2011 International Year of the forest – the trees of our local forests (2)

This post is also available in: Dutch.

The seeds of Oliba burst open to show the bright orange insides.

The Oliba / Black willow (Capparis odoratissima)

What makes the Oliba the most recognizable are the seed pods. These are brown on the outside, but after ripening they’ll burst open and advertise themselves with a bright orange-red color on the inside. Sometimes the seeds burst open at almost the same time, and then it looks like the tree is decorated with red-orange streamers. The tree is green all year round and needs very little water to survive. It prefers to grow on calcareous soils, but can be found in other areas as well. The leaves are oblong elliptical in shape and are dark green and shiny on top. The underside is silvery brown and is covered with scales making it rough to the touch. The shiny top is particularly striking when new leaves appear. These are initially closed and silver brown. The Oliba is a great tree for the garden. Not only does it require little to no watering, the tree remains green all year round and attracts all kinds of butterflies and birds during flowering. The flowers are creamy white in color, have long stamens and are a source of nectar for the animals. Especially at night there will be a strong sweet scent coming from the flowers. On good soil the tree grows into a beautiful shade tree. Unfortunately the tree is still rarely planted in gardens. The Oliba also occurs on Aruba and Bonaire.

Manzaliña leaves. These leaves are highly reflective because of a waxy layer on top. An adaption to a hot and dry climate.

The Manzaliña / Manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella)

On many beaches on the island Manzaliña trees offer shade along the shore. The tree is best known for its fruits that resemble small green and yellow apples. The fruits also look a little like the local Apeldam (Christ thorn – Zizyphus spina-christi) fruit. People who do not know the tree sometimes mistakenly think the fruits are edible and eat them. That’s a bad idea, because the apples are poisonous and might be lethal. All parts of the plant contain a milky white substance which is released on contact and causes blisters. Not everyone experiences the same reaction, but on the skin of people who are very sensitive to the milk blisters will form that resemble burn blisters, which are very painful and prone to infections if left untreated. Gardeners and others who need to prune these trees not only need good long gloves, but also have to ensure that the milk will not come into contact with sensitive tissues such as the eyes. Even when it rains it is better not to stand under the tree, because  branches might crack or break, allowing the sap of the tree to mix with rainwater, with the infamous burns as a result to the person taking a shelter. If this water gets into the eyes serious injury can be the result. On most beaches there are no warning signs, but it is advisable to ensure that children do not climb trees to avoid the risk of injury.
The tree also often occurs in rooien (gully systems) on the island.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, the wood of the tree is used for making furniture. It is very suitable furniture wood despite the fact that it is susceptible to termites. Even in living trees  almost always long termite tunnels can be seen, leading to the dead parts where the termites perform their feasting (and recycling of nutrients).
After the fruit dries, a woody ‘frame’ remains with several loose seeds inside of it. The fruit floats on water and may travel long distances. Despite the fact that the fruits are poisonous to humans, iguanas have no trouble with the poison and eat the fruit in its entirety. Parakeets also like to feast on the fruits.

The leaves of the Welensali.

The Welensali / Rock sage (Croton flavens

The Welensali, a name derived from the Dutch name Wild Sage, is easily recognizable by the smell of the leaves. The plant is not related to Wild Sage in the Netherlands, however. The gray-green leaves of this shrub are very hairy and emit a spicy fragrance. The old leaves that are about to fall off still emit the smell, and are bright orange. The plant produces elongated clusters of white, fragrant flowers that are visited by butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. The flower clusters contain both male and female flowers that bloom separately to prevent self-fertilization. In the past, the strong odor was used as a mosquito deterrent. Bruised branches of the Welensali were placed in the homes, and people rubbed themselves with them to try to keep mosquitoes at bay. An extract of the leaves was also consumed to fight ailments such as cramps and fever. The plant, which is often labeled as weed can be a wonderful asset to a garden. With regular pruning and extra water the shrub grows into a large plant with a thick mass of leaves. Without watering the plant will be almost completely devoid of leaves in the dry season. With the next rains young leaves sprout quickly, though.

Michelle da Costa Gomez

About Michelle da Costa Gomez

One Response to “2011 International Year of the forest – the trees of our local forests (2)”

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  1. Femia Cools says:

    Hebben jullie informatie over de Appeldam? Appeldam boom : Zizyphus spina-christi (Rhamnaceae)?