I am not a fan of Halloween or horror, fear or fright. I like well-lit rooms, laughter, and sunlight. Creepy just isn’t for me.
So when my friend and neighbor, Neil, told me his Chinaberry tree — the one tipped over by Irma — was growing, I figured it had to be. It was, after all, a very large tree with an even larger root system. New growth should naturally appear.
When I visited, young tender shoots had already started to appear from the roots and around base of the fallen tree — and this was just weeks since the hurricane had passed.
Then, he showed me a log, neatly cut and separated from the living tree, with a ring of green around the rim — a small Chinaberry forest growing on the edge. New growth, I said to myself, should not naturally appear.
Growing up, I’ve seen other trees grow after cutting. Usually, new growth would appear on the outside of the bark where a branch had been. This Chinaberry thing was a whole new creature — so, in the spirit of the season, just let me say . . .
I’m not entirely sure why a tree would behave this way. It most likely has to do with the tree’s physiology and any water that may be stored within. After reading up on the tree, though, I have to wonder if this was a case of the tree of the living dead.
Melia Azedarach — even the name sounds a bit witchy — is native to Pakistan, India, and Southeast Asia. It was brought to Mexico and the American Southwest because of its rapid growth and ability to provide a large shade canopy. Within four to five years, the tree can grow reach 18’ to 25’. Fully grown, it can be as tall as 60’.
Settlers used the wood — the tree is related to mahogany — for tools, furniture, and fuel. Its hanging panicles of scented lavender flowers become yellow berries, which could be mashed and added to water to make laundry detergent.
The fruit could also be dried, dyed, polished, and strung together to make necklaces and bracelets. Missionaries and priests used them as rosary beads.
Meanwhile, birds would feed on the fruit — often becoming intoxicated — and the seeds could be crushed and thrown into a pond, luring fish to the surface for an easy catch. Yes, the Chinaberry tree seemed to be a tree of miracles.
That was then.
Today, Chinaberry is considered an invasive pest. Because it spreads by sending up shoots and producing vast quantities of seeds, the tree can quickly crowd out native vegetation. In addition, leaf debris raises soil pH, another detriment to native plants.
While birds continue to enjoy the intoxicating effects of the berries, the fruit is toxic to humans and pets.
And now, it appears to be a bit of a zombie — able to live on dead wood. I’m not sure if the logs were left alone if they would actually take root, or if the green plants could somehow survive — but I’m also not sure I want to know.
Like I said, that’s how it is with me and Halloween and horror and, apparently, Chinaberry. I’m not going into the basement of a haunted house. I’m running outside when the phone rings and the caller says he’s in the house with me. And I’m not getting close to any living tissue which should be dead — unless it’s Young Frankenstein, because that’s great comedy.