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

This post is also available in: Dutch.

The fruit of the Calabash was used as part of the household in the past.

The Calabash (Crescentia cujete)

Maracas, dishes, bowls, artwork. The fruit of the Kalebas (Dutch), Calabash (English) or Kalbas (Papiamentu) tree is used for lots of things. These fruits are an integral part of the landscape. The large round or oval shiny green fruits, which reach at least the size of a fist, are very striking. After the fruits fall from the tree, they turn yellow in color. In nature they dry out, but only after quite a few months, into the dry dark brown fruits with which many utensils are made. This process can be sped up, though. The drying fruits smells very peculiar, and many consider them to smell bad. The fruit is not attractive to animals, there is no animal in Curacao who eats them. This in contrast to the flowers. This night-blooming plant produces rather large flowers that can reach 6 centimeters in length and are yellowish green with purple accents. The flowers smell strongly and attract large quantities of moths as well as bats. In the morning the flowers fade quickly in the first heat of the day.

The peculiar growth of the Calabash tree is striking in the landscape.

The leaves are oblong in shape and rounded at the tips. The size they reach depends on the amount of rain. In times of sparse showers the leaves remain small. The most special thing about this tree is that both the flowers and fruits grow directly from the trunk and older branches without separate branches. The tree is irregularly shaped with long branches that often hang down. In the dry season it loses its leaves and can be bare for months at a time. In gardens where the tree is watered throughout the year the tree gets a full dark green crown. The local variety usually produces fruits of modest size, but there are (imported) varieties on the island that produce very large fruits, even having the size of a basketball, and others that produce very elongated egg-like shapes. In the past, the fruit was not only used as a dish or bowl, but the contents were also used for medicinal purposes. The flesh was used for making stropi di kalbas (calabash syrup) which was used to treat diseases of the lungs and airways. From the seeds the delicacy ‘kara bobo’ was made.

Purple flowers attract lots of butterflies and bees.

The Basora Kora – Black widow (Melochia tomentosa)

After a good rain this plant can be found in several places where the original vegetation is removed. It is a secondary species and is often found in gardens where no gardener ‘has put things in order’. The leaves are gray-green in color and very hairy. The edges of the leaves are serrated. The combination of the quaint colored leaves and purple flowers make it a striking plant. On inspection, the flowers turn out not to be completely purple, but to have a yellowish color in the center. In a garden the plant can grow into a bush loaded with leaves and dotted with brightly colored flowers, it only needs to be pruned regularly and to get some extra water at least once a week. In America the plant, which is known as ‘Teabush’, is cultivated as a garden plant because of the colorful flowers and leaves, and is therefore highly prized. Basora kora is very popular with bees and several different species of butterfly and in general it is a busy coming and going of these insects. The plant occurs on all three leeward islands.

The Palu di lele, Christmas tree of schools which have a little less.

The Palu di Lele – Five fingers, Goathorn (Randia Aculeata)

The Palu di lele is best known for the stirring sticks that are made from it, tools for the preparation of the traditional corn porridge (funchi). A much less known use is that of Christmas tree. Schools that had no money to buy a real Christmas tree collected this tree  from the ‘mondi’ and put it into the classroom as a substitute, after which it was decorated with homemade glittery ornaments.
The tree is relatively easy to recognize in the mondi. It looks a little like the calabash, only it will not grow bigger than a shrub of up to four meters tall. It has nice round, thick waxy leaves that shine beautifully. The fruits have a diameter of five millimeters, are dark green to almost black in color and nicely rounded. The plant has a straight trunk and at different heights groups of three branches grow almost horizontally at the same level, but at angles of about 120°. That makes the plant so suitable as the raw material for the stirring stick as described above.

This is the last article of this series. I would like to invite everyone to regularly enjoy a healthy gulp of air in our local ‘mondi’. Of course you should take a good look at the secrets of nature, in order to gain a little understanding of its inner workings. Our ‘mondi’ is worthy of our concern, because without it Curacao would be a terrible place to live in!

Michelle da Costa Gomez

About Michelle da Costa Gomez