It may not be immediately obvious why this little tree is so amazing, but it is. It’s a two-year old Gaïac that is already in bloom and is quite large for a young seedling of such a slow-growing species. Since it was grown at the waste-water treatment plant near Fresh Pond by Mr. Speetjens, we also have a good opportunity to record the conditions it was grown under and potentially replicate those conditions to speed up our efforts to restore these endangered trees.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by the Lagoonies Regatta on Saturday to get your free Gaïac seedlings. We gave out about 50 seedlings to folks all over the island. Hopefully some of them will be big, beautiful trees in 100 years! We’ve also added some additional trees to the Gaïac Map, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t seen it recently!
Learn about one of our island’s most amazing native trees and take home a free seedling to plant in your backyard or neighborhood at the Lagoonies Regatta, this Saturday, June 27th. This seedling giveaway is part of Club Gaïac, the Les Fruits de Mer association’s heritage tree project. The Gaïac, also known as Lignum Vitae, is an endangered native tree.
Sometimes called the Tree of Life for its alleged medicinal properties, the Gaïac is a hardy, slow-growing tree native to our region. Prized for their incredibly strong wood—the densest of any tree in the world—these beautiful trees were over-harvested for centuries, particularly during the colonial era, and are now officially endangered. Like other native trees, they provide food and shelter to many of the island’s animals. Replanting these trees, even in our own backyards, helps create habitat for native animals and helps restore this important heritage tree for future generations. The Club Gaïac project promotes Gaïac restoration through seedling giveaways and other outreach activities, both online and at events.
Sixty Gaïac seedlings have been raised specifically for the giveaway at the 2015 Lagoonies Regatta. They will be available for free on a first-come, first-served basis at Les Fruits de Mer’s Club Gaïac station at the event, which will also feature displays and presentations about the Gaïac’s role in the local ecosystem and its fascinating historical uses on this island and around the world. Anyone with a Gaïac tree in their yard is encouraged to bring seeds that can be cultivated for future seedling giveaways.
The Lagoonies Regatta will be held from 9am-5pm, followed by an awards ceremony and free live rock concert, on Saturday, June 27th at Lagoonies Bistro, located at the Lagoon Marina, Wellington Road 33-35 between ELECTEC and FKG in Cole Bay. The Club Gaïac station will be open from 10am to 6pm.
The dry season is a great time to find Gaïac trees, and a drought is even better. What look like green hills during a wetter season dissolve into seas of brown. Grass dries up and dies down to its roots. Many trees and shrubs lose their leaves to conserve water. The intense green and dense, leafy crown of a Gaïac tree stands out during these times.
The Gaïac and other drought-tolerant native trees hold the line in the battle of green against brown. They make the island more beautiful when it is at its dustiest and undoubtedly help animals survive when there is little else to eat and little shade to be found. The island would be desolate without them—and better if we planted more.
I noticed a promising potential Gaïac near the top of First Stick Hill and made the trek up to see it. It wasn’t far, but was hot and steep. As a reward, I found a large Gaïac, perhaps a couple hundred years old. Its thick trunk bent around a huge slab of limestone and its crown spread gracefully downwind.
I noticed a couple interesting things. First, although there were plenty of dry Gaïac leaves below the tree, there were very few seeds. This is certainly not the case for most urban Gaïac I’ve visited. Perhaps they are washed downhill, but in that case it would seem like the leaves should be as well. Alternatively, perhaps the seeds are used more effectively in wild spaces—consumed by birds and other animals.
My second observation was the presence of a number of small Gaïac seedlings—perhaps a couple years old—mostly above the large tree. It is hard to imagine a tree dropping seeds several meters uphill, so perhaps this is another indication that the seeds are being consumed by the local animal community and then excreted.
Slightly down from the top of the hill on the west side I found another Gaïac tree, handsome, but much younger. Perhaps it is the child of the south side tree, perhaps not. Even on St. Martin wild Gaïac are out there, waiting to be discovered. There’s no better time to go hunting than now, before the rains return!
