Jamaicans urged to protect pimento plants, bitterwood trees

Jamaicans urged to protect pimento plants, bitterwood trees

Monday, June 29, 2020

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THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is calling on individuals to desist from the unsustainable harvesting of pimento plants and the bitterwood tree.

Three species that are endemic to Jamaica — the Pimenta Obscura, Pimenta Jamaicensis, and Pimenta richardii — can be found in select parts of the country, while the native plant, Pimenta dioica, can be found in all 14 parishes.

“Currently, all three endemic trees are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Unsustainable harvesting practices have led to rampant deforestation of these trees, as the demand for pimento by-products is vast and unregulated,” public relations and corporate communications manager at NEPA, Ollyvia Anderson, explains to JIS News.

“Due to such high demand, all the endemic species are now considered threatened species, and the native Pimenta dioica has been reported to have reduced abundantly of late, thus the need to raise awareness about the value of these plants and ecosystems,” she added.

She noted that another plant population that has suffered under human exploitation is the bitterwood tree — Picrasma excelsa.

“Bitterwood has a long history of use in Jamaica, being used in various industries, such as the pharmaceutical as well as the food and beverage industries. Bitterwood is harvested for the extract — quassia resin — which is then further reduced to quassin, a very bitter substance. Overexploitation, unsustainable harvesting, and poor management practices have led to decreased population size in Bitterwood trees,” Anderson pointed out.

She noted that medicinally, quassin from the bitterwood extract is used by numerous herbal practitioners to help enhance the secretion of enzymes in the stomach, kidney, liver, gall bladder, and intestines to aid in the digestive process.

In the food and beverage industry, it is mostly used in the production of alcoholic beverages, such as aperitifs, liquors, and tonic wines, and in the preparation of marmalades, candies, baked items, and soft drinks.

Pimento has found a secure place in the country's culture, and the daily lives of many. The leaves, berries and bark of the plant are used in folk medicine and cooking, and is commonly referred to as allspice.

The berry of the Pimenta dioica is used in jerk seasoning, and its wood is used to flavour meat.

As a sapling, pimento is used to make walking sticks, yam sticks, and umbrella handles.

Unfortunately, all four species of the plant found locally are in danger, because of unsustainable harvesting.

Picrasma excelsa is currently categorised as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. NEPA has also proposed the inclusion of bitterwood in the Fourth Schedule of the Endangered Species (Protection, Conservation and Regulation of Trade) Act.

“Jamaica is one of the largest exporters of bitterwood globally, and this raises a major concern for the country, as there has been no scientific research conducted to determine the effect that unregulated harvesting of bitterwood has had on the population size. With a management plan in place for the harvesting of bitterwood and the development of a local extraction industry, Jamaica would see numerous economic benefits, such as an increase in employment, increased foreign exchange earnings, and agro-industrial expansion,” Anderson said.

These potential benefits are only part of the larger picture, as the agency aims not just to protect the species of flora and fauna present in the island, but also to ensure that the country continues to sustainably benefit from them.

“We just want persons to comply and help us conserve these species, which are giving Jamaica so much. We want persons to have a greater understanding of these things and how they can help to conserve them, not just for now but for future generations as we preserve the nation's rich biodiversity,” Anderson emphasised.

— Charlene Henry, JIS

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