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The Tree of Life, Indeed!

Rubbing a small tree of life with ash to prepare it for application of clear-coat weather-proofing.

An artist puts the finishing touches on a small tree of life.

The Tree of Life is a very popular design. Our artists make them in astonishingly different and creative ways and our customers buy them in all their iterations with great enthusiasm. To both groups, they are representative of a number of things; the beauty of nature, the interconnectedness of living beings, and life-giving abundance. Yet there is tremendous irony about trees in Haiti. There really aren’t very many of them left.

Much has been written about deforestation in Haiti. The facts as they are presented in such online sources as Eden Projects and Triple Pundit are indeed pretty grim: Haiti has become 98% deforested and what little remains is disappearing at a rate of 30% per year. Contributing hugely to this deforestation rate is the practice of using nearly every bit of available wood for fuel. In a country with no natural gas or petroleum resources, wood is the logical choice for all cooking and heating in a poor nation whose population can afford little else. It’s a devilish problem.

Eden Projects is a charitable organization that seeks to alleviate poverty by employing locals in countries such as Nepal, Madagascar, and Haiti to plant trees. Reforestation efforts aim to reduce soil and waterway degradation, which are the first steps in boosting the land’s productivity and revitalizing the agricultural sector of the economy. It is a single, two-pronged solution to pressing economic and environmental emergencies .

One of the trees that Haitians have been hired to plant throughout the country is a variety of mesquite. Known as “bayawonn” in Haitian creole, the scraggly-looking tree is already yielding some encouraging results. Bayawonn is a particularly hardy species of mesquite that is able to withstand rough terrain, poor soil, and periods of high heat and low rainfall. Additionally, it is fast-growing – an important characteristic in establishing a tree canopy under which other plants may grow and flourish. They are particularly adept at nitrogen transfer, which it accomplishes by absorption from the air and sending it to its roots. The nitrogen is then released into the soil, thereby enriching it for other nearby plants. And there’s more! Bayawonn pods can be used as a food source for livestock while the beans can be ground into flour and made into a hearty, healthful bread. Truly, there is much to be sung in praise of the bayawonn planting program in both short-term benefits and sustainability.

In a sense, then, the Tree of Life may have a specific form. Despite all of it’s renditions conceived by artists and executed with great flourishes and embellishments, the Tree of Life in Haiti may, in actual fact be the scruffy, humble bayawonnn.

Created by Linda for It’s Cactus

The Tree of Life

RND489 by LaGuerre Dieufaite

RND489 by LaGuerre Dieufaite

In the Beyond Borders inventory, we have always had a wide and wonderful selection of Trees of Life.  In its many renditions, it has been steadfastly popular with our customers.  It has a timeless elegance, fits into many decorative schemes, and is naturally appealing.  It’s easy to love.

What’s interesting about it is how Man has understood it through time.  As a symbol, its roots (pardon the pun!) go back to ancient cultures as diverse as the Egyptians, Sumerians and Mayans. All three believed it to be, in some variation, the source of creation. The Tree of Life, with its branches reaching skyward and its roots plunging deep into the ground was viewed as the link between Heaven and Earth; uniting the realm above with that below.

Exulien Exuma sketching out a template of a Tree of Life

Exulien Exuma sketching out a template of a Tree of Life

Fast-forward a few millennia to the formation of Judeo-Christian tradition, where in the Book of Genesis, it was growing in the Garden of Eden, guarded by two cherubim and a flaming sword. It bore the Fruit of Immortality, but God insured its inaccessibility to Man. In the Book of Revelations, the Tree of Life is described as, “growing on each side of the river bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The Tree of Life as the Ancients saw it, linking Heaven and Earth.

The Tree of Life as the Ancients saw it, linking Heaven and Earth.


In more modern times, science has adopted the Tree of Life as a visual metaphor for genetic relationships and the interconnectedness of all living things. One 19th century theorist described it poetically, writing, “As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous branch out and overtop many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the Great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the Earth and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.”

In all visions; mythological, philosophical, religious, or scientific, the symbol strikes at the soul and its expression is glorious.

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Breadfruit and Metal Sculpture in Haiti

Travel is such a mind-broadening experience.  From the monumental to the minute, there are things to be learned and observations to be made.  So, sitting on the patio of the hotel on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, sipping a hard-earned brew at the end of the day, I noticed this huge, chartreuse-colored, bumpy, round fruit growing in a tree above me.  Thinking I’d seen it in an Asian food market somewhere along the line, I wondered A) What it was and B) What it was doing here.

A little on-line investigation revealed that it was breadfruit. Originating in the South Pacific, the species was spread throughout Oceania by intrepid islanders settling the numerous islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Due to the efforts of Captain Bligh and French voyagers, a few seedless varieties from Polynesia were introduced to the Caribbean in the late 1700s. These gradually spread to other tropical regions. Breadfruit is now grown in close to 90 countries. Countries like Haiti, apparently.

Breadfruit is a versatile crop and the fruit can be cooked and eaten at all stages of maturity.  It is mainly grown as a subsistence crop in home gardens or small farms and is an excellent dietary staple, comparing favorably with other starchy staple crops commonly eaten in the tropics, such as taro, plantain, cassava, sweet potato and white rice. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy. Additionally, breadfruit is a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, with small amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron. The seeds are edible, resembling chestnuts in flavor and texture. They can be boiled, roasted, or ground into meal and are a good source of protein and minerals. (Incidentally, recipes can be found at:  www.ntb.org/breadfruit)

The trees begin bearing fruit in 3 to 5 years and are productive for many decades. They require little attention or care, and can be grown under a wide range of ecological conditions. Throughout its range, breadfruit is grown in home gardens and small farms interplanted with a mix of subsistence crops, cash crops, and other useful plants. The trees form a protective overstory providing shade, mulch, and a beneficial microclimate. Cultivating breadfruit trees protects watersheds; replacing slash-and-burn agriculture and field cropping with a permanent tree cover. What a wonderful crop to plant in Haiti, where deforestation is at a whopping 98% and watershed damage due to erosion is tremendous.

Thinking this over, I looked at some of the tree of life metal sculptures on our website.  (www.itscactus.com)  Bingo – the breadfruit was there.  Tree of life.  How appropriate.

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