Sunday, January 15, 2012

When Replacing Australian Pines with native Red Cedar Trees - Think BIG

My neighbor  invited me to see how big a Red Cedar tree can get.  She knew from my earlier blog that I planned to plant one in my yard.  She had planted one a number of years ago in her own backyard and wanted me to see the size of it today.  She said that if she had known how big it was going to get, she would have planted it farther away from the house.  This is what she showed me:

Now I realize how much space I need to give this baby Red Cedar to grow! It certainly pays to plan ahead.

The tree is lovely and dense.  I think that it would be best to place it in a place where privacy is desired.
Here is a close up of its branches.

 I will plant it on the north side of our house, just as my neighbor did,  but a bit farther away.

My Red Cedar in a pot, ready for planting

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rainy Day in Paradise

When it rains on this island, it rumbles.  

Last night lightening streaked across the sky, thunder woke us up several times.  Finally, early yesterday morning, it burst into rain.  We got up to watch.  Our electricity was off inside the house, but there was plenty of electricity in the sky.
Front road mud puddles

Afterward, bright grey water settled on the dirt road out front
quite different from the brown mud-puddle 
that we get in New York.  This water reflects softened coral rock.

After awhile, the sky broke open with scattered light.

The ocean was still but the sky was not.

Plants opened up and started uncurling from their parched positions, relaxed with water.

This coconut palm captured the joy of water received.

Our Birdhouse
The backyard looks greener, softer.  The birdhouse sits midst stunning greenery.

Sabal Palm tucked under old almond tree stump.

Native sea grape in rain.

Wet hibiscus overlooks native plants.

Our upper deck, as our neighbor call it, overlooking nature's theatre.

A perspective on our home from the  point of view of the native sea grape.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Encouraging Native Plant Growth Under Casuarinas (Australian Pines)

Posted by PicasaWhat grows well under those pesky Casuarinas or Australian Pines?  (Latin names: Casuarina equisetifolia and Casuarina glauca).

My neighbor plans to remove the Australian Pines in front of his house and asked how to prevent erosion. He wants to try the method that Martin suggested in his blog, of cutting them down slowly, allowing undergrowth to get started. And he wanted to know, what grows under Casuarinas? 

I got out my camera and decided to photograph some of the plants growing around the stump of a giant Casuarina in an area that we had  cleared of Australian Pines.

Stage One
Here is what our site looked like when we started.   One could see the ocean through the Australian Pine trees, but not very well.  Although there was other vegetation, it was well hidden and certainly not flourishing.

The first year, we started to remove the Australian Pines by removing many small, baby trees.  At first, we used a machete and just cut down the 7 to 10 footers.  Then I spent a number of days pulling out smaller ones by hand, roots and all.  Most of the ones that I pulled out were three feet high or shorter.   I counted that I removed over 700 small baby Casuarina plants, by hand  while using a pickaxe to pull the root out.  It was a tiring job, but the view of the beach and the ocean was beautiful making it a pleasant work site, especially in the cool of the early morning.
Stage Two, opening up to undergrowth

After doing all this we began to see other trees emerging around the remaining Casuarinas.  Then new groundcover started to show, but not very clearly.  We got a view of the ocean.  And the baby plants got some sunlight.  But we still had more work to do.

Stage Three, New Growth
The next year, we cut down a giant Casuarina that was out in front of our house.  Now the other plants really started flourishing.  We added some Coconut Palms.  In addition, the Seagrape (Coccoloba Uvifera), Coco Plum (Chrysobalanus Icaco) and the Bay Geranium (Ambrosia hispida), among others, emerged and started to grow everywhere, on their own.  I took a series of shots below showing all the plants that now grow naturally around the old Casuarina stump.   Here they are.

Thatch Palm
Bay Cedar  (Suriana maritima)

Palmetta Palms
Bay Geranium
Coco Plum
Sea Heather

It is so wonderful to have all this diversity of plant life. The birds and butterflies like it too. They flutter from plant to plant, eating seeds and lighting on them, probably enjoying the ocean view, as do we.

