The West Indian locust can be found throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America. On St. John, it thrives in moist forest regions such as Reef Bay and Bordeaux Mountain.
Hikers on the Reef Bay Trail can pass by an excellent specimen of West Indian locust, which is identified by a National Park Service information sign. The tree serves itself up as a sumptuous meal for a medium-sized woodpecker commonly known as the yellow-bellied sapsucker.
Every so often, yellow-bellied sapsuckers visit St. John. One of their favorite activities is to drill a band of small holes in the tree’s trunk. The West Indian locust is the only tree on St. John marked in this way, thus offering those who are interested an easy method of identification.
To repair these wounds, the tree secretes a sweet sap, which the yellow-bellied sapsucker licks up with its long bushy tongue. If the yellow-bellied sapsucker is lucky, the sap will attract ants and other juicy insects, which are happily consumed along with the delicious sweet goo. The National Park information sign says that the birds make the holes in the locust tree only to attract insects and not to suck the sap. Many experts, however, do not agree with this theory.
The large seedpod produced by the West Indian locust is locally called stinking toe or old man’s toe. Despite the unappealing name, and an equally unappealing odor, many Virgin Islanders, especially children, have been known to enjoy its sweet taste.
The seedpods look like big fat toes, and the mealy pulp around the seeds, although foul-smelling, is edible and good tasting.
Curtney Chinnery, a native of Jost Van Dyke and aficionado of Virgin Island culture, gives this description of the stinking toe fruit:
“We here in the Virgin Islands call the fruit of the West Indian locust stinking toe. The fruit is brown with the shape of a large toe. The shell is hard and not easy to break. The inside substance is dry, hairy, powdery, and yellow.
The seed is the same shape as the fruit itself, only smaller. Once the shell is open, an odor is released that can be said to be just about unbearable. This is a strange thing because the locust fruit tastes so good once one engages in eating it. Then it’s not easy to be satisfied by eating just one.
Unfortunately, the odor from the locust is a lingering one, and this may cause you problems. For example, it is not easy to get someone to kiss you after eating a stinking toe fruit.”