerment must start at the source. Instead I spoke with Mrs. Grace McAlpin, a full blood Filipina and speaker of over 9 languages, including the Eastern Dupaninan Agta dialect. The Eastern Dupaninan Agta are the language group Mrs. McAlpin works with. One of the Agtas main forms of livelihood is rattan gathering.


I spoke to Mrs. McAlpin about replanting and conservation and she agreed to speak with the Dupaninan Agta about this issue, which could become a major problem in the future. I will not have to wait very long for results, because late this month or early next, she will be traveling to her tribe in Bolos Point, Cagayan to tell them about these dangers. This was very fortunate for me, seeing as I would not have been able to travel so far.


In Matthew 28:19 Jesus says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” As a personal interpretation of this verse I do believe that Jesus is telling us to teach about the gospel. The gospel is the most important thing that can be taught, yet I do not believe that that is all he wants us to teach. I believe that Jesus wanted us to share our personal knowledge and experiences in life as well.


If a mans profession was as a doctor and he traveled the world preaching Gods word, I imagine he would also teach people medical things; in order to improve their lives. I believe that Jesus wanted us to share the knowledge that He has granted us. God gave us a mind so that we can learn, and He gave us a mouth so that we can tell others what we’ve learned.


2Co 6:3-4 Giving no offense in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:

"But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses"





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McAlpin, Joseph A. Personal interview. 28 Apr. 2008.


McAlpin, Grace. Personal interview. 30 Apr. 2008.


Tomlinson, P., Jack B. Fisher, Russel E. Spangler, and Renee E. Richer, comps. Stem Vascular Architechture in the Rattan Palm Calamas. 21 Mar. 2000. Harvard Forest, Harvard University, Petersham, Masachusetts. 1 May 2008 <http://www.amjbot.org/cgi/content/full/88/5/797?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=rattan&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype


None. "Rattan." Wikipedia. 1 May 2008. Wikimedia. 12 Apr. 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rattan>.


Lucas, E.b, and Dahunsi . "Rattan to Grow - Cameroon." www.handsontv.info. African Rattan Research Programme. 29 Apr. 2008 <http://www.handsontv.info/series5/source_to_sale_reports/02_Source%20to%20Sale_mm/Rattan%20to%20Grow%20pdf.pdf>.


Attenborough, David. The Private Life of Plants. London: BBC Books, 1995. 61, 205-206,162-164.


Yen, Choon Chee, Wickneswari Wetnam, Kalaivani Nadarajah , and Raja Barizan Raja Sulaima . "Sex Determination in Calamus Mana." Sexing in Calamus Manan. 25 Apr. 2008 <http://pkukmweb.ukm.my/~choong/Rattan/rattan01.html>.


Fakumoto, Takeutchi Y., Norman Kramer, Landry Chappele, Hess Asher, and R.g Asher. "Research Communications." 90.Pdf. 23 Apr. 2008 <http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/jul102004/90.pdf>.



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