Mata pisca in a limestone landscape
Mata pisca or Mata di pisca (Jacquina armillaris) is a common tree on Aruba, but unfamiliar to many. An evergreen shrub that is wind resistant, it has typically a single straight trunk with a compact canopy and does not grow higher than 9 feet. The leaves are thick, spongy and about one inch long. The small flowers are white, fragrantly and the fruits are yellow pellets grouped together at the end of the branches. The tree flowers at the end of the dry season. Mata pisca means fish killer in Papiamento and applies to the use of the plant to render fish unconscious in water. A chemical present in the whole plant but concentrated in the leaves procures this use. It works best in enclosed water and the desired effect mostly depends on the amount of leaves used. Therefore, it is not useful in the open sea.
As mentioned above Mata pisca is an unfamiliar plant to the locals. That is because it grows predominantly on the uninhabited side of Aruba, on middle limestone terraces. According to the geological map of Aruba from 1996, these terraces originate from the Pleistocene and are actually eoleanites, petrified sand dunes. They lie more landwards from the lower terraces, which are part of the coastline and have shallow soil development. However, they are different from the older limestone terraces, which are also landwards located. The terraces with Mata pisca vegetation are rocky with pockets of eroded material, where the trees grow from. The vegetation also consists of other well-known tree species, like Brasil (Haematoxylon brasiletto), which were historically useful and documented. Brasil was useful as a provider of a dye for textiles and therefore logged. Mata pisca was not useful for the timber industry and few knew of its chemical capabilities; therefore, it was not historically documented, adding to its relative unfamiliarity under the local population. Probably its poor usefulness caused the difference between the vegetation of the middle terraces of Aruba and those of Curaçao. In Curaçao, the vegetation consists mainly of Brazil with a few Mata pisca among them, while in Aruba Brazils are scarce among Mata pisca.
Mata pisca is also present outside its core habitat, but than more in individual specimens. For instance, the park visitor can see a large specimen growing near the entrance on non-calcareous soil, which is an unusual sight. Several individual trees are also found at Sabana Basora, Spaans Lagoen and Colorado hill. There is also one specimen at the garden of the Department of Agriculture, Husbandry and Fisheries (DLVVM).
The Department of Agriculture, Husbandry and Fisheries (DLVVM) has reproduced several specimens, as part of a conservation effort and these are sometimes for sale to the public. Although it is preferable that the specie survives in its own habitat as this has proven to be most suitable. DLVVM is located at Piedra Plat # 114, between the Piedra Plat Protestant Church and the bridge across the rooi at Piedra Plat. The gate is open from 7 to 12 o'clock in the morning and from 1 to 4 'o clock in the afternoon. Sales until at 3'o clock in the afternoon.
For more information call +297 585-8102 or email Department of Agriculture, Husbandry and Fisheries directly.
[Information courtesy of Mr. Facundo Franken of the Department of Agriculture, Husbandry and Fisheries (DLVVM) - Nature Management]