Group Title: Olasee Davis articles
Title: Rain forest is like a cultural history book
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/CA01300919/00061
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Title: Rain forest is like a cultural history book
Physical Description: Archival
Language: English
Creator: Davis, Olasee
Publication Date: July 22, 1994
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Bibliographic ID: CA01300919
Volume ID: VID00061
Source Institution: University of the Virgin Islands
Holding Location: University of the Virgin Islands
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

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18 The Daily News, Friday, July 22, 1994


Environment


Rain forest is like a cultural history book


Whenever I conduct environ-
mental hikes, I include a cultural
history of the area.
The rain forest on St. Croix is
becoming one of the popular hiking
recreation places, where locals and
visitors alike can learn about the
diversity of plants, animals and
habitats.
Hikers learn how the forest
keeps soil from eroding, absorbing
rainwater and releasing it slowly to
streams, protecting fisheries in estu-
ary sand coastal waters, stabilizing
climates, and serving as a boost for
the local economy and recreation.
Many people do not know that
Spring Gardens, where the deep
Caledonia rain forest begin, once
had extensive plantations of coffee.
cocoa, mangoes, oranges, vanilla.
and other tropical fruits growing
along the stream areas. Some of
these fruit trees can still be found
growing in valleys and on moun-
tainsides.
In 1895, Little La Grange on St.
Croix had an extensive banana field
and more than 10.000 pineapples
were grown.
People arc fascinated when they
hear how people of yesteryear lived
and used plants for many different
purposes. In the Virgin Islands,
women who gathered medicinal
plants to sell in the market were
called weedwomen. Their knowl-
edge of medicinal plants was com-


municated from one generation to
the next.
Not every plant in the forest has
medicinal uses, but all plants do
have a purposes and function in the
Earth's ecosystem. Some plants can
be poisonous to animals and human
while other plants can be used for
food and medicine. And in some
plants, one part is poisonous and
the other is not.
On rain forest hikes, I always
tell people to observe their sur-
roundings, dress in long pants if
possible, bring water, fruits or a
sandwich, and do not touch plants
unless I tell you to.
The other day, while I was lead-
ing a group through the forest.
someone spotted a plant that looked
like a spaghetti hanging from a tree.
Many Virgin Islanders know this
plant as love vine. It is a striking
yellowish orange and is dodder (c.
americana).
It has other names: Love weed.
devil's guts, hellbind, witch's
shoelaces, angel's hair, gold thread.
There are about 170 species of dod-
der. The local plant is often found
in drier areas, but can grow in wet-
ter areas too. This plant is a parasite
which almost strangles the host
plant to death.
Once dodder attaches itself to a
host plant, it breaks all contact from
the soil and grows entirely on the
host.


Olasee
Davis


Our environment

According to Dr. Walter I.
Knausenberger, dodder attaches to
these plants in the Virgin Islands:
bougainvillea, manjack, casha.
ornamental hibiscus, poor man's
orchid, seagrape, flamboyant, cit-
rus, juju, Ixora, and turpentine tree.
In Africa, the plant has been
used as a laxative, diuretic and a
purgative. On St. Croix, a tea is
made from all pans of the plant to
treat colds and jaundice.
In the rain forest, I also point out
cowitch (Stizolobium pruriens). It is
a plant to respect. Anyone who
comes in contact with cowitch will
experience a powerful skin itching
that can last for days. It can develop
into a burning sensation, reddening
of the skin, blistering and inflam-
mation of the mucous membranes.
During the sugar cane era of St.
Croix, many farm workers were
afraid to cut cane because cowitch
was in some of the fields. Some
cane fields were so infected that the
whole field was burned.
As a boy, George A. Seaman


and his friend Buster encountered
cowitch when they hid in the mid-
dle of a cane field one day, eating
cane.
"Soon Buster said: 'George,
what the hell, man! Something is
eating me up! Don't you feel it?'
By this time, George said, he too
was beginning to feel very uncom-
fortable and wondered aloud if it
might not be ants.
George looked up and saw cow-
itch vines hanging over their heads.
And they were sitting in cowitch!
The two boys ran down to the
old La Grange sugar factory and
bathed themselves in molasses and
honey.
In Venezuela, applying oil or
grease on the affected parts is rec-
ommended. Serious cases should be
treated by a physician.
In her book "Herbs and Proverbs
of the Virgin Islands" Arona
Petersen lists cowitch as "being
used for expelling worms."
Seaman says the hairs of cow-
itch can be mixed into honey,
molasses or other sweeteners and
taken by mouth.
So hiking in the rain forest is not
just a hike, it is also a cultural expe-
rence.
Olasee Davis, who holds a mas-
ter of science degree in range man-
agement and forestry ecology, is a
St. Croix ecologist, activist and
writer.




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