2011 International Year of Forests – Help local trees and forests!

This post is also available in: Dutch.

A Kibrahacha in the rainy season. The sea of yellow flowers will be gone within three days. In those three days the tree is visited by thousands of butterflies, moths, bees, hummingbirds and other birds offering a helping hand in reproduction.

It is easy to shrug one’s shoulders and look the other way, or to point fingers at nature and environmental organizations when once again something goes wrong with nature and the environment. Often it is ignorance or a feeling of powerlessness that leaves us standing on the sidelines while observing with dismay how the government is planning to ‘develop’ another natural area, or when the news comes in that another animal or plant species went extinct. I have to admit, it is practically impossible to effectuate a change in case of a far away country, and much more than donating some funds to an attractive project in general is all that we can do.

What is possible, though, is to get involved in the protection and preservation of nature in your own land or on the island where you live and work. Your can train yourself to be alert for questionable developments around you, you can join an organization that advocates the protection of nature and the environment, you can teach yourself to take care of your own environment. Those are all actions that can be undertaken. Writing letters to the government, participating in, or even organizing actions goes even further. The easiest thing you can do, however, which does not require involvement in an organization or writing letters, is to actively take nature and your immediate environment into account. And since this series deals with trees and forests, I will mention a few examples.

Take a look around you

The simplest thing you can do is to use your eyes. Observe your surroundings, at home or in the neighborhood and note for yourself within which gardens, squares, and the landscaping of hotels and companies, local trees and plants are used. Not many. With each new development plan the first action invariably is to scrape away the so-called ‘shushi’ (dirt, garbage) with a loader and then leave the bare ground to ‘cook’ for months if not years in the hot sun. Often the excuse is used that local trees are not suitable for gardens and landscaping. This is absolute nonsense.

Plant a local tree!

Trees and plants from the island itself are perfectly adapted to the local climatic conditions: lots of sun, high temperatures, strong winds and little rain. That means the plants are ‘low maintenance’ and will survive with little effort from our side. Most of these plants remain green around the year with a regularly splash of water. The argument that they grow slowly is also nonsense. They grow slowly in nature where they are totally dependent on every scarce drop of rain, but in a garden where they are watered at least once a week they grow a lot faster. I  have observed a Wayacá to grow to a height of more than 2 meters in only 2.5 years, complete with flowers and seeds, in a garden on a limestone cliff. That those trees constantly turn bare is no excuse either. Each tree loses leaves. That’s normal. A local tree turns bare when circumstances turn too dry to produce ‘expensive’ new leaves. Just water the tree and new leaves will keep on coming.

The Brasia is often called Kibrahacha but is an entirely different tree.

Plenty of choice

There are plenty of local plants and trees to choose from. The Kibrahacha (Yellow Poui – Tabebuia billbergii), with its beautiful yellow flowers in the rainy season is one of them. But also the Brasia (Brasilwood – Haematoxylon brasiletto), often confused with the Kibrahacha, is an easy tree, which with its complexly shaped trunk also gives an extra aesthetic dimension to a garden, and will attract many birds when it blooms, including hummingbirds. The often mentioned Wayacá (Lignum vitae – Guaiacum officinale) is totally worth it. Chuchubi’s (Tropical Mockingbird – Mimus gilvus) love the red seeds of this tree. In the stomach of the bird, the red layer off the black seed is digested and the seed is defecated. Only then it can germinate. If you observe Chuchubi’s in your garden then it is almost certain that eventually you will encounter a small Wayacá sprouting from the ground. If you prefer it in a different place than you need to quickly dig it out and plant the seedling where you want it. The reason for haste is the fact that the plant invests at first in a long root in search of water. After this root is consolidated it will start investing in the rest of the plant. Your watering will speed up this process. The beauty of the Wayacá is the fact that the plant remains green throughout the year and requires very little water. And that’s exactly the point. Low cost and lots of visual pleasure with a local plant in the garden!

The Watakeli with its white flowers

The Watakeli (Bourreria succulenta) is also a rewarding plant. The thick glossy leaves, bunches of orange berries and fragrant white flowers are beautiful to see. This is the most common local tree used in  landscaping. However, the seeds are not easy to plant, either. They must first go through the digestive system of, for example, a Bare-eyed Pigeon (Ala Blanca – Patagioenas corensis), in order to germinate.

And a cactus, of course!

The easiest tree to plant in the garden is a pillar cactus. It is just a matter of laying branches of the Kadushi (Subpilocereus repandus), Datu (Ritterocereus griseus) or Kadushi di Pushi (Pilosocereus lanuginosus) horizontally on the ground, in places with not too much direct sunlight. You can also position them into the ground vertically. Roots will start to grow after which new branches will emerge. By planting one of these pillar cacti you certainly participate in nature protection on the island. Each columnar cactus less means less food in the dry season for reptiles, mammals and birds as these plants are practically the only plants bearing  flowers and fruit in the dry season, thanks to the bats. If every garden on Curacao would be home to at least one columnar cactus it would be a good contribution to the ecology. Which does not mean that we should allow the destruction of all cacti in the mondi. But this we can in turn collectively protest against!

About Michelle da Costa Gomez