You can see that I have yet to learn the name of all the plants in my front yard. This is because I did not purchase them at any nursery.  They emerged naturally, once the invasive plant was fully removed. In other words, they did not arrive in containers with plastic labels showing their names. But my neighbors are teaching me the names of these native plants.   As I learn their names, I will add them to the photos.

We recently bought two additional plants that we will be putting into the ground around our house.   They are highly recommended and are great native replacements for the Australian Pine.  They are Lignum Vitae (Gualacum sanactum) and Red Cedar (Juniperus bermudiana). We just bought one of each from our local nursery called Wonderland Gardens in Marsh Harbour.  Here is what they looked like when we bought them.
Baby Lignum Vitae
Red Cedar
These two plants are natives that like the native soil, the sunlight and the ocean salt.  According to our book from the Friends of the Environment, Abaco, Bahamas called  " A Guide to native and Invasive Plants in Abaco", both the Lignum Vitae and the Red Cedar plant are protected trees of the Bahamas.  We will be planting them in the next few days.  For the longest time I could not find them in the local plant nurseries and was very pleased to find them available for sale this year.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eat Australian Pine Seeds (Or Get a Bug to do it For You)

Sunrise under an Australian Pine in the Abacos

One way to control the problem of the proliferating Australian Pine tree in the Bahamas is to eat the seeds!
But I cannot find a single recipe calling for Australian Pine seeds.

Australian Pines line the beach of Eight Mile Bay
Unfortunately, insects in the Bahamas don't eat them either.  Thus the pines proliferate.

Australian Pines are free to reproduce in the Bahamas because there are no people or insects in our area that eat their seeds . Hundreds of thousands of these uneaten seeds are dropping to the ground and growing spontaneously, everywhere, uneaten by either humans or insects, or even fish.  Now that is a special kind of problem, a population problem.  If we could learn to control the population of Australian Pine, then perhaps we could live happily with them, mingling in their shade, burning their wood, and crafting them into tables and chairs, as needed.

A group of researchers, mostly entomologists, are hoping to find a good set of bugs that will eat Australian Pine seeds.

I am happy to report that Australians are involved in the research project.  In my opinion, it makes sense to have them collaborate with us on this problem since they are the culprits who, several hundred years ago, sent us these trees.  I figure they ought to know a lot about them or at least might have a few pine seed recipes that they could share.

But now we have another problem.  Australians don't necessarily have the same issue with the trees that we do, because in Australia, there are a group of insects all eating Australian Pine seeds, thus controlling the size of the Australian Pine tree population. We, on the other hand, acquired the trees without the natural controls.  This helps explain why Australians like their pines and we don't always share their viewpoint.

Which bugs eat Australian Pine seeds and how do we get them?

Wait a minute, not so fast!  There is a bit of work to do before one takes a new bug into our environment.  For example, we have to make sure that something eats the bug and that it doesn't become yet another invasive problem.  We also have to be sure that that bug over there in Australia is going to like the specific "Australian Pine" seed that we now have here in the Bahamas.

Until this is resolved, and we decide who or what is going to eat the seeds, I ask:
What can we do with Australian Pines? 
Stay tuned. 

The Australian Pine

Recently, I asked  Martin,  an Australian friend of mine to write in his blog about how Australian Pines might be used here in the Bahamas.  The Australian Pines, or "Casuarinas"  have the reputation of being "invasive plants", rather unmanageable and growing everywhere, with and without permission, thus being largely viewed in the Bahamas and in Florida as giant weeds.

He replied with some very thoughtful commentary.  Here is what he said:

Thank you, Martin, for your thoughtful remarks.

Let's see if we can't get some additional good ideas about how to manage and use these pines from both sides of the world.

Monday, January 2, 2012