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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

What's Growing in the Nursery?

After months of hard work, our native tree nursery is now up and running, and the first shoots are starting to appear. So what are we growing and why?

Well, we are trying to assemble a wide selection of trees that are suited to the climate here and that provide a whole phalanx of useful services, including soil improvement, facilitation of other crops, food, fuel, fodder for animals, medicine, detergents, and of course being beautiful to look at. We are prioritizing native trees of the region, many of which are endangered species.

So far we have planted:
Calotropis procera (the Sodom Apple), a native of the Dead Sea basin
Ceratonia siliqua (the Carob tree), a drought hardy ubiquitous tree of the area
Acer obtusifolium (the Syrian Maple), the only native maple
Acacia tortillis, a hardy tree often found in the Judean desert and the Naqab
Styrax officinalis, the snowdrop bush, used for making incense
3 species of native oak (Quercus calliprenos, boissieri and libanii)
and Rhamnus lycioides (Palestine Buckthorn), a pioneer often used to remediate soil in afforestation projects.

We have also planted several non-natives, including:
Cassia fistula (Indian laburnum), Delonix regia (the flame tree), Moringa perigrina (a native of the Red Sea region), Anona cherimola (the Custard Apple), Leuceana leucocephala (the Lead tree - a fodder crop), Tipuana tipu (Rosewood), and Prosopis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite).

We have thousands more seeds in stock, and will continue to expand our nursery as we are able. Our priority at the moment is to grow groups of trees that are useful pioneers, colonizing and improving degraded soils, thus combating soil erosion and facilitating the growth of other species. Pioneer trees that are also good fodder crops for goats are particularly useful, since they can serve the dual purpose of supporting the livelihoods of herders and slowing overgrazing.

We will try to post regularly each week with a detailed description of the 'Tree of the Week', chosen from amongst the stock that is growing in our nursery.

This week, our 'Tree of the Week' is Calopteris procera - the amusingly named Sodom Apple:

Calotropis procera (Sodom Apple, Kisher/Usher in Arabic)

The Sodom Apple is a native tree of Palestine, found in the east, along the Jordan Valley. It is a small, shrubby tree (about 2m in height), with corky branches, simple oblong leaves, dense, multiflowered inflorescenses, and ovoid fruits containing silky fibres. All parts of the plant exude latex when cut or broken.

The tree is both drought tolerant and salt tolerant. It grows well in sandy soils in areas of low rainfall. Often colonizes overgrazed areas and abandoned areas of cultivation.

The young pods, senescing leaves and flowers are a good fodder for goats. Stems produce good charcoal and also make good timber for roofs and building huts. The latex contains 11-23% rubber, although it is a cardiotoxic poison and should be handled with care.

In addition, many parts of the plant have medicinal uses. An infusion of bark powder is used in the treatment and cure of leprosy and elephantiasis. The root bark is an emetic, the flower a digestive, and a tonic is used for asthma and catarrh. Bark and wood stimulate lactation in cattle. Roots (extremely poisonous) are applied for snakebite. The milky sap is used as a rubefacient and is also strongly purgative and caustic. The latex is used for treating ringworm, guinea worm blisters, scorpion stings, venereal sores and ophthalmic disorders; also used as a laxative. The twigs are applied for the preparation of diuretics, stomach tonic and anti-diarrhoetics and for asthma. Also used in abortion, as an anthelmintic, for colic, cough, whooping cough, dysentery, headache, lice treatment, jaundice, sore gums and mouth, toothache, sterility, swellings and ulcers.

Sodom Apple is also a soil improver, increasing soil moisture content and decreasing soil erosion, as well as being a good source of green manure.
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