By Zac B. Sarian
We don’t exactly remember the year, but it is certainly more than ten years now when we visited the farm of Flor Librero and his better half, Dr. Aida R. Librero, in Lipa City. Before we left, Flor gave us a couple of seedlings, which he said were native of Batanes where he comes from. He said that up there in Batanes, the tree is called Chayi, which produces fruit the people enjoyed eating. In the household of a friend, the house help who also came from Batanes, said the tree that we described was called Chawi. Whatever name it was, it didn’t actually matter to us.
We planted one of the seedlings in the corner of our farm and we noticed it was a fast grower. We had to cut some of the branches because they were shading many of our small plants below. The tree continued to grow upwards, and today, it is a very tall tree.
Recently, Wendell, our nephew, surprised us by bringing to us several green fruits about the size of pingpong balls. He said, the tree at the corner of the lot bore a lot of fruits and some of them just fell to the ground because they were overripe. We opened one and tasted the white aril that enclosed the big seed. The aril is rather thin but it tasted very nice. It reminded us of the smooth consistency and milky flavor of a newly-opened makapuno nut.
We remember Flor Librero telling us that the Chayi is fast growing and produces good quality lumber. It could be excellent for reforestation or for commercial timber plantation. At the same time, the fruits could provide important food and source of income. Production of seedlings for tree plantations could be another source of livelihood. We told Wendell to plant the seeds and to our pleasant surprise, the seeds germinated in less than ten days. All of them germinated and are now robust young plants.
When we saw the seedlings growing very well, memories of plants from Batanes that we have planted in the past as ornamental plants came to mind. We first remember the Podocarpus which is used as a landscaping material. Some are also cultured as potted plant for decorative purposes. We know that the Podocarpus, popularly known in Batanes as Arius, bears a lot of fruits in that northernmost province of the country. The fruits are made into wine. Unfortunately, we have not seen any Arius that is bearing fruit in other parts of Luzon and elsewhere in the country.
Two other plants from Batanes that we grew when we were engaged in the ornamental plant business also came to mind. One is the Leea, a tree that is also a good material for landscaping. The tree which was introduced in Metro Manila by the Cainta Nursery produces shiny leaves and bears flowers, too. The other plant that we enjoyed growing is the mini date palm. Ten plants that we planted in the plant box outside our concrete fence produced a lot of fruits just a few inches from the ground. The small fruits tasted like the date palm you and I are familiar with, and we enjoyed eating them for breakfast.
Back to Chayi. We wanted to learn more about Chayi so we searched the Internet for whatever information is available. And that’s how we found out that Chayi is botanically known as Pometia pinnata. The tree is said to be widespread through Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. Common names are Matoa, Taun Tree, Island Lychee, and Tava. The short information says that the fruit is somewhat like a lychee, is edible, and is a popular fruit for eating.