When a local resident heard the Magens Bay Authority planned to chop down hundreds of mahogany trees from the five-acre inland section of the park known as the Coco Grove, her reaction was instant: “Over my dead body!” she said.
In fact, a number of smaller trees have been removed at Magens. But mahogany, though beautiful, is not indigenous to the V.I. — and can be greedy to the point of being deadly to its neighbors.
“Mahogany is not a native tree, although we love it and we think of it as native,” said Toni Thomas, a natural resources agent for the UVI Cooperative Extension Service. She has been working with members of the Magens Bay Authority on their growing mahogany problem.
“In the more natural areas where you have native forest it becomes like a weed,” Thomas said. “They can actually kill other trees and stake out territory.”
Coconuts laid out in a grid-patterned grove are not native, either, but they aren’t insatiable like mahogany. “We’ve noticed that the mahoganies come up and take over and the others don’t have a chance,” Thomas said.
Since April, after nearly six years of monitoring the rapid spread and growth in the grove and surrounding areas, the authority has started removing young mahogany trees from the Coco Grove in an effort to restore it to its original splendor, or at least close to what it looked like when Arthur Fairchild took care of it like a garden nearly a century ago.
On Friday, at the regular monthly meeting of the authority, authority members reported that dozens have been cut down so far, 22 of which were large enough to be donated to the UVI Woodcarvers Association for creative afterlives.
“We tried giving about 50 earlier to the Humane Society but they all died. We realized they probably couldn’t be moved and transplanted,” said park general manager Hubert Brumant.
Vowing to act sooner to weed out mahogany saplings in the future, Thomas and Brumant said some of the full grown mahogany trees will be grandfathered in and let to stand among the coconuts, caneel, sea grape and marble trees that grace the grove.
“It’s really a matter of management,” Thomas said, clearing up any insinuation that they might have it out for mahogany.
“Mahogany will still thrive in other areas (of the park),” she said. “We’re not saying ‘no’ to mahogany. We’re actually replanting some in other areas.”
Magens Bay Authority member Katina Coulianos, a landscape architect by trade, has been instrumental in choosing which trees stay and which trees go, Thomas said.
“Back in Fairchild’s day, I guess the Coco Grove was pretty spectacular,” Thomas said. “And the authority says it’s important historically to have the coco grow – more important, really, than the mahogany,” she said.
“It was important to Arthur Fairchild,” she said. “And Magens Bay is all about what his vision was.”