Cultivating Pita and Junco in the Office

Throughout the Eco Artisan project, I have been gathering and cultivating different artisanal plants. The two most important plants, Junco and Pita, I have been growing since I first visited Bajo Corral. Eventually we hope to plant them in an artisanal garden or here, on the Project’s property, so that they can be easily accessed by artisans. Since I first started planting, I have learned so much about cultivating trees and plants!

I gathered Junco and Pita from my multiple visits to Bajo Corral. Junco and Pita cannot be cultivated through seeds; you have to collect the seedlings that are already growing. Pita has been the easier of the two. The plant grows in colonies; a bunch of seedlings surround a large mother plant that can grow to be 3.5 m in height (Lincoln 2004). To plant your own Pita, you must collect some of the small plants surrounding the mother. They are able to grow in the sun, but they will get much larger if they are grown in the shade, which is ideal for harvesting the fibers. I replanted my seedlings in the usual soil mixture that is used to plant our trees: 1 part river soil, 1 part rice shells, and 1/2 part dark compost. So far, they have grown very well! I need to find somewhere to plant them, so that the colony can grow and expand until one of them is large enough to harvest fibers.

The Junco is a bit more difficult to grow than the Pita. The plant grows on the side of rivers or streams, so it needs a lot of water to grow properly. In the tropical dry forest, that type of habitat (which has water year-round), is difficult to come by. In Bajo Corral, there used to be another spot that had plentiful Junco growing on the sides of the stream. It was right near the Pita plant, making both plants easily accessible to the artisans. However, the stream has since dried up and the Junco is not able to grow there. As the climate warms, the rainy season (normally Mid-May-August) has become shorter and more sporadic, making an ideal Junco habitat extremely difficult to find. Before I came to Panama, I had read that during the rainy season, mornings would be clear and sunny, then it would be rainy all afternoon and into the night. Since I have got here, rain has been very sparse. Even landowners, whom we will be reforesting with, have said they are worried about the trees and the lack of water. All that said, climate change is not only affecting the environment, but it also affects essential Panamanian cultural traditions, as artisanal plants like Junco become more sparse.

Junco, like Pita, is not cultivated through seeds, but replanted through seedlings. All that is needed is the small root from which the stalk and leaves grow. I planted my seedlings in mini-aquatic planters. Only a small drainage hole is needed to keep the soil saturated. Rocks are placed on the bottom, so plentiful water can be stored for the plants. Next, I put in river soil and a few more rocks on top to hold the Junco in place. So far, this system has worked for most of my plants. Some have dried up and died, but I think that is just due to being replanted. Most have been doing well and have even begun to sprout new leaves!

The tricky part with Junco will be finding a viable habitat to transfer them to. Currently, we have a marshy area on the Project’s property, which might provide enough water for the plant to grow. If we cover them and provide enough artificial shade, it my be able to grow and spread. The difficulty is that marshy environments are ecologically different from river-side environments and the Junco may not grow as well. The process of harvesting the Junco fibers involves leaving the stalk in the river from which they were collected overnight. I am certain that leaving the stalks in a marsh for a night will not have the same effect.

So far, everything has been an experiment and a learning process, especially because there is very little information about growing Junco and Pita online. Overall, I would say it has been going very well. At least my plants are still alive! I hope the Junco and Pita will survive after we plant them in their new habitats. Next time I visit Bajo Corral, I will collect more of both plants, so I can try planting in two different habitats to see which works best.

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