How Breadfruit Arrived in the Caribbean
British planters in the Caribbean during the slave driven sugar days were interested in finding low-cost high-energy foods to feed their slaves. When captain James Cook sailed to Tahiti in 1769 on the famous ship “Endeavour” one of his officers, Sir Joseph Banks, realized that breadfruit which turns out to be one of the highest-yielding food plants in the world, would serve this purpose well.
In 1887, Banks had Captain William Bligh commissioned to sail to Tahiti on the ship “Bounty” and bring breadfruit to the Caribbean. Bligh collected a thousand small potted trees for the voyage. It was a voyage that never took place, however, as the crew mutinied and cast off Captain Bligh and his loyal officers in a longboat on the high seas. Bligh and company miraculously survived and landed on East Timor some 11,000 miles away in 1789.
In 1791, Bligh made a second attempt to bring breadfruit to the Caribbean and this time he was successful delivering breadfruit slips to planters on St. Vincent and Jamaica.
Some years back Mr. Small, best known on St. John for his work with honeybees brought over a slip of a gooseberry tree. This is the first year that the berries matured. On previous years the tree flowered, but as soon as it began to fruit the berries fell off. I believe the key here is that the tree needs a lot of water and where it’s plated here on the west coast of Chocolate Hole tends to be dry, but with all of this season’s rains the tree has fruited nicely.
The tree, a Malay Gooseberry, Phyllanthus acidus, is also called West India Gooseberry and in Puerto Rico and Santo Domingo, grosella.
The Malay Gooseberry is thought to have first grown in Madagascar and then spread through the east Indies. It was brought to Jamaica in 1793 and now can be found throughout the Caribbean and the Bahamas.
Here on St. John it is mostly used to make jam. When the gooseberries are cooked up with sugar they turn a ruby-red.
Nanny Point, located on St. John’s southeastern coast has recently been acquired by the Virgin Islands National Park Service. The 2.2-acre parcel, donated by Stanley Selengut, commands some outstanding views of Coral Bay and out towards the British Virgin islands. Mr. Selelengut, the owner of Maho Bay Camps and Estate Concordia, donated the land to the Trust for Public Lands, which then donated the Nanny Point headland to the V.I. National Park.
Nanny Point could easily have fallen into the hands of developers. The acquisition of the land by the National Park through the generosity of Mr. Selengut will ensure that Nanny Point will be available for the enjoyment and benefit of the public at large.
Thank you, Mr. Selengut!
Nanny Point, St. John US Virgin Islands (USVI)
Nanny Point also happens to be the habitat of a rare plant species, Solanum conocarpum, native only to the island of St. John.
“Solanum conocarpum is a thornless, flowering shrub that may reach more than nine feet in height and is found in dry, deciduous forest on the island of St. John.
Initially, the plants lost their dry scrub thicket habitat in the intense deforestation for cotton and sugar cane cultivation on both islands. Now, the additional threats of residential and tourism-related development, grazing by feral goats and the practice of burning off vegetation.
There are only about 220 S. conocarpum plants left in the wild in two areas on St. John – 156 plants at Nanny Point on land recently donated to the Virgin Islands National Park and 60 plants on private land.
Funded by the National Park Service, a project to propagate and reintroduce S. conocarpum into areas within the park was begun in 2003. But the plants are threatened by park management practices such as trail and facility maintenance, in addition to the feral pigs, feral goats, Key deer, and donkeys. The plants on private land are at risk from residential and tourism development.”
If you’re in decent physical shape and enjoy hiking on St. John and you’re looking for a good hike recommendation, I have one for you: the Lameshur Bay to Reef Bay loop.
This loop will not only provide you with access to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill ruins on the Reef Bay Trail, the waterfall fed pool where Taino Indians made carvings in the rocks called the the petroglyphs and the Par Force Great House where wealthy plantation owners made their home, but it will also lead you on an adventurous journey along a dramatic cliffside trail with breathtaking views, a coastal scramble along a coral rubble beach and access to a remote salt pond and reef protected shallow water lagoon.
Note: The White Cliffs portion of the loop is not an official National Park trail and consequently no official maintenance is being done. My point is, check out this outstanding trail sooner rather than later while it is still in such good condition Experience tells me it won’t be this good forever.
Although there are several modifications and alternative options the basic hike would go something like this:
1) Lameshur Bay Trail from Lameshur Bay to the Europa Spur Trail
2) Europa Spur to the beach at Europa Bay
3) Walk along the beach towards the point (White Point)
4) Pick up the Trail that goes inland and climbs steeply up to the White Cliffs Trail that runs on top of a ridge above the White Cliffs on St. John’s the southern coast between Europa and Reef Bay.
5) Follow the White Cliffs Trail until it ends on the beach at the eastern end of Reef Bay
6) Walk west along the beach as far as you can without getting wet and then walk through the mangrove forest to the Reef Bay Sugar Mill Ruins.
7) Take the Reef Bay Trail to the Lameshur Bay Trail and then hike back to Lameshur Bay.
Bring water! A camera, snacks and bug repellent might also be good ideas.
