When I was growing up in rural Jamaica, croton was synonymous with duppy or graves. So much so that although the plant had very beautiful colours and didn't require much tending to as they are very hardy, tropical plants, people didn't really plant them in their gardens or near their yards as they were known as duppy bush.
Back in those days, people lived in board houses and were much too poor to afford the kind of grandiose structures and in some cases, monstrosities that now house the dead. Persons were buried and the mound of dirt that came from digging the grave used to create a mound on top of the grave. This mound of earth would eventually settle back to the level of the earth around it and the only, lasting way to mark where our loved ones were installed permanently was to plant crotons where headstones would be placed. Marking graves was very important as a sign of respect and to make sure that yam banks were not dug on graves etc. It also helped person find the graves after the earth that had been piled up settled.
It is only fitting then that this week, an article published online stated that Jerouen Paul Lumabao, a 17 year old high school student in the Philippines discovered that extracts from the Croton plant killed the eggs of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which is responsible for spreading Dengue, Chikungunya (Chik V) and Zika V viruses which have plagued the Caribbean and parts of Latin America for years. Chik V and Zika V have become nightmarish pubic health concerns in the past two years, both with the potential for long-term harmful effects to persons who contract the virus as well as to children of those affected, as is the cause with Zika V with an alarming number of pregnant women who contract the Zika Virus giving birth to babies that are brained damaged with associated neurological impairment including negative impacts to mobility and muscle and limb formation and development. The long term impacts of Chik V to persons affected in the Caribbean region have not been studied nor documented.
With Jamaica, home to Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and numerous other top athletes, now officially designated the sprint capital of the world; halting and preventing the spread of these debilitating viruses that have long term effect to muscular movements and dexterity is paramount to protecting the nation's current and future world athlete champions and is also very important in safeguarding public health,
I can only hope that the current Jamaican government led by recently elected Prime Minister; Andrew Holness will jump on this opportunity to help rid Jamaica of this serious public health threat.
Because the plant extract will not be ingested by humans but poured into catchment areas where the mosquito lays its eggs, this should make it easier for the government to produce the extract and use it in national mosquito eradication projects. There will be no need for long, drawn out and expensive processes of testing and laboratory work which would make it difficult for Jamaica to undertake.
This method of mosquito control and eradication would be a much more environmentally friendly than the current mass spraying of toxic fumes as part of regular, nightly fumigation efforts especially in parts of Portmore, St. Catherine, possibly one of the most densely populated areas in Jamaica. The spraying exercises are carried out in areas of Portmore with huge bodies of stagnant water known as canals, remnants of the original swamp lands which compromised most of Portmore before it was transformed into housing developments. The fumes generated by the fumigation exercises are very strong and no doubt toxic to humans. I am hoping that local environmental groups such as The Jamaica Environment Trust will help lead the charge on this by applying the appropriate pressure to raise awareness and spark government action.
I also hope the Pan American Health Organisation and World Health Organisation which have both been spending large sums of money in the Caribbean and Latin America on Chik and Zika V awareness campaigns will see it fit to funnel some funds into developing this croton extract.
Other Economic Benