Elephant-ear tree, devil’s ear, guanacaste, parota, earpot tree, caro caro, jarina or corotú. These are just a few of the names commonly used to refer to Enterolobium cyclocarpum,  a species of flowering tree native to the tropical regions of the American continent; its trunk is so big,  that eight people with fully extended arms might be needed to go around its circumference.

As described by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the corotú tree blooms and fructifies from March to May, its flowers are white, its fruits are broad and flat, green and in the shape of a “human ear”. Maybe you remember seeing one of these trees on your walks through the City of Knowledge or have enjoyed pleasant afternoons with family or friends under its branches dancing to the rhythm of Luna Llena de Tambores.

It has been estimated that the largest corotú trees in the City of Knowledge were planted by the US Army between 80 and 100 years ago. Throughout the years, they became gigantic trees of more than 15 meters tall , a home to birds and a source of shade for the entire community. For neighbors and regular visitors of the City of Knowledge campus, these giants have been generous and witnessed many stories unfold under their branches, stories that until today continue to exist.

One day in October of 2018, a branch of one of the largest corotú trees in the area fell off, fortunately without causing any harm to people or buildings nearby. This event kindled a red light for the City of Knowledge: since it it was dangerous to have an incident like happen again, but with worse sequences. From CdS, support was requested from the Directorate of Environmental Management of the Mayor’s Office of Panama, which carried out a phyto-sanitary inspection and sonic tomography of the trees.

The diagnosis concluded that two of the corotú trees, despite their healthy exterior appearance, had large fractures and cavities in their trunks, caused by rot and fungi, a situation that endangered their stability. The studies confirmed that it was necessary to cut their branches , anticipating they might continue to fall, putting at risk the safety of visitors to the City of Knowledge.

The challenge was how to turn this problem into an opportunity to involve the community in the analysis of the available information (obtained in a scientific way), and of the options to face the situation, in order to guarantee the security of all, and at the same time preserve some of the benefits ​​offered by the trees: an ideal meeting point and shelter area.

Three meetings with the community were convened through social media, where City of Knowledge Foundation employees presented an action plan for cutting the branches of the two trees, and presented ideas on how to preserve their memory, while making sure they continue to function as meeting points for the community. After validating the ideas and integrating the contributions of the community, these were the elements of the project that took place during the 2019 dry season:

  • The trunks of the two trees remained in place.
  • Its largest branches were arranged on the ground, so that meeting areas were created.
  • These branches were shaped as urban furniture: benches and other elements that invite children to explore.
  • Informative panels about the project were installed.
  • Throughout 2019, numerous seedlings grown from species, such as xxxxx and xxxx will be planted.

Nothing can replace the feeling of shelter and connection with nature that the giant branches of these trees gave us, but somehow, and for some time, the corotúes remain present and at rest, giving themselves the opportunity to continue serving all those who visit the park, and offering the community the greatest lesson of all: that the best way to remain is to transform.

“It will be impossible to replace the enormous presence of these trees, but it has been a beautiful experience to work together and figure out as a community what to do with such a nice space for interaction, and thus pay homage to the corotú trees.”

Alfredo Hidrovo, creator of Luna Llena de Tambores.

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