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Science & Environment

Puerto Rico's Historic Ceiba Tree Blooms After Hurricane Devastation

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we'd like to take just a minute to bring you some good news from Puerto Rico, from Vieques, a tiny island that's part of the Commonwealth. The island's most famous tree, a centuries-old sprawling tree known locally as La Ceiba bloomed for the first time since being badly damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria back in 2017.

ARDELLE FERRER NEGRETTI: It was a symbol of we're back in business.

MARTIN: That's Ardelle Ferrer Negretti. She's been visiting La Ceiba since the 1960s when it sat behind a gate on the U.S. Navy base on the island. The Navy abandoned the site in 2004, but Ferrer and other residents organized to protect La Ceiba and make it the centerpiece of a community park.

MARTIN: History has been important to many generations of Viequenses. It has become an outdoor classroom, a place where it feeds and nurtures families and the community, their mental health and union. They all go and camp, and they hang out there on weekends. It's a very nice place to go and connect with nature.

MARTIN: This tree has stood tall through Spanish conquest, centuries of land development, invasion, U.S. Navy bombing practice and countless storms. But Hurricane Maria hurt La Ceiba a lot. Ferrer says the high winds stripped of all the leaves, broke most of the smaller branches and cracked larger ones. And now La Ceiba has proven that life finds a way, bursting with night-blooming clusters of light pink flowers for the first time since the hurricanes, which Ferrer says have now turned into large brown seed pods.

FERRER: Her blooms are so significant because it represents that we are blooming, and we will keep creating more life.

MARTIN: Ceiba trees are the national tree of Puerto Rico. And for Ardelle Ferrer Negretti, La Ceiba is a symbol of her community's resilience.

FERRER: And she's there to remind us of that, of how she can bring us all together. And no matter how hard things get, you never give up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.