Agathis dammara

Common name: Damar

Other common names: Amboina pitch tree, East Indian kauri, Manila copal, Malayan kauri, Philippines agathis, Sulawesi agathis

Names in non-English languages: Philippines

Description

Damar is a softwood timber and resin yielding conifer native to tropical forests in Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

It grows slowly in closely spaced forests into a large tree 40 to 50 m (130 to 165 ft) tall with a straight, round and mostly branch-free trunk. The bark is light grey to brownish and smooth on young trees becoming rough and peeling off in large strips on older trees. The trunk sometimes bears clumps of hardened resin exuded from wounds made to it.

Branching starts high on the tree, with the branches sloping steeply upwards, forming a narrow, cylindrical crown. The leaves are lance-shaped, up to 8 cm  (3 in) long, glossy-green, tough and leathery to the touch. They more closely resemble the leaves of the tropical hardwoods than those of the conifers.

The fruit are cones with a scaly green surface and either female, which are rounded or male, which are oblong, borne on different branches of the same tree. Only female cones produce seed, which can be as many as ninety in a single cone and are winged for wind dispersal.

Use

A translucent or clear white resin tapped from the trunk is traded commercially as 'Manila Copal' or 'Dammar' and is a type of copal resin. Copal resins are soluble in alcohol and are sought after for use in the manufacture of specialist paints and varnishes, such as artists paints and spirit varnishes. Spirit varnish is the varnish of choice for varnishing fine wooden musical instruments, particularly stringed instruments such as violins, cellos and guitars. Manila Copal is also collected for making into incense.

The wood is light-weight, averaging out at about 450 kilograms per cubic meter (28 lbs per cubic ft), and has low natural resistance to decay and termites. This classes it as a non-durable softwood, with limited suitability for outdoor use or heavy construction generally.

Large, well-formed logs are sawn into beams used in light construction and into boards and planks used to make furniture, cabinets, boxes and crates. Selected logs are sliced for decorative veneer and plywood. Small diameter roundwood and misshapen logs are made into roofing shingles, matches or are pulped for particleboard.

It is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), which brings attention to its conservation needs.

Climate

Grows naturally in humid tropical lowland to mid-elevation climates, generally in areas with annual lows of 18 to 25 °C, annual highs of 27 to 35°C, annual rainfall of 1800 to 4500 mm and a dry season of 5 months or less.

How to grow

New plants are usually raised from seed that have been left to soak in water for one to two days. They are then sown in individual containers and the developing seedlings kept under shade for twelve to eighteen months before being planted out.

Performs best on moist, free-draining clay and loam soils of an acid to neutral nature, generally with a pH of 5.0 to 7.5 and on sites with full to partial sun exposure.

Problem features

It is listed as a weed in at least one reference publication, but there does not appear to be any record of it being a serious weed anywhere. It is reported to take up to twenty-five years before it starts producing viable seed, which suggests it is unlikely to become a weed pest. 

The root system of mature trees is expansive and large surface roots are common. It should only be planted on sites that are a considerable distance away from any buildings, paved surfaces or underground pipes.

Where it will grow


References

Books

  • Brown, William Henry. 1920, Minor products of Philippine forests, Bureau of Printing, Manila

  • C.A.B. International 2013, The CABI encyclopedia of forest trees, CABI Publishing, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

  • Chudnoff, M. 1984, Tropical timbers of the world, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington, D.C.

  • Coppen, J. J. W. 1995, Gums, resins and latexes of plant origin, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome

  • Holttum, R. E. & Enoch, I. C. 2010, Gardening in the tropics : the definitive guide for gardeners, Marshall Cavendish Editions, Singapore

  • Howes, F. N. 1949, Vegetable gums and resins, Chronica Botanica Company, Waltham, Massachusetts

  • Jacobson, M. 1958, Insecticides from plants : a review of the literature, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Washington D.C.

  • Jensen, M. 1999, Trees commonly cultivated in Southeast Asia : an illustrated field guide, 2nd ed., Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP), Bangkok

  • Liegel, L. H. 1987. A technical guide for forest nursery management in the Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans

  • Porter, T. 2012, Wood : identification & use, Compact edition, Guild of Master Craftsman Publications, Lewes, East Sussex

  • Reyes, G. 1992, Wood densities of tropical tree species, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station, New Orleans, Louisiana

  • Scheffer, T. C & Morrell, J. J. 1998, Natural durability of wood : a worldwide checklist of species, Forest Research Laboratory, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

  • Webb, D. B. 1984, A Guide to species selection for tropical and sub-tropical plantations, 2nd ed., Unit of Tropical Silviculture, Commonwealth Forestry Institute, University of Oxford, Oxfordshire

  • West, A. P. & Brown, W. H. 1920, Philippine resins, gums, seed oils, and essential oils, Bureau of printing, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Manila

  • Winter, R. 2009, A consumer's dictionary of cosmetic ingredients : complete information about the harmful and desirable ingredients found in cosmetics and cosmeceuticals, 7th ed, Three Rivers Press, New York

Articles, Journals, Reports and Working Papers

  • Lantican C.B. 2015. Philippine Native Trees – What to Plant in Different Provinces. Unpublished Terminal Report to DOST-PCARRD.

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