When American billionaire businessman, investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett said, “Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago,” he was speaking metaphorically about investments.
The metaphor is appropriate because it takes foresight to plant a tree, just as it does to invest wisely. Trees, like most investments, take years to bear fruit and provide shade. However, when Ken Dart prompted the Dart Nursery operations to focus on growing large tree species, the investment he was focused on was not a metaphor; in the Cayman Islands, large trees are an expensive commodity that can easily cost more than S$15,000 each.
“We started the large tree pilot project in 2010,” says Andy Adapa, senior manager landscape services for Dart Real Estate. “One day, Mr. Dart asked me how we were going to supply the development projects with the needed big trees.”
After some research-and-development work, the answer became known as the “Large Shade Tree Project” and it produced 284 trees. Seventy-three of the trees were transplanted at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and The Residences at Seafire. Many others have been moved to the Camana Bay roundabouts and to “The Parkway” — the landscaped median and roadside of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway between the Camana Bay North and Camana Bay South roundabouts.
“It was such a success story,” says Adapa of the Large Shade Tree Project. “The return on investment was over 400 per cent. Mr. Dart was impressed at the return and said, ‘We have more land to develop. We should just go ahead and continue this as a full-fledged project.’ So that’s what we’ve done.”
Sixty-two large shade trees are ready and still available for relocation as part of the pilot project started in 2010, and many more are now in the pipeline.
“It’s not a special project, but a part of our normal operations now,” says Adapa. “The ultimate plan is to reorganise the nursery in a way that every tree is set up as a large tree. A few specific trees will be set aside and grown for at least five years to achieve supersize specimen-quality trees.”
LOGISTICS AND RISK
It wasn’t just the fact that large trees are expensive to buy that prompted the programme of cultivating large tree species; it was also a matter of the difficulty in getting them here from overseas.
“The largest trees you can get in the Cayman Islands are palms, which are linear and straight and not the best for shade,” says Adapa. “All of the others we had to get from overseas before the Large Shade Tree Project.”
It’s easy enough to buy a large tree in the United States, but then getting it to Grand Cayman is another matter.
“The biggest challenge is logistics,” says Adapa. “Large trees have large canopies and they don’t easily ship. A shipping flat rack is only seven feet wide and seven feet high and the tree has to fit on that. There’s no point of buying a big tree and then cutting it down to fit the box.”
The rigors of sea freight also increase the mortality rate of trees and some die as a result, adding an element of risk to the purchase. “We’ve lost some purchased from overseas,” says Adapa.
Large trees grown at the Dart nursery can also die after transplant, but when the proper procedures are used, the risk is much less.
“We have had a pretty good success rate,” Adapa says of the large trees transplanted from the Dart nursery. “The Bismarckia palms normally have about a 50 per cent survival rate, but we haven’t lost one that we have relocated.”
The big trees do, however, take some time to start growing again.
“Any time you move a tree, it takes one growing season to stabilise,” says Adapa.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
On one occasion, before the Large Shade Tree Project produced usable specimens, Dart chartered a vessel specifically to bring in large trees for a development. However, because of the potential for various soil pathogens to be introduced to the Cayman Islands from the soil around the tree roots, the Cayman Islands Department of Agriculture subsequently developed a new protocol around the importation of all trees. As a result, all imported large field-grown trees are now required to undergo a root treatment before export.
“That increases the cost by 50 per cent,” says Adapa. “So we were ahead of the curve in establishing the large tree initiative.”
Eight years after the pilot programme began, Dart now has more than 58 species of large trees in the pipeline, although Adapa says the focus in on trees that provide a lot of shade, that have high salt tolerance and drought tolerance.
“It will be like a conveyor belt,” says Adapa. “Once one is used, another will be planted to take its place.”
Dart will also continue to “salvage and re-purpose” trees it finds growing on lands it develops.
“We’ve been doing that from day one,” he says. All of the large trees propagated or salvaged will find new homes in various Dart developments. In Camana Bay alone, orders are coming in for large trees to fill out some of the landscape plan for the new Foster’s Food Fair site and the Cayman International School expansion.
“There’s a phrase that says ‘money doesn’t grow on trees,’ but in this case, it does in a way,” says Adapa. “The big savings for all that landscaping will come from us being able to provide our own large shade trees.”