Chinese Guava - Goyave de Chine Mauritius

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One of the most well known fruits in Mauritius is the Chinese guava. The plants grow mainly in the upper humid areas of the island, being most concentrated in Plaine Champagne, Maccabe and Grand Bassin. There are two species of this guava in Mauritius: the red berry like guava and the bigger yellow guava. They can either form individual stands or can grow side by side. Both species form dense thickets 6-8m tall which are practically impenetrable at times; the leaves are thick and shiny with a pungent aroma when torn. The fruiting season is in winter and during this period vendors across the island go around selling the fruits on motorcycles or in the market place. In Mauritius, it is customary to eat the Chinese guavas with salt and chilli or to make them into jam. Chinese guava picking is literally a tradition here, kids and adults rush about the targeted areas with their baskets or bags in hand, struggling through the entangling trees, slipping on the mud and risking the bites of wasps (whose nests are well hidden in the plants). Less obvious though is the threat that these plants are causing to the Mauritian forest. Of the main drivers of forest degradation worldwide is alien species invasion and this is just exactly the case in Mauritius. Mauritius is ranked second with the most threatened flora worldwide. The Mauritian native forest accounts for less than 2% of the total forest area; the rapid propagation of the Chinese guava is catalysing the degradation of the few pristine forest fragments left. The fruits are eaten by birds and pigs and are thus rapidly disseminated throughout the forest as they move about and egests. One of the main ways by which these alien plants (so called because they have been introduced to Mauritius during the 18th century) interact with the native trees is by competition (water, food and space). Other factors include alleopathy, disseminators, pollinators etc. The level of danger is greatest in the National Park of Mauritius where many plant species endemic to the island are found; dense thickets of Chinese guava are spreading at an alarming rate and suffocating the native trees. While the scientific body understands the negative effect of these weeds on the fragile forest ecosystem, the general public does not see it from the same angle. In order to preserve the native forest species, the best solution, obviously, is weeding (removal of the Chinese guava plants). However, according to FAO 2001, more than 1000 vendors earn a living in the guava business which brings about roughly $3 million to the island. From an economic angle mass weeding would, without a doubt, cause havoc on the island. The solution would thus involve a balance between conservation of the forests and compensation or alternatives to the respective people involved so that people can still enjoy the guava fruit but with a lesser impact on the forest environments.

Peaches Published 16 Jun 2010

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