Sunday, May 16, 2010

Barbados Trees Part#1

This will be the first in a series of post about trees found in Barbados.

The Bearded Fig Tree

We can not beguine to discuss trees in Barbados without first talking about the Bearded Fig Tree.

 The very name "Barbados" comes from a Portuguese explorer named Pedro Campos in 1536, who originally called the island Los Barbados ("The Bearded Ones")after the bearded fig tree, which grew abundantly on the island at the time of its discovery. This tree is unusual in that it sends aerial roots from its branches, thus giving the impression of being bearded. The tree also appears on the Islands Coat of Arms

Ficus citrifolia trees typically grow 15 m (50 ft) tall, and may cover a wide area due to their ability to drop aerial roots from branches and spread horizontally, fusing with the parent tree as they grow. They have a broad top, light grey bark, some aerial roots and milky sap. The leaves of F. citrifolia are dark green. They are oval shaped with a rounded base and pointed tip. Small flowers are enclosed in open ended fruit. The fruit appears on the ends of long stalks protruding from the leaf axils. Fruit turn from yellow to dark-red when ripe. This fruit is sweet and can be eaten raw
Ficus citrifolia is considered a tropical keystone species. Figs are a major component of the diets of more species of animals than any other tropical perennial fruit. Since F. citrifolia fruits year round many primates, birds and other species, feed exclusively on figs during seasons when other fruit is scarce. Additionally, the knobby, hollow, lattice-like trunk of this tree provides a home for thousands of invertebrates, rodents, bats, birds and reptiles.

For this Bajan Tour Girl it was a great tree for many a climb and the beard like vines served as wonderful ropes to swing on...... as long as the held. on days that they did not many bandages were involved.

Baobab Tree

It was said that the baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) was brought to Barbados around 1738 from Guinea in Africa.

Several of these magnificent trees  grow in Barbados! The largest can be seen in our Queen's Park in Bridgetown. To give an example of the size of this tree of great distinction, it takes 15 adults joining with outstretched arms to cover its circumference.  The other of considerable age in Barbados can be found in Warrens, St Michael.

The Baobab is called the Tree of Life with good reason. It is capable of providing shelter, food and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions.

The cork-like bark is fire resistant and is used for cloth and rope. The leaves are used for condiments and medicines. The fruit, called "monkey bread", is rich in vitamin C and is eaten. The tree is capable of storing hundreds of litres of water, which is tapped in dry periods.
Mature trees are frequently hollow, providing living space for numerous animals and humans alike. Trees are even used as bars, barns and more. The Baobab also features as the Tree of Life in Disney's "Lion King", and is the centrepiece in Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Radio-carbon dating has measured that age of some Baobab trees at over 2,000 years old.
There are also numerous superstitions amongst native African people regarding the powers of the tree. Anyone who dares to pick a flower, for instance, will be eaten by a lion. On the other hand, of you drank water in which the seeds have been soaked, you'd be safe from a crocodile attack.
Several tribes in Africa greatly revered the tree and will gather around it to discuss matters of importance. In some tribes they believe that if they bury their dead in the trunk of the tree that the branches that spread oven them will help to protect them.

Indigenous Australians used baobabs as a source of water and food, and used leaves medicinally. They also painted and carved the outside of the fruits and wore them as ornaments. A very large, hollow baobab south of Derby, Western Australia was used in the 1890s as a prison for Aboriginal convicts on their way to Derby for sentencing. The Boab Prison Tree still stands and is now a tourist attraction.

The owners of Sunland Farm in Limpopo, South Africa have built a pub called "The Big Baobab Pub" inside the hollow trunk of a 22 metres (72 ft) high baobab. The tree, which is 47 m (155 ft) in circumference, is reported to have been carbon dated at over 6,000 years old.

The Bread Fruit Tree

One of the most famous sea ventures of the 18th century sought not silver and gold but a cheap source of food for plantation slaves in the Caribbean.
The HMS Bounty, renowned for its infamous mutiny, had a simple goal when it set sail in 1787: to collect breadfruit.

By the mid-1700s, the merits of breadfruit had become well known, thanks to early tropical explorations. King George III of England ordered an expedition to travel to the South Pacific and collect breadfruit. The fruit was to be brought to the West Indies to feed the slaves on Caribbean plantations. On December 23, 1787, the HMS Bounty, captained by veteran seaman William Bligh, set sail from Spithead, England and began its journey to Tahiti. After arriving in Tahiti ten months later, collecting parties under the command of first mate Fletcher Christian began their search for breadfruit.

The crew of the Bounty stayed in Tahiti for six months, creating strong ties with the native people: stories of the relationships between crewmen and Tahitian women abound in surviving journals of the mission. When the Bounty finally left Tahiti six months later, on April 6 1789, the crew had collected over 1000 breadfruit plants. But the crew did not want to leave their tropical paradise. Placing their desire to remain in Tahiti above their role as plant collectors, and angered by their harsh treatment by Bligh, the crew mutinied after only three weeks at sea. Bligh and eighteen fellow crew members were cast adrift, and the ship returned to Tahiti. The breadfruit plants, were thrown overboard as a final blow to Bligh.

Fortunately for breadfruit, Bligh survived and made it back to England. In fact, he captained a second breadfruit collecting mission on the ship HMS Providence, which departed England for Tahiti on July 6, 1791. This second mission was a success: Bligh collected over 2100 breadfruit plants and successfully transported them to the West Indies in 1793. Ironically, after two collecting missions spanning six years, many of the slaves refused to eat breadfruit, not liking its taste. Future generations of West Indians eventually realized breadfruit's versatility and nutritional value and adopted it as part of their local agricultural systems.
Breadfruit is usually green or yellow, with white or pale yellow flesh inside. It can be eaten as a fruit when mature or as a vegetable when immature. Breadfruit can be baked, boiled, steamed, or mashed and is an important source of carbohydrates. It can be fried into chips, used as an ingredient in pies and cakes, and even processed into baby food. When roasted, the fruit is said to have the taste and texture of fresh bread, ergo its name.  In Barbados we also make Breadfruit Cou Cou. Cou Cou is in fact part of our local dish and is often served with steamed Flying Fish. My personal favourite is Roasted Breadfruit fresh from a bonfire on the beach with a wallop of butter "Yes Paula Dean" and Corned beef.

The wood of the breadfruit tree is used to construct houses and canoes, as well as to make glue, medicine, and even fabric. Breadfruit flowers can be burned to repel mosquitoes, while the leaves make excellent food platters. Reaching heights of 15-20 meters, breadfruit trees provide shade and shelter for other crops and animals.

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