TREE planting update: September 2013

Seventy percent of the approximately six hundred acres in the Project Amazonas Santa Cruz Forest Preserve is old growth rainforest with an extraordinary plant and animal diversity that draws world-class researchers, hobbyists, eco-tourists and volunteers.  The goals of the TREE team include a Hippocratic preservation of the primary forest (do no harm) and developing the former agricultural land to promote sustainable food production and accelerate its return to a natural state by prudent introduction of legacy plant species.   In addition, portions of this former “slash and burn” area are dedicated to establishing an arboretum of useful plant species, notably fruits, high-value timber trees and medicinal plants.


Just before this writing, I spent the better part of two months at the field site on the Mazan River, witnessing a disturbing increase in timber traffic, legal and otherwise.  Several new saw mills have appeared and there is a significant increase in the traffic of log rafts heading downriver.  One of the new mills now produces finished lumber in a way making it almost impossible to track the source and rein in the illegal logging trade.  Before this summer, it had never occurred to me to talk to the men and families passing days or weeks on the logs under little plastic tents on their way to the mills.  Battery powered radios help alleviate the boredom.


There is about a minute of contact time to chat with them as they pass the field site.  The average journey is five to seven days, a half day to go; days without stimulation, they relish the conversation.   I ask what type of logs: tornillo.   Cool.  I’ve got forty in bags ready to replenish the sanctuary.  Tornillo (Cedrelinga cateniformis) is a bit stubborn to start, needing an assist to get out of its seed pod, and often flounders in the field and forest.


It has been just over three years since planting began in earnest: over a thousand seeds and trees to date.  Although there have been many casualties (notably, entire trees and crates of seedlings carved up and carried into subterranean nests by Atta spp., leafcutter ants), the good news is that the survivors look terrific – explosive new growth, and several of the fruits have their first flowers.


Already among the mature fruits on the site that provide seasonal crops are charichuelo, cacao, macambo, guaba, caimito, guayaba, Brazilian guayaba, sinamillo, unguharhui, aguaje, chambira, cidra, pifuayo, uvilla, and pandisho (breadfruit).  Several of the new fruits planted from seed recently produced their first flowers or fruit: carambola (star fruit), Brazilian guayaba, cashew and anona are among those that will begin fruiting within the year.  In the wings are a significant number of young plants: camu camu, huito, guayabana, mango dulce, palta (avocado), copoazú, sapote, lucma, poma rosa, umarí and various citrus, (including trees adopted by the local school children – look for an upcoming blog on the Heritage Teachers’ Course); on the trellis are vines of the passion fruits tumbo, maracuyá, granadilla, as well as the nutritious sacha inchi.


Plantings of trees valuable for both wood and medicine increased their ranks, among them, andiroba, azucar huayo and marupa.  A half-dozen marupa, (Simarouba marupa) were acquired on the Nauta highway last year in a near wild-goose chase visiting government “nurseries.”  Marupa has a host of documented medicinal properties, including effective treatment of viral infections, intestinal parasites and malaria.  The young trees have a very attractive habit; unfortunately, the appeal of one tree escaped the machete of an overzealous local guardian while “tidying up.”SeedStarts


The future canopy trees of huimba / lupuna (Ceiba samauma) and Brazil nut now exceed three meters and are reaching for the sky, while pino chuncho and cedro (Spanish cedar, Cedrela odorata) line the paths on the old property lines.  Another CITES-protected species, caoba (mahagony, Swietenia macrophylla) has taken well to the site and is growing rapidly.  This summer, we had a high-germination rate of shihuahuaco (ironwood, Dipteryx micrantha) with 150 seedlings ready for planting in a couple of months.


An extraordinary specimen was brought from the Madre Selva field site, about four hours down the Amazon on the Rio Oroso.  Devon Graham and colleagues had found a rare conifer in the Retrophyllum genus and retrieved a pair of young plants to increase its survival chances. They are doing nicely; hopefully they are a boy and a girl!

CacaoRetrophyllum sp.

Since there is so much land to re-populate, two sections along the river were set aside to intersperse legacy trees with food production with significant plantings of yucca, sugar cane, pineapples and coffee.


A third project was begun this summer – a future butterfly / hummingbird riverfront sitting garden on a knoll on the upriver property line, the path and perimeter to be lined with spiral gingers, and medicinal, ornamental and interesting plants drawn from the primary forest.  Target date: summer of 2015.


As of August 2013, we now have a continuing volunteer presence at the site (in addition to the local guardians) to care for the seeds and tender seedlings until they become established.  This has enabled us to move the seed starting operation from Iquitos to Santa Cruz; the reduction in transportation costs and logistics will make it much more efficient.

Butterflies are specialized for distinct species of plants..

If you or someone you know wants to do something exotic and valuable for the future of the rainforest, consider a stint as guest gardener!  Also, if you have knowledge of rainforest plants, consider joining the TREE team.  Contact Don at


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