Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Erythrina variegata: calendar tree of the Pacific

Erythrina variegata and its congeners are widely used as calendrical markers in Pacific Island cultures.  I have selected it, for now, as a header because it serves as an exemplar of certain research interests.  This particular tree is located on the campus of Kagman High School.  It is a tree worthy of a tale.

Despite its status as a cultural icon on numerous Pacific islands (7 I know about), on Saipan it is not a tree that is welcomed by farmers, because it serves as a reservoir for pest species.  Aubrey Moore identified it as the larval host of   Eudocima fullonia, a fruit-piercing moth.  The Erythrina gall wasp is also a problem, as noted by Aubrey Moore of the University of Guam (pers. comm.): "the erythrina gall wasp invaded Hawaii where it has become a huge problem, killing their endimic erythrina and the tall wiliwili commonly used for windbreaks.  This gall forming wasp has rapidly spread to other Pacific islands."   He also states that this tree is not considered endemic to Pacific Islands.

That latter point is of interest, because the flame tree is honored by a festival in spring / early summer, on Saipan, yet it is not a native species.

Erythrina spp. are reported as caledrical markers in New Caledonia, Palau, Lamotrek (Caroline Islands), Pohnpei, Hawaii, Tahiti, and Samoa. Even more interesting, on most of these islands its flowering is associated with pelagic events, including shark hunting, drifting logs, and whaling. Klee, in his M.S. Thesis about Palauan time reckoning, mentioned that this tree is of special interest as a dry season blooming tree, and that it always blooms the same time every year, regardless of the weather.

[caption id="attachment_10" align="alignnone" width="420" caption="Erythrina variegata at Kagman High School, 18 February 2011."][/caption]

The photo in the header was taken on February 18, 2011. This is a tale with many more twists and turns, as I intend to follow up upon.

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