March 29, 2006 – St. John's agave plants, also called century plants, are falling victim to a weevil that's turning them to jelly, V.I. National Park Ranger Deanna Somerville said Wednesday on a Friends of the Park seminar on salt pond ecology.
"We hear they were brought in through landscaping from Tortola," Friends program manager Kristen Maize said as Somerville led a half-dozen participants down the path to Salt Pond.
Somerville had lots of interesting nuggets to share during the seminar, including the fact that old-time St. John residents used the point and attached thread of an agave leaf for sewing because that's what was available.
She pointed out that a trip to St. Thomas for shopping to buy things like sewing needles and thread was a multi-day affair that involved sailing over and back, plus an overnight stay with relatives.
She said residents years ago used the pieces of white maron bush to sweep their houses. The leaves picked up the dirt and left behind a refreshing sagelike smell.
As the group walked through a patch of sand spurs, she advised the participants to spit on their fingers before pulling the spurs off their shoes to keep them from sticking to their fingers.
She also noted that since sea grapes don't ripen off the tree, there's no use picking them unless they're ripe.
Somerville also spoke about the fact that residents used what grew around them to make medicinal teas. She said that people now use antibiotic creams instead of poultices infused with those old-time bush medicines to cure skin diseases.
Somerville, who has lived on St. John for several decades, talked about how she heads out to Salt Pond every year to harvest flavorful salt from the pond. While late March is usually too early to gather salt, crystals were already forming at the pond's edge. She said that July is the prime month for salt production.
However, she said it's an arduous process that involves carefully shoveling the salt out of the pond while taking care to leave the muck behind. Then, she has to carry a bucket with dripping wet salt about a half mile back to her car before heading home to dry it in the sun.
The group made an interesting discovery during its trip around the salt pond. After Somerville explained that this particular pond is filled by water seeping up from below rather than seawater washed over a berm, the participants noticed water bubbling up along the pond's edge. A taste test showed that the bubbling water wasn't as salty as the water in the pond.
Somerville said perhaps that's why salt is never as plentiful at that end of the pond as it is at the other end.
She pointed out that since residents gathered salt before the park opened in 1956, that activity is still allowed without a permit at any of the park's salt ponds.
Dogs on the beach is one thing that isn't allowed, and Somerville's request to a group of two men and a woman not cross the beach with their big black dog on their way to Ram Head was completely ignored.
"We don't see the problem with making footprints," one man said as he, his companions and the dog marched across the beach.
Somerville said dogs are not allowed primarily because they disturb sea turtle nests. She said they also can harm sea life living at the water's edge when they bound in the water as this dog did. And, she said that since dogs are prone to poop on the beach, they leave an unsightly mess behind.
"And you're going to walk in it," she said.
Somerville, who works in the park's Interpretive Division but was using one of her regular days off to volunteer with the Friends, called on a cell phone for a uniformed enforcement ranger to deal with the matter. The outcome of this issue is unknown because the trip ended before the dog and its companions returned.
The Friends of the Park still have a handful of seminars left on its calendar.
The seminars run until the end of April. Maize said all seminars still have room. To sign up, call the Friends at 779-4940.
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