There are many different species of trees on the 100 acres of protected jungle at Lower Dover, and visitors are always impressed with the big ones. There a few different giants here, and most require a jungle hike to access. However, a few of them line the entrance to the property, including what remains of a huge Guanacaste tree.
The Guanacaste, Eterolobium cyclocarpum, is a giant fast growing tree deciduous species common of river lined forests. It is was one of the largest trees found in Central America, reaching heights of 40-50m (130-160 feet), and with a trunk diameter in excess of 2m (6 feet). Huge specimens can be found along the Belize River in the Guanacaste National Park, near Belmopan, the capital city. The Capital is about 9 miles from Lower Dover, which also is lined by the Belize River.The timber is water resistant, and is often used in the construction of dugout canoes, called dories. Dories are still used to this day by local fisherman, and were a favorite of the Maya. A large Guanacaste can produce 2 or 3 full sized dories. It is also the national tree of Costa Rica.*
We have many Gaunacastes on the property, however the one pictured above, succumbed to an early demise. The jungle is always at the mercy of mother nature, and in the past, hurricanes have had enough power to knock down huge trees with ease, leaving them to world that works on jungle floor. This time, it wasn’t the wind, but a violent thunderstorm, that slayed this giant. During the past hurricane season, a torrential downpour erupted mid day, and was accompanied by lightening that was striking anything it could reach. The Guanacaste, was struck twice, releasing enough electricity into the ground to overrun our fusebox, and cause damage to the entire electrical system.
Within a few weeks, all the leaves had fallen off, and the tree was dead. Although it still stands mighty in death, some of its branches posed a threat to the electrical line running underneath it. In Belize, if you live close to the grid, it is still far more cost effective to receive your power from the power company. Alternative energy is still expensive and scarce throughout Belize, but hopefully in time we can ease our dependence from the power company.
The power company was called out, and it’s branches were trimmed. Unlike more developed countries, the power company doesn’t have access to large cherry pickers, and quite frankly, a tree of this size would require an enormous reach. So they took to the old fashion way, climbing, ropes, chainsaws, and a pulley rope system.
A team of about 8 trimmers worked in unison to support the trimming process. One guy freely climbed the dead Guanacaste with only spikes in his shoes and a support rope. He then worked to tie additional ropes to the branches being cut for the ground crew to haul out of harms way from the electrical wire.
It took them only about an hour to cut all the branches that posed a problem for the electrical line, but now in death, the tree can have new life. With it’s unhindered view, it’s become a favorite of birds looking to survey the land. We’ve seen everything from toucans, parrots, hawks, woodpeckers, to small little birds enjoying the sun on it’s high branches.
It took over 40 years for this tree to grow, 1 lightning strike to kill it, and less than an hour for 10 people to give it a haircut and now the circle of life continues on.
* Source: Harris, Kate. Trees of Belize. Benque, Belize; BRC Printing, 2009.