Here are Les Fruits de Mer we are excited about the upcoming launch of Club Gaïac, a multifaceted heritage tree project. The project is centered on the Gaïac tree, also known as Lignum Vitae or Tree of Life. It is a magnificent native tree that is endangered because it was overharvested for its wood—the hardest in the world. The project includes an interactive map of local Gaïac trees (please help us add any that you know about), a crowdsourced experiment to develop and document the most effective growing practices, a repository of information about the biology, heritage and local use of the tree, and ongoing plantings of the tree to restore habit on St. Martin.
Come to the Endemic Animal Festival on Saturday from 9am-noon to participate and take home a seedling.
Learn more at the project page for Club Gaïac!
At Club Gaïac, we’ve been busy preparing seedlings for our launch at the 2015 Endemic Animal Festival. As we do so, we’re learning a thing or two about getting seedlings started. (You can also take a look at our previous post, Experimenting with the Tree of Life to see how we learned some of these things.)
You can typically find seeds beneath any tree that is producing seeds. So far, we’ve found that most seeds will germinate, whether obviously fresh and covered in their bright red coating or seemingly old and weathered. Seeds that have obviously been eaten or crushed are the only ones I wouldn’t bother to use.
If any seeds are still attached to the orange fruit, take them out. I have found that soaking seeds for a day or so in water will make it easy to remove any fleshy coating, and this process may also help the seeds absorb water to promote germination.
In a small glass jar with water, the seed coating will ferment, giving off a funky odor, and shaking the jar will help remove the coating from the seeds. You can rinse with water until it is all gone.
The cleaned seeds will be free of fleshy material that is prone to molding.
In order to promote germination, use a pocketknife or other implement (carefully!!!) to expose the radicle, which is the beginning of the root. It is at the rounder end of the seed.
Early on, we did some germination in damp paper towels, which did promote germination, but also resulted in mold and rotting of the radicle. Here are examples of a few problems we had.
Currently we have a number of trays of sprouted seedlings in moist vermiculite. Our trays have ample drainage, so excess water is not retained. We are keeping the vermiculite moist so the seedlings don’t dry out. Next Saturday we will be transplanting these seeds into individual starter pots containing different soil mixtures, so we will have an update soon on how this part of the process is working! We also have a handful of wild-germinated seedlings transplanted from beneath trees that are currently potted in different soils to see how they do and what percentage survive the transplantation.
The Lignum Vitae, also known as Gaïac, is a beautiful tree native to the Caribbean that is now endangered due to overharvesting, primarily for its extremely hard wood. This slow-growing tree has beautiful blue flowers and intricately-packed branches in its wide crown. It is sometimes described as a small tree, but this may be primarily because so few old, large trees are left.
In order to promote this wonderful heritage tree, I have been experimenting in order to develop best practices for germinating seeds, growing seedlings and transplanting them into permanent locations. Here are some images and notes about the germination process.
Small, orange fruits contain two seeds each. The seeds themselves are covered in a red, fleshy coating called a sarcotesta.
I started by separating seeds by the presumed age, based on how much of the sarcotesta remained.
I attempted germination by keeping them in damp paper towels.
After a week or so, the seeds retaining a sarcotesta began to mold and none germinated, even after several weeks.
Seeds without a sarcotesta (because it had worn off before I collected them, or because I had removed it) did not mold, but they didn’t germinate, either.
It turns out, the key is to remove the black casing around the seed. This time-consuming, but not too difficult to do with a pocketknife. To make the process easier, it seems that exposing the radicle, the embryonic first root, is all that is necessary, so one can scrape off just the casing around the rounder end.
Prepared this way, the seeds germinate surprisingly quickly, usually in just a couple days. So far, the best process I have found is to soak the seeds in water for a day or so: this helps remove any fleshy sarcotesta so the seeds won’t mold. It may also help kickstart the germination process. Once the seeds are clean, I scrape the round end to expose the radicle and leave them in moist paper towels in a warm room. So far, the majority of seeds prepared this way seem to be germinating.
(I got some very useful info from this 1966 article: Seed Germination and Seedling Growth of Guaiacum sanctum)