Notes from the Nursery

The delicious fruits of Inga setosa, or Chimbillo Peludo.

by Manuel Huinga, Camino Verde Forestry Coordinator, and director of the CV La Joya Tree Nursery and Agroforestry Demonstration Site. Manuel is the creator of all three of CV’s tree nurseries, responsible for over 100 Amazonian species of trees propagated each year. Photos by Marco Simola. Plant portraits by Blair Butterfield.

On a rainy Wednesday at our little home, we put our daily tasks on pause. 20 months ago, we decided to make a dream come true, to make room for life.

How they have all grown, what an achievement! And what hard work. I remember every moment since we first met, I see them now and they surprise me, it makes me so happy to see them so big. From the time when they’re fist collected from the forest, each seed begins a new story, a story that is written thanks to the work of many people who are part of our team.

In our nursery, a symbiosis has arisen between plants and people, where our neighbors – mothers and daughters from the neighborhood, hardworking women –with patience and dedication fill the bags where the seeds we collect are planted. Every day our team – for me, my family – begins with cleaning tasks, to nurture the development of the seedlings that we sow. Armed with a machete and a weed whacker, our work commences.

Our friend and co-worker Elvis’s children run and play among the trees that are now growing here. In less than two years since we planted them, most of our seedlings have reached more than two meters high; recently, they were only seeds that fit in my hand. Giving a space to life, to plants, gives everyone an opportunity to live with dignity and wellbeing.

The author with one of the many children of the Camino Verde tree nurseries.

Our varied and dynamic work takes us from planting seedlings, to venturing out in the forest in search of the seeds of trees that may be bearing fruit. In other occasions, we prepare the soil substrate to fill bags, sow more seeds, and produce more seedlings of the important species of our region.

There have been days of intense heat, of rains that calm the thirst of the desolate soil of an area abandoned by cattle. Here we are, sowing, giving a push to the forest to recover the space that was always hers. For all here, our work is meant to be an example, a legacy of hope.

The felt-like leaves of Inga setosa.

It is noon. The intense rain has passed and the sun is at its maximum splendor, we are under the shadow of a Shimbillo (Inga setosa). One year after we planted it, today we enjoy the coolness of its shade. With more than three meters’ height, this species surprises us, and now even more: some flowers are seen through the young branches. It just takes a bit of listening, of paying attention to that voice that is in every heart, the voice that is committed to the earth that gives you everything to live.

Without a doubt ours is an arduous task carried out by a team that helps make the miracle of life possible. Each field trip, each seed collected, each bag filled with soil, the constant watering, the patience and perseverance, all is reflected in plants of native species destined to restore forests, where one day the children of the children who run among the trees that we sow today will play.

A 15-month old Acacia mangium at a CV agroforestry parcel. Its rate of growth on compacted soil degraded by cattle ranching is impressive.

Meeting a Few of Our Tree Friends

Inga setosa: A tree up to 15 meters high which is found mainly near water sources such as rivers and streams, adapts to poor soils, and produces fruit in the first year after planting out in the field. Another virtue of this species is its adaptability and low nutrient demand, in addition to its rapid growth, constantly generating leaves that when they fall add abundant organic matter to the soil – making I. setosa an ally in the recovery of degraded areas where no other crop or species would grow.

Acacia mangium: Although not native to South America, this species of African origin has multiple virtues. It has proved very useful in the generation of organic matter, since like Inga setosa, it is capable of developing in poor soils with rapid growth, helping in the formation of organic matter in degraded environments where there are only sand and rocks.

Inga edulis: A species highly valued for its edible fruits, which are consumed by mammals, birds and also by humans. It grows very well throughout the Amazon, and is cultivated by farmers who sell the fruits and the trunks and branches as firewood. Currently, it is being used in the recovery of areas degraded by mining, where it has demonstrated an important contribution to the generation of biomass.

Calliandra angustifolia: A small tree possessing beautiful flowers which decorate the banks of the rivers where the plant develops in groups. This species is of fast growth with potential as an ornamental and helps to prevent soil erosion. It is also valued for its medicinal properties that can help with colds and joint pains, among many other ailments.

Theobroma cacao: Cocoa is a species of ancestral use, with wide and ancient distribution from Central America to South America. Today it is grown for chocolate production, but also develops in wild populations in the Amazonian forests that we protect. The seeds from the wild trees offer intriguing aromas in the chocolate and excellent performance in shade-grown systems.

Morus nigra: Of Asian origin, black mulberry has been cultivated for its delicious fruits with which a variety of preserves and desserts can be prepared. Our team has propagated and cultivated this species and currently harvests its fruits, to the delight of all those who come to know our reforestation center in Baltimori, on the banks of the Tambopata River.

The widely beloved fruit of Theobroma cacao.

Robin Van Loon