Lameshur Bay Trail from Lameshur Bay to the Europa Spur Trail
The beginning of the Lameshur Bay Trail passes through some dry forest lowlands. It’s an easy flat and shady walk – a good beginning. Check out the large tamarind tree by the side of the trail. Looks like it was split in half by lightening once upon a time.
If you have plenty of energy, you can check out the Europa Point Trail for some outstanding overlooks and photo ops, but remember the loop is rather long so perhaps the exploration of Europa Point should be left to the end of the adventure, just to see if you really do have that extra energy.
If you’re in luck like I often am, you’ll see a deer or two on this section of the hike. They seem to like it around here.
The Europa Bay Trail will take you to the beach at Europa Bay. Walk south towards the point to the end of the beach where you’ll find the entrance to the White Cliffs Trail.
White Cliffs Trail
At the end of the beach you should find a narrow but well defined trail that heads inland and then runs steeple up the hillside to the ridge above. It’s a bit tough going because of the steepness, but before you know it you’ll have reached the top. You’ll pass by some beautiful rock formations after which you should start seeing countless native orchids which seem to be everywhere along this trail and along the ridge top.
Near the top of the trail there are some great overlooks down towards Europa Bay. At the top of the steep trail, there are some more great vantage points. The White Cliffs Trail heads west from here, but you can go east for a little while and enjoy a great view towards the southeastern coastline, Kiddle, Grootpan and Salt Pond Bays.
The trail is presently in great condition and you shouldn’t have a problem following it. Once you get the section above the White Cliffs, there will be plenty of opportunities for great photographs as the trail follows the edge of a steep cliff side that descends from the ridge down to the sea.
To Reef Bay and back to Lameshur
After passing over the White Cliffs, the White Cliff Trail descends down to the beach at the eastern end of Reef Bay. A barrier reef, which forms a long semi circle around the bay comes ashore nearby. Behind the reef is a shallow lagoon, which may or may not be under water depending on the tide and time of year. This lagoon provides protection for many varieties of sea life and is an integral part of island and ocean environments.
Walk east along the beach as long as you can and then enter the mangrove forest proceeding in the same general direction until you get to the sugar mill ruins.
From there take the Reef Bay Trail to the Lameshur Bay Trail.
Ed Gibney took this photo from the top of Great Thatch’s highest mountaintop, Judging from the century plant in full bloom, it looks like Ed and his son Matthew arrived here before the first wave of Mexican Snout Beetles, culprits responsible for the decimation of century plants on St. John, the Virgin Islands and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Not so long ago, I never would have thought that a photo of a blooming century plant would be a rare find. The plant was everywhere on St. John and although they bloomed only after twenty years, there were enough of them that come Easter time, the tall flowering stalks could be seen on just about any hillside on St. John.
I used to manage a vacation rental and I found that the century plant was one of those things that visitors would often be curious about another one being a termite nest.
I would often be asked if they were aloes and I would tell them the story about how Christopher Columbus mistook these agaves for aloes, which at the time were used extensively in Europe as medicine and were valuable. And these were really big aloes, giant aloes actually, but unfortunately for Columbus not aloes at all.
Columbus had his men cut up the century plants and haul the heavy leaves back to the boat, I imagine with the sticky oozy, itchy, sap, getting all over the poor sailors, only to find out at some time that they weren’t worth anything in terms of European money was quite disconcering. Another interesting aside is that while Columbus was busy calculating his imaginary future profits in the aloe business, he passed by some Indians smoking an herb in a pipe, something that has brought entrepreneurs untold wealth up until this day, tobacco. Ignoring the tobacco, Columbus stood by and watched the presumably sweating sailors schlepping the “giant aloe” through the bush and back to the ship.
Other New World agaves, however, did prove to be of value.
The fibers from the Agave fourcroydes, known as Henequen were used to make rope and twine and set off an economic boom in Mexican state of Yucatán until they were replaced by synthetic fibers.
The popular alcoholic beverage, tequila, is made form Agave tequilana
Agave nectar a sweetener made from several different species of agave has recently become popular with food faddists due to it’s low glycemic index compared to other sweeteners such as cane sugar
Returning to St. John and my captive audience of curious visitors, there was another little piece of performance art I orchestrated for them using the century plant, the needle and thread shtick. Taking hold of the spine at the end of the century plant leaf, and pulling on it until it separated from the leaf, out would come the spine with a strong fiber still attached….
“Look,” I would say, “ready made needle and thread!”
Locals will be enjoying some fairly substantial discounts at two St. John supermarkets.
It seems that the owner of the Dolphin Market has bought out his partner at the St. John Market and will be aggressively courting local business. To do this he plans to keep his stores well stocked and offer discounts to locals.
Starting today at the Dolphin Market in Cruz Bay, locals will receive a 10% discount on purchases of more than $25.00 and a 20% discount for those who spend $50.00 or more. You’ll have to identify yourself as a local and ask for the discount. The same discount will go into effect at the St. John Market located at the Greenleaf Commons shopping plaza across from the Westin beginning next week. According to the owner these discounts will be permanent.
All about St John in the beautiful US Virgin Islands (USVI) American Paradise