Thursday, August 20, 2009

Giants of old

As mentioned previously by Neil, Denham Bay has a long history of early settlement in the 1800’s and this was reflected in some of the historic trees we monitored as part of our weeding programme last week.
The shaddock tree
One such magnificent old tree is the shaddock, the origin of today’s grapefruit. It is also known as a pummelo, but acquired the name from Captain Shaddock who brought it to Jamaica from the West Indies in the 1600’s. The tree at Denham Bay was thought to have been planted by whalers in the mid 1800’s and was probably the source of fruit taken to New Zealand in1887 by Government officials for public display. The shaddock looks like a large grapefruit in appearance, but is inferior in taste, having a thick pith with dry and bitter flesh.
A pithy shaddock
Another stand of magnificent trees are the cherimoyas. The fruit is oval 10-20cm long and 7-10cm in diameter. The flesh is white with a sherbet-like texture. Mark Twain called it “the most delicious fruit known to man” but unfortunately we were unable to confirm this as the ones at Denham Bay are not fruiting at the moment. We pulled out around thirty seedlings from under these trees, although it would have been tempting to pot one up to bring home!
Cherimoya trees
Behind the hut there is an almost impenetrable copse of citrons. These trees have long needle-like thorns and were grown for their peel by the Bell family.
On the North side of the hut a number of candlenut trees still stand. These are very tall and can reach 15 to 25 metres. Candlenut trees have been used for a variety of purposes, such as as a mild laxative in the case of the oil from the nut. Also, boiled leaves or pulped kernels have been used to treat fever, headaches and even gonorrhoea. However, the settlers on Raoul mostly used the nuts themselves for lighting. They were strung on palm leaf midribs, an end was lit and they slowly burned as a candle would, but from the bottom up. As each nut took approximately 15 minutes to disappear they were also used as a measure of time.

The bay contains a variety of other old trees including oranges, limes, a turpentine tree and a date palm.

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