All of the kratom trees are similar in appearance and height, but do not all grow naturally in the same locations. Kratom trees grow tall and have straight, light creamish colored trunks with branches protruding every foot or so. It takes on average about eight to ten years for all varieties to produce the most mature and alkaloid rich leaves. Before this age, there are still alkaloids in the leaves, but they are in smaller amounts with leaves that tend to be softer to touch than the older trees we harvest from. A tree that is about eight years old has a diameter of approximately 35 cm (+/-14 in.) making this a relatively fast-growing tree. All types of kratom trees can reach heights of forty meters (131”) tall. These tall trees therefore by necessity have a deep and strong root system below ground enabling them to stand firm and upright in soft soils and the rough weather experienced each year. This is particularly true of the Red Veins that are commonly found along the riverbanks as torrential floods and storms pass through these areas with intensity every year.
**Above: Picture of a healthy riverbank including kratom trees growing in the middle. Due to their roots, they play an important role in providing a healthy watershed on the riverbanks.**
**Above: More pictures of healthy riverbanks where kratom is being found and grows well.**
Because of their strong underground root systems, these kratom trees play an important role in protecting against erosion since here in the tropical rainforests heavy rains and floods are a yearly and frequent occurrence. This important land is known as a watershed land which plays several important roles including safely draining and filtering the rainwater as it enters into the river or body of water. The watershed provides drinking water, water for agriculture and a habitat for numerous plants and animals that are crucial for a healthy ecosystem. It is essential to take into consideration the impact of what destruction the loss of this important land is not only doing to nature, but also to the quality of water for the people dependent upon its downstream.
Where there is not sufficient root and vegetation left (due to the cutting down and burning farming practices), to protect against these times of floods and powerful rains, erosion damage is inevitable. Below it is clear to see the damage caused by the palm oil plantations, that were not sufficient to hold back water that has washed away several meters (tens of feet) into the river. This careless damage is seen everywhere due to the overplanting of palm oil right up to the riversbanks.
**Above: Picture of palm oil trees planted right on a riverbank. Notice the land is in the process of slipping away still. A tree has already fallen into the river and more are in the downstream.**
**Another view of the palm oil trees and erosion. This is the watershed zone that is nonexistent, but needed to provide life and food for many species including in the river. **
**Above: More pictures of the erosion and palm oil trees that are collapsing into the river.**
Compared to these ugly plantations, Kratom trees offer an environmentally sustainable alternative for farmers. Kratom trees have vibrant light green leaves that often stand out more than the slightly darker green leaf colors of other tree species growing beside them. Not only are they tall and beautiful to look at, but they are also part of the answer to preventing the destruction caused by mono-crops like in the picture above.
**Above: Green slime and other bacteria growing out of the fertilizers used on the palm oil plantations. This unhealthy formation takes place before the soil collapses down towards the river.**
Pesticides and fertilizers are used to treat these palm oil trees and the runoff pollution does further damage in the river and downstream where it eventually spills into the ocean. What once was one of the most biodiverse jungles on the planet has now mostly become a monocrop of palm oil, that does not seem to support birds or insects since there are none to be seen. Walking around these areas feels so barren and lifeless, it’s hard to believe what just a decade or two of unregulated destructive practices have done.
**Above: Palm oil clumps arriving by the river where they can be unloaded and then transported to processing it into the oil that has now found its way into the global food market.**
**Above: These boats hold up to 7 metric tons of this commodity. A palm oil worker, being paid minimum wage, transfers clump by clump this oily fruit into the truck. **
**Above: One of the many palm oil processing plants, that operates 24 hrs a day, seen from the river. **
**Above: Past the palm oil plantation advancement and around the next bend we get a glimpse of what a healthier riverbank should look more like.**
**Above: Upper river even further, this is what I am told the river used to be like just twenty years ago, where now only palm oil exists. Hard to believe, but it’s true.**
Only about twenty years ago right on this spot I was told there were no plantations, but instead a pure untouched and healthy river ecosystem and teeming with fish and giant prawns. The team that now helps me harvest used to gather kratom leaves right here. It was really a different environment back then, where they also collected many types of prized orchids off of the many tall trees. This practice of collecting orchids was also not regulated and due to unsustainable levels of orchid collection collapsed this business when there were no more plants left. Now the number of wild kratom trees have already disappeared do to the same unsustainable practices of harvesting. If they continue, they will in a few years also disappear just as the orchids did a decade or two ago have.  Illegal palm oil planting right along the rivers watershed zone where vital kratom trees should be growing that hold the soils in place are now an even greater cause of erosion than anything yet.
Kratom trees along with all the other indigenous plant life must be left to grow on the riversides. This land is after all public and it is therefore illegal for farmers to cut down and use for planting any crops. There just are no government officials doing any enforcing of the law.
**Above: Picture of a fully mature large and healthy Green Vein Kratom Tree being harvested by a skilled climber. **
The Kratom Tree:
If I had to make a comparison in appearance to a North American type of tree most of our buyers would be familiar with, I would say that kratom reminds me of a huge birch or alder tree found extensively along the West Coast (and most of the North America). This is being very general in the description, but they have the same sort of creamish and tall tree trunks, and a similar light green leaf color. I draw this comparison to make them seem more relative to what many of our buyers may have seen themselves. This is my personal opinion though and some botanists may not agree!
**Above: Picture of a large mature kratom tree taken with a zoom lens.**
When harvesting we carefully select the trees and leaves and only collect the one type at a time to avoid any confusion later on when they are dried, cured and look the same. For the Green and Red Veins leaves we often use a riverboat to reach our special locations and then transport the leaves back to trucks where we can then unload, reload and transport them as fast and as carefully as possible to our custom-made drying and curing rooms. The Whites and Maeng Da varieties require a bit more leg time to hike out to the remote harvest sites. (You can read more about the special curing and sorting process in another blog we wrote here https://www.thehealingeast.com/the-kinabatangan-harvest-trail/).
We, as a company, strive to always keep a high alkaloid content each and every harvest, but it is not so simple and has to be done with the utmost attention to detail or leaves will ferment and deteriorate before drying completely. Leaves must be properly hung to be cured in dark dry rooms to yield a consistently high quality. There is a specific process to producing kratom powder that we follow and we strictly check and track it each step of the way to keep our quality consistent and hygienic.
I hope you found this educational. Please like our page @thehealingeast_ and follow us, so you will not miss the next blogs when they come out.