Grown Forward’s approach to planting trees is different from other organizations. Because we are the only non-profit dedicated to endangered species, our plan and our tactics have to be specifically catered to these trees and their specific needs.
A 12 year old Cocobolo tree
It's All About The Data
The main purpose of Grown Forward is to create a database of how endangered tree species grow in different environments so that we can develop a sustainable plan for planting these trees in the future. There is no institutional interest to invest in species like these without having more data to analyze so that they can make an informed decision. We are creating research plantations, the only ones of their kind in the world.
A Cocobolo plantation in Nicaragua
We are collecting data on things that have never been done before. We need to collect seeds from all over the world from rare trees, and we need to make sure the seeds are from the correct species and that we have seeds from good genetic stock. This alone is a major project. Collecting the seeds from natural forests will give us good genetic stock as well as give us information on where and how they grow that we can use later. Once we have the seeds, we will identify and store them is a secure environment. Later we will germinate them in nurseries and collect data on the percentage that are successful. Once they are planted, we will constantly monitor them to record their growth and the environment they are in. Soil samples, altitude, slope, rainfall, wind as well as what trees are in proximity to what other trees must all be recorded at all 10 locations so that we can have data to compare.
Quality over Quantity
At 5 years the trees should be around 5 meters tall and the canopy should close. This refers to the crowns of the trees touching at the top and eliminating sunlight hitting the ground below. That eliminates the need to constantly control the weeds that can restrict tree growth. We will also have data for the survival rate of our original planting, as well as sizes and growth rate to record. At this point we will probably start to selectively cull some of the trees. We will plant at a very high density of 2500 trees per hectare, but only end up with 200 to 400 trees per hectare when they mature. There is only so much energy per hectare that can be converted to tree growth, but having fewer but bigger trees is more valuable. 90% of the trees we plant will be medium sized rosewood and ebony trees. The bigger trees will be mahogany, Spanish Cedar, bubinga, zebrawood and a few others. The larger trees will dominate the upper canopy, but we do not want to have them completely dominate as we need to compare the growth of the smaller trees with and without dominant canopies. Figuring out how diverse trees interact with each other is essential for our data collection.
A Model that Mimics Nature
Growing with the timber trees will be a variety of fruit and nut trees, as well as cash crops like cocoa and coffee that grow best in shade. This will help the forest diversity for environmental and financial reasons, as well as be a future food source for local people. Avoiding monoculture and single commodity plantations is our goal. Coming up with the right combinations will be part of the exciting process we are going to undertake. Part of this process is to try different combinations and find out which ones don’t work. Discovering what does not work is a critical element to understanding what will work and that discovery process is research. Research that no business or institution or even government seems willing or able to undertake up to this point.