Monday, March 7, 2011

Virgin Islands National Park

Covering around 60% of the landmass of St. John, together with much of the surrounding coastal waters, is Virgin Islands National Park, which seeks to preserve the coral reefs and tropical forests found in this part of the world. After checking out the visitor center, HB and I explored a small corner of it, taking the trail from Cruz Bay to Caneel Bay on Friday.

I was struck by how young the forest seemed; few trees were more than a foot in diameter. HB, who had actually paid attention at the visitor center, explained that the forest on St. John is all second-growth, since most of the island was leveled for sugar cane plantations during the 18th century.

Being second growth forest, much of the flora is non-native, imported from elsewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries. If I've properly identified it, this gumbo limbo tree is actually native to these parts. In the Florida Keys, the gumbo limbo is referred to as the "tourist tree" since its peeling red bark calls to mind the peeling red skin of tourists who spend too much time in the sun.

The trail we took was maybe a mile in length, but there was plenty to keep us interested. We saw a wild mongoose, but he was too fast for my slow camera reflexes. Mongeese were brought to the US Virgin Islands to keep the rat population in check, but as with elsewhere, feasted on the local bird population instead. The creepy-crawly pictured above was about as big around as my index finger, and seemed to be finding a new home in the hole on this tree.

The variety of fungi on the larger trees in the forest made me hungry. Wonder if any of them were edible and delicious?

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