War on Tan-tans?

Headline News:
Trump to Tan-tans “Go Back to Mexico!”
“They’re ugly, they don’t belong here, and they’re crowding out valuable native trees. They have no pretty flowers or tasty fruit, and they’re un-American. Let’s root them out now!”
Tan-tan (False tamarind)
Photo Gail Karlsson

Well, not really, though it does seem like if he knew about these invasive aliens, Trump would want to send them back across the border.  

It is true that St. John residents have been complaining about all the tan-tan trees sprouting up around the island after the abundant November rains. Known formally as Leucaena leucocephala, they are also called ‘false tamarinds’, as they slightly resemble (and may try to pass for) these ‘real’ trees. They seek out areas where the land is disturbed and spread their seeds widely, waiting for opportunities to take over new territory.   

The tan-tans were able to wait out the recent six month drought that brought down even some usually hardy native trees, and then sprang up with a vengeance when the heavens opened up in November. Once they put down their deep tap roots, it is extremely difficult to eradicate them. You cut them down but they keep on growing back. 

Local tree expert and historian Eleanor Gibney (though by no means a tan-tan supporter) reported that they were actually introduced to the Virgin Islands intentionally for an important purpose. During the mid-1800s there were a couple of thousand cows on St. John and the ranchers brought in the tan-tans as a fast-growing source of forage fodder. Some sources indicate that the trees probably came from coastal Mexico or Central America. Those deep tap roots allow them to survive the dry season, and to spring back to life after being chomped and stomped on by careless cattle. Some people still gather tan-tan branches to feed their goats, but mostly these trees are now viewed as undesirable aliens.    

Unfortunately, it would be too difficult to actually send all the tan-tans back to Mexico. More likely people will ramp up attacks on them using machetes, Round-Up and diesel fuel.     

Extermination efforts can lead to collateral damage, however, as many people have difficulty distinguishing between tan-tans and other similar-looking trees – including the amarat, a key hardwood species from the original Virgin Islands forests. Teaching people to distinguish these trees would help prevent indiscriminate damage to native hardwoods.  
The St. John Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s Green Sanctuary Committee has recently started a project to raise awareness about the different types of trees commonly seen on St. John.
Anyone interested in learning more about local trees, whether native, naturalized or invasive, can connect with the project through its Facebook page UUF Tree Appreciation Project St. John VI, and website http://uufstjohn.com/treeproject/about/.
Can you identify these trees with leaves that are somewhat similar to tan-tans?



A. Tamarind
B. Amarat
C. Acacia