Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John, U.S.V.I.


Learning to Identify and Care for St. John Trees and Plants

A project of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. John, Green Sanctuary Committee

This is a project designed to raise awareness among UUF members and the broader St. John community about the important ecological (and spiritual) roles of common trees and plants, while also providing useful information about growing edible fruits and preserving valuable species. It is supported by a grant from the VI Department of Agriculture’s Urban and Community Forestry program..

Main activities:

– Mobilizing volunteer participants to learn about, report on and photograph one or two individually selected local trees and plants throughout the year – including, if possible, photos of the bark, leaves,flowers, pods and fruits, as well as any birds, pollinators and other creatures interacting with the trees and plants;

–  Consulting with experts who can answer questions about tree and plant identification and care;

–  Posting information and discussions (plus reflections and poems) on Facebook and the UUF website;

–  Holding public meetings to share information;

–  Publishing a printed tree guide booklet for distribution; and

–  Putting up signs to identify particularly valuable or interesting trees on St. John.

 We hope that members of the UU Fellowship and other St. John community members will enjoy participating in this new project.

For more information, and to order our
Tree Book “Learning about Trees and Plants”

please contact:

Suki Buchalter, sukistjohn@gmail.com, 340 642-3739
Gail Karlsson, gkarlsson@att.net, 340 513-9255

UUF TreeProject Appreciation Project, St. John VI Facebook Page

Project Experts

Eleanor Gibney: A life-long resident of St. John, Ms. Gibney is a horticulturist with a particular interest in native Virgin Islands flora. She has been propagating and growing native plants, especially rarer and threatened species, for over three decades. Additionally, she is a student of Virgin Islands history, focusing on historic land use and its effects on present-day forests and species distribution. Ms. Gibney is the author of A Field Guide to the Native Trees and Plants of East End, St. John, and co-editor of St.

John: Life in Five Quarters, Selected Readings from the Archives of the St. John Historical Society.

She has recently worked on an Island Resources Foundation project funded by the VI Department of Agriculture’s Urban and Community Forestry program on rare and endangered trees and plants in the US Virgin Islands, and contributed to a report Plants of Conservation Concern: Herbs and Plants of the US Virgin Islands.

Kevel Lindsay: A national of Antigua, Kevel Lindsay is a trained forester and biologist, with a degree in biodiversity conservation from Columbia University. He has worked with Island Resources Foundation’s regional Biodiversity Conservation Program (initially based in Antigua) since 1995, currently serving as the program’s regional coordinator. Mr. Lindsay is an expert on Caribbean plant ecology and faunal species, particularly birds and bats. He is a principal contributor to several key biodiversity planning documents prepared by the Island Resources Foundation, including a vegetation classification system for Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is coauthor of The Wild Plants of Antigua and Barbuda (2009, 405 pp.) and the author of The Ferns of Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda: An Atlas and Illustrated Field Guide to the Native and Naturalised Ferns.

He was also one of the authors of the recent Island Resources Foundation report Plants of Conservation Concern: Herbs and Plants of the US Virgin Islands.

Additional experts: The UU Tree Appreciation Project also expects to invite input from other local experts and engage guest speakers from the St. John community to help educate participants about trees and plants (for example, small scale local farmers with expertise in planting and maintaining fruit trees, and long-term residents with knowledge about traditional uses of local trees and plants).

GO: Tree Book 

Learning to notice and identify different types of trees within what first appears to us as a nameless blur of green helps us become more aware of the natural world, and of our own place within it. 

Trees with Similar Feathery Leaves

UU tree project tamarind leaves 2

Tamarind trees were reportedly brought to the Caribbean from India in the 1600s. Besides producing tasty, tangy treats, the big tamarind trees have long provided outdoor shade in the Virgin Islands for social and political gatherings. Some people have also viewed the large gnarled trunks of old trees as homes for the spirits of ancestors, or jumbies.

UU tree project handout tan tan leaf

Tan-tans or false tamarinds are invasive trees introduced more recently from Central America. They grow quickly in spaces where land has been disturbed, especially along roadsides. They are much smaller than true tamarind trees – often more like bushes – and produce no useful fruits, only numerous seeds that can lie dormant for a long time before aggressively sprouting up.

UU tree project acacia muricata leaves

Amarat trees tend to be mistaken for tan-tans due to their similar leaves. They are actually native to the Virgin Islands, though, and are related to the thorny casha trees, but without the spines. They are elegant-looking trees, much less aggressive and therefore less visible than the invasive tan-tans.

UU tree project acacia tortuosa leaves

Casha (Acacia tortuosa) is native to the Virgin Islands and able to thrive in dry, salty areas and rocky soils. These scrubby trees are notable for the large thorns at the base of their leaves. Getting stuck by one of these thorns can result in an infected wound, so most people and animals steer clear of them.

UU tree project catch and keep

Catch-and-keep, another native, is extremely unpopular. It is a smaller, more vine-like relative of casha that thrives in disturbed areas like tan-tans and often forms impenetrable thickets. Its leafy tendrils are covered with small vicious thorns that reach out and grab anyone who comes near, tearing into their clothes and skin.

UU tree project flamboyant leaves

Flamboyant trees are native to Madagascar, but have been welcomed and planted throughout the Caribbean because of their beautiful red/orange flowers. These trees are quite large, with wide spreading branches, but not tall like the tamarinds.