At first glance, paldao resembles American black walnut.
Prospectors seeking their fortunes in New Guinea during the gold rush of the late 1800s came across huge trees whose wood reminded them of walnut. They called this new-found stock "Guinea wood" and used it for mining construction.
In favored habitat along streams and in marshy soil in Indonesia and the Philippines, the tree we now call paldao will grow to 120' high and 4' in diameter. The remarkable feature of paldao trees, however, is their immense buttresses. These outgrowths that help the tree support itself encircle the trunk like a snake to a height of 30'. At the base of the tree, the thick buttresses spread out like giant roots so that a paldao may measure 40' in diameter at ground level!
To the hill tribes in remote parts of the Philippines, the buttressed paldao trees once represented a trunkful of horrors. They viewed the trees in fear and awe because they imagined that frightful things, such as armies of evil spirits, hid in the nooks and crannies. In truth, boa constrictors lived there. And in the recesses, head hunters hid.
With such barriers to harvest, it's little wonder it took decades for paldao to break into the world market. Finding fearless native workers willing to log the dreaded paldao was no small problem.
And where, eventually, did paldao find favor? From the often finely figured wood of paldao's trunk and even its buttresses-the same that had concealed spirits, snakes, and head hunters-came exquisite veneers to line high-fashion elevators of the late 1940s. Passengers remarked at the paneling's great beauty, but knew nothing of its tale.