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There are right ways and wrong ways to reforest in the wet tropics. We are still learning, but after 15+ years of experience with planting trees, we're on the right track! Our best practices include:
reforesting ONLY with species that are native to the region (we do also plant a few 'exotic' fruit species close to our facilities)
sourcing seeds and seedlings as locally as possible to avoid moving different genotypes around the Amazon
ensuring that tree seedlings are planted in appropriate habitat (including soil type, frequency of flooding, etc.).
using no chemical fertilizers, fungicides or pesticides (we do use 100% organic neem-oil fungicide to control leaf-cutter ants which can defoliate a seedling overnight)
growing seedlings in our shade-houses to sizes optimal for transport, planting and survival in the field.
planting seedlings in regenerating agricultural land and pasture where we can jump-start the successional process with seedlings of primary forest trees.
regular weeding and vine removal from saplings until they are 3-4 meters (10-12 feet) in height. After that, they can hold their own.
providing seedlings to local land-owners to plant on their own lands. This adds value to their land and will provide future income while providing immediate ecological value.
avoiding monocultures. In our planting areas we usually plant 8-12 different species of trees, and also leave naturally occurring seedlings of dozens of secondary forest species. We try to mimic the natural forest structure, which means keep it as diverse as possible!
The tree species at right give a good idea of the variety of species that we plant. The list is NOT comprehensive though.
Shade-houses and arboretum at Santa Cruz Forest Reserve
Shade house with varied light levels
Having more than one type of shade-cloth is very useful. Some primary forest species establish best in deep shade (the black shade-cloth) while other species like more light (the green shade-cloth)
Collapsed shade house
Like anything else in the wet tropics, shade houses don't last forever! The wooden posts of this one rotted through, and it underwent a slow-motion collapse (no seedlings were harmed). With a bit of stitching up, the shade-cloth was recycled onto a new frame.
Garcinia macrophylla (Clusiaceae)
Garcinia macrophylla leaves
Known locally as "charichuelos", paired leaves with narrow parallel veins and sticky yellow sap aid in identification.
Garcinia macrophylla habit
Although it also grows in upland sites, charichuelos grows particularly well in seasonally flooded areas. This sapling is already fruiting at just 3-years of age.
Apulea leiocarpa (Fabaceae)
Ana caspi beams
The durable wood is highly valued for bridges, boat keels, and other outdoor construction. These 4 meter (12') beams weigh about 55 kg (120 lbs) each, and were carried about 1 km (> 1 mile) through the forest.
Finished bridge with ana caspi planks
Thick ana caspi boards screwed onto the beams provide the walking surface of the bridge. As you can note, the area under the bridge is now flooded, and will eventually have a 1-2 meter (3-6') water depth below the bridge deck.
Manilkara bidentata (Sapotaceae)
Manilkara bidentata seedlings
Seedlings grow relatively quickly, and are usually ready to plant out in semi-shade after 5-7 months of care.
Simarouba amara (Simaroubaceae)
Simarouba amara seedling
Older seedlings turn green, and plants can typically be planted out 3-4 months after potting.
The red-eyed treebug is so consistently found on "marupa" trees that it is often easier to find trees by looking for the bugs, rather than looking for the characteristic leaves which are often way over your head. Clusters of the bugs can appear downright demonic though!
Vitex triflora (Verbenaceae)
Vitex triflora seedlings
The seeds are fairly small, but germinate well in seedbeds, and once the seedlings are several centimeters tall, they can be gently uprooted and repotted in planting bags.
Vitex triflora beetle damage
Beetles love the young leaves and leave them full of holes, but despite the leaf damage, growth is quite fast.
Minquartia guianensis (Olacaceae)
Minquartia guianensis leaf
Strong parallel venation is useful in identifying seedlings, and once established, the tree grows well in both seasonally flooded and upland sites.
(Rubiaceae) 'capirona del bajo'
The wood is quite heavy but brittle. Furniture made from it is durable, but pieces need to be drilled and screwed, as nailing causes the wood to split.
Copaifera reticulata (Fabaceae)
'copaiba, diesel tree'
Copaifera reticulata leaves
As with many other rainforest legume trees, leaves have multiple leaflets with curving shapes. The species fixes nitrogen in the soil, helping to enrich the nutrient poor soils of the Amazon.
Seeds of this species are hard to come by, and often have poor germination, so we are hoping that the arboretum saplings will start fruiting soon and provide a local source of fresh seed for propagation.
(Fabaceae) ' shihuahuaco'
Dipteryx macrocarpa seedlings
The seed pods have a sweet coating eaten by animals, and macaws and large parrots also break open the pods to eat the nuts inside. Fortunately they are sloppy eaters, so we gather up dropped pods below the canopy of parent trees at the forest reserve. Alternate soaking and drying of the pods over the course of a week results in a high germination rate.
Dipteryx seed tree
The tallest tree in the back is one of our seed trees at Santa Cruz and is about 35 meters (120') in height. When fruiting, it attracts large numbers of parrots.
Hymenaea courbaril (Fabaceae)
Hymenaea courbaril-4 year sapling
One of the legume trees that becomes a canopy giant, this species is known as "azucar huayo" or "sugar fruit" after the sweet coating on the seedpods. The coating is relished by monkeys, parrots and other animals.
Hymenaea courbaril-azucar seedlings
The large 2-cm (3/4') seeds germinate readily and produce robust seedlings. We collect the seeds under the canopy of known "mother" trees.
Hymenaea courbaril-4 year sapling
This four-year old sapling shows a different growth form in a sunny location than it would in the shade. When shaded, tropical trees get leggy, reaching for higher light levels as soon as possible. In high light levels, they become more dome shaped, maximizing their light exposure.
Aniba rosiodora (Lauraceae)
'palo de rosa, rosewood'
Aniba rosiodora seedlings
These seedlings represent 10's of 1000's of dollars of value if they make it to maturity. The essential oil distilled from rosewood is most famously used in the perfume Chanel #5.
Aniba rosiodora planted seedling
A newly planted seedling at the Santa Cruz Forest Reserve. These seedlings need considerable shade and even at this size, have a delightful odor. In July 2020, we planted about 700 seedlings.
Bertholletia excelsa (Lecythidaceae)
'castaña, Brazil nut'
Bertholetia excelsa older leaves
Older leaves have lots of cellulose, lignin and indigestible compounds that make them unpalatable to herbivores. These leaves may last for two years or longer before they are shed by the tree.
Bertholletia excelsa tree tag
The trees in our arboretum are tagged with their planting dates and a unique ID number on a durable aluminum tag. This helps us keep track of their history.
Plant a Tree in Peru!
We always encourage visitors to our Amazon field sites to plant their own "personal" tree, but even if you can't visit in person, you can still plant trees through our reforestation program. Our on-the-ground costs include the purchase of locally-sourced seeds and seedlings, planting bags, organic compost and sand, shade-house materials and maintenance, weeding and some transportation.
Depending on seed availability and rarity, it costs us from US $2 to US $5 to get a sapling firmly established in the ground. We'll say an average of US $2.50 / tree.
Carapa guianensis (Meliaceae)
'andiroba, swamp mahogany'
Carapa guianensis sapling
Initial growth of seedlings is very fast since the seeds have considerable nutrient reserves. After the initial flush of growth, however, saplings are vulnerable to attack by shoot-boring moth caterpillars. Once saplings reach ~3 m (~10') in height though, they are mostly immune to the moths and trees can reach 15 m (~48') in the space of 8-10 years.
Carapa guianensis sapling
The wood contains a natural insecticide that deters termites and wood-borers, and it is also easy to work with both hand tools and machinery, making it very popular for durable construction. Many of our field station structures are built of this wood (but for every tree we cut, we also plant a few dozen seedlings!).
Guarea guidonia (Meliaceae)
Guarea guidonia seedlings
If you think these seedlings look just like any number of other seedlings, you are right. It takes a sharp eye and considerable experience to identify seedlings at this size. Happily some of our neighbors are experts in doing so. Most people in rural Amazonia can identify the plants and uses of dozens of native species, and some know the identity and uses of hundreds of species of plants.
Cedrela odorata (Meliaceae)
'cedro, Spanish cedar'
Maclura tinctoria (Moraceae)
Maclura tinctoria fruits
Seedlings are tiny - basically you mush up the fruit and smear it on the top of a seedbed with a tiny bit of soil on top. The wood is hard and durable and the bark and wood is used as a cure for toothaches, having reported anesthetic properties.
Virola peruviana (Myristicaceae)
'caupuri, cumala caupuri'
Spondias mombin (Anacardiaceae)
''ubos, motelo huayo'
Ceiba pentandra (Bombacaceae)
'lupuna, kapok tree'
Brosimum rubescens (Moraceae)
Grias newberthii (Lecythidaceae)
'sacha mango, jungle mango'
"Sacha mango" literally means "jungle mango". It bears a vaguely mango-shaped and sized fruit on short branches on the lower part of the tree trunk. While most of the fruit is comprised of a large seed, a thin layer of flesh over the seed has the texture of carrot and a pleasant nutty flavor. A perfect jungle snack. Due to their large size, the seeds can be planted directly in the soil rather than being potted up.
Swietenia macrophylla (Meliaceae)
Seeds are expensive - about $200 per kg (when they are available). We have a single identified parent tree in our larger region and these seeds were collected under it. The very long "wing" helps disperse the seeds when a gust of wind knocks them loose from the seed pod.
Pouteria caimito (Sapotaceae)
Couma macrocarpa (Sapotaceae)
Mauritia flexuosa (Arecaceae)
Guazuma crinita (Malvaceae)
The wood is very light and useful only for produce boxes, concrete molds, and similiar once-only uses. It is a good tree for quickly establishing some shade in degraded habitats.
Inga edulis (Fabaceae)
'guaba, ice-cream bean'
Schizolobium amazonicum (Fabaceae)
Schizolobium amazonicum sapling
This plant is only a few months old and can reach 10-20 meters (35-70') in 4 or 5 years. As a nitrogen-fixing legume, this is an excellent restoration tree for impoverished soils.
Mangifera indica (Anacardiaceae)
Plinia clausa (Myrtaceae)
Campomanesia lineatifolia (Myrtaceae)
Campomanesia lineatifolia fruit
Palillo ('pah-lee-oh') is another native fruit related to the guava. Fruits can sometimes be found in marketplaces, but they don't last long so they are mostly eaten on the spot when found.
Quararibea cordata (Malvaceae)
Zapote fruit (top)
The brownish fruits (at the very top of this sampling of native fruits) have several large seeds inside, each covered by stringy orange flesh with a flavor reminiscent of mango.
Cedrelinga cateniformis (Fabaceae)
Tornillo ('tore-knee-oh') is a legume tree much in demand for its high quality timber, and consequently seriously over-harvested
Euterpe precatoria (Arecaceae)
Poraqueiba sericea (Metteniusaceae)
Umari ('ooh-ma-ree') is a native tree that has been domesticated for millennia. Fruits have a nutritious coating over the seed which is scraped off and used like butter, or simply eaten directly.
Colubrina glandulosa (Rhamnaceae)