| Material Information
||The time is right for a return to our native Christmas trees
||December 21, 1995
EnvironmentThe Daily'News. Thursday. December 21, 1995
The time is right for a return
to our native Christmas trees
Every year. people bring the for-
est into their home. The Christmas
tree is decorated with lights and
gifts are placed under it
Although Christmas is the time
when millions of people celebrate
the birth of Christ, the Christmas
tree is celebrated by millions sub-
After all. Christmas is not
Christmas without a Christmas tree.
If you do not believe me. drive to
the major shopping centers through-
out the Virgin Islands and see peo.
ple buying Christmas trees. Some
people even buy artificial trees.
Trees are as much a pan of our
lives as we are a pan of trees. Trees
give us oxygen. And In return. we
give trees carbon dioxide.
The greatest threat to mankind is
not a nuclear war but the destruc-
lion of the tropical rain forest.
Without the forest, man cannot sur-
vive. For example, about one third
of the total number of earth ani-
mals. plants and microorganisms
occur in South America.
Terry Erwin of the National
Museum of Natural History has
estimated that the total number of
species in South America might be
much higher. His calculations indi-
cate a regional total of perhaps 15
Believe me. whatever the final
figure. the number of unknown
species is staggering.
The fresh waters of South Amer-
ica are inhabited by about 5.000
fish species. This amounts to about
one-eighth of all the world's fish
On the Andes mountain slopes.
80 or more species of toads and
frogs exist within one square mile
- almost as many as in the entire
Ecuador has more than 1.300
species of birds roughly twice as
many as are In the United States
Hundreds of new species of ani-
mals and plants, including many
tree species, are being discovered in
South America yearly. Nearly 800
species of reptiles and amphibians
known to man occur in Ecuador
have been discovered since 1970.
and many more still are being
The northern countries of South
America are home to some 750.000
species that are poorly known to
About 85 percent of our food
directly or indirectly comes from
tropical rain forest wild plants.
Plants are an important source of
food, not to mention oils, chemicals,
medicines, and renewable fuels.
Yet. we know very little about
tropical organisms and their poten.
tial value to humankind. By saving
the rain forest and animals species,
we are also investing wisely in the
survival of our own species. But
despite the richness of tropical veg-
elation worldwide. man continues
to alter and destroy the forest
The dire consequence is the
extinction of plants and animals
species that took million of years to
Here we are celebrating Christ-
mas with a tree.
As a child, I used to look for-
ward to hiking up into the moun-
tains with my father on St. Thomas
to harvest our native Christmas tree.
That was a cultural tradition for
many local families. Today, the tra-
dition has practically died out. In its
place. we have imported pine
Our native Christmas tree. local-
ly known as inkberry. is a spiny
shrub or small lree that grows about
10 to 20 feet lull. The trunk is about
3 inches in diametcl with an elect
axis and a think crown of many
nearly horizontal spiny branches
The bark is smoothish and gray or
The leaves are opposite each
other and clustered into four at the
end of short lateral stens. The flow-
ers of the inkberry tree are small.
with a four-lobed corolla. The berry
contains several rounded seeds in
blue and black pulp. The tree flow-
ers throughout most of the year.
in the old days. local fishermen
made rods from the ngid stems. A
blue dye is also made from the
berries, giving it its name.
The berries can be eaten and
used for home remedies as well.
The tree grows in thick and open
forest mostly in dry coastal and
mountain areas of the islands.
Why not decorate u native
Christmas tree in your home this
Christmas season. After all. it fits
the definition of being native.
Olasce Duris. w"hu Ihnlt ua ius-
ter of science degree in range mann-
ngemreni amn forestry ertdlogy. Un o
St. Croix ecologis. arnrtls aund
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