The Seed Swap


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Our island of volcanic rock, isolated by miles of sweet sea in every direction, was completely separated from the rest of the world. As Ometepe Island emerged from the majestic Lake Cocibolca, new species of plants were introduced by the birds and animals hardy enough to survive the journey. Seeds hitched a ride to the island hidden in the plumage of birds. Insects and spiders probably rode the wind to Ometepe.

Over time, new species of plants and animals were introduced by sweet sea-faring visitors and indigenous tribes who were called by a vision to settle in the land of two hills. The arrival of mankind permanently severed Ometepe Island’s isolation, thus introducing a variety of animal and plant species not native to the area. Today, the steady traffic of ferries to and from the island brings a constant stream of invasive species.

We are also guilty of introducing new species of plants to the island. My friend, Carole, smuggled a sweet potato in her luggage, and now Ron is known as the sweet potato king of the island. Is this a bad thing? I’m not sure. All of the new species smuggled, exchanged, and carried to the island immediately begin to compete with native species, and the native species almost always are on the losing end of the battle. Several years ago, expats started a Tilapia farm on the Maderas side of the island. Some of the Tilapia escaped, reproduced rapidly, and continue to compete for food with the native fish species, Guapote.

Last week, we were invited to a seed swap on the other side of the island. Among the seeds and saplings, we found a Jackfruit tree. A.heterophyllus-jackfruit(1)  In researching the Jackfruit tree, I found that it was introduced in Brazil as a reforestation project. This program was the first Brazilian initiative to recover a forest ecosystem previously devastated by sugarcane and coffee cycles. However, the Jackfruit has become an invasive species. The rainforests have suffered major impacts due to biological invasion, and Brazil had to start management and control of this invasive species.

I don’t want to start an invasion meltdown…it’s quite a dilemma. I enjoy my sweet potato pies and Jackfruit cookies. On the other hand, the introduction of non-native species negatively impacts our fragile ecosystem. The statistics are startling and more attention must be paid to the problem. Awareness is the first step.

Fortunately, most of the seeds and plants at the seed exchange were native species. The locals have an astounding knowledge of the medicinal uses of all the plants and trees on the island and I learned many uses of the seeds, barks, leaves, and roots of the plants. It was a great day on the other side of the island. Enjoy my slideshow trip.