The heart of the Tree Bank is the Tree Bank Nursery, located behind the primary school in a section of Los Cerezos called “La Berenjena” (the eggplant). All of the program’s trees get their start here, and teams of volunteers, intermingled with school kids, can be found working here most mornings.
All nursery stock is available for free to members of our Dominican partner organization, the Asociación de Productores de Bosques, Los Cerezos (Los Cerezos Forest Producers Association). In exchange for the trees and the benefits associated with them, Association members help maintain the nursery.
About 20 tree species are in propagation, although the number fluctuates from season to season. Of these, 15 are native to the island. Four of the natives are endemic; that is, they occur naturally only on Hispaniola. One of those endemics, Hispaniolan pine (Pinus occidentalis), is listed by the IUCN as endangered. Of the native non-endemics, one, west Indian mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), is also listed as endangered. Another, the Spanish cedar (Cedrela odorata), is listed as vulnerable.
The non-natives in propagation are mostly orchard species, primarily citrus, cacao (the cocoa tree), and coffee. There is also one non-native timber species, a type of pine. None of these trees are invasive.
All of the native species are grown from seed collected from local ecotypes (local, wild native-tree populations). The seed is collected by our member farmers and by representatives of the Dominican Federal Natural Resources Department. The planting of local ecotypes is an important “best practice” in ecological restoration because that helps maintain the genetic diversity and local adaptation in the species planted. That’s why we focus on local-ecotype production at both our Tree Bank Nursery and our Wild Plant Nursery in the Washington, DC, area.
The seeds are sprouted in sand-filled germination beds, then
transplanted into plastic “grow bags” and set out in our 4,300-square-foot terraced container yard. The nursery can house about 7,000 plants at any given time, but given the tropical climate that allows plants to grow year-round, and the lack of large herbivores (like deer), the nursery produces about 20,000 trees in an average year.
Just uphill from the container yard is a covered pavilion — you might call it a shed without walls—where thousands of grow bags are filled each season. We mix our potting medium from local soil, leftover hulls from the last rice harvest, and composted cow manure.
The nursery is a modest facility at this point, but we are gradually expanding and improving it, as our finances allow. In March 2010, we bought a used pickup truck and put it into service for the nursery. The pickup has greatly extended our planting range; in the pre-pickup era, we sometimes resorted to packing seedlings onto donkeys to get them out of the nursery. The pickup has also made it much easier to keep materials flowing into the nursery; before we bought our own pickup, we sometimes had to wait for weeks to rent or borrow one. We managed another major improvement in July 2011, when we installed a cistern at the nursery. The nursery’s water arrives by pipe, from a big cistern farther up the mountain, but the pipe is occasionally crushed by errant logging trucks, and an extended drought during the first half of 2011 made it obvious that the nursery needed its own water reserve. In 2015, we installed a second cistern, built a garage for the nursery's pickup truck, and extended the shade-cloth covering, to increase our container yard by about 50%. We are also trying to bring more native tree species into propagation.
Banner: Tree seedlings in "grow bag" containers, at the Tree Bank Nursery. Photo by Chris Bright.