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The majority of South Floridians are familiar with the invasive Melaleuca tree.  It was planted by the Amy Corps of Engineers throughout major swamp areas back in the late 1960’s in an effort to dry out those areas for development.  Melaleuca is known for its ability to absorb water, over 100 gallons per day!  What they didn’t perceive was its ability to out compete native species and take over the landscape.  Impossible to eradicate it has become a nuisance to ecologist and naturalist giving it the nick name “mala-leuca”.  One thing that most people don’t know is that the secondary selling point of melaleuca was its strength as a hardwood which could be used as a timber crop.  Unfortunately this plan never played through.  We got a hold of this information right when we were getting ready to build our nursery.  We wanted a building material that was solid but would have minimal ecological impact.

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Being the crafty and perseverant people that we are, we decided to take on the challenge of harvesting melaleuca.  So off we went into the glades; chainsaw, hatchets and axes in hand, eager for this new experience.  Little did we know the time amount of time and energy that would be involved.  The 20 ft water logged trees are MUCH heavier freshly cut as when they are dry, quite an inconvenience when dragging them out of the woods by hand.  They release a sap which is abrasive to the skin, spiders and ants infested the the outer layer.  Finally we got to the farm, we had to strip off the 4 inch thick papery outer bark.

You might think, why would we go back to harvest these demon trees!?!”  Well…
The layers and layers of paper bark where shed on the front entrance of the barn, providing a soft comfy mulch for our feet.  Underneath those layers was a beautiful bark, with a vine like pattern of dark brown and maroon against ivory white.  This beautiful strong wood traveled only 10 miles to get here.   We can walk through our nursery knowing that no toxic chemicals are leeching into the soil.  We helped to restore the native ecosystem.  WE BUILT THIS THING! Completely from harvest to thatching.  But most of all, I believed we transformed something that is perceived as a nuisance and destructive into something that is useful and beautiful.  This is my greatest pride because this is not only our greatest challenge as permaculturist but as human beings.

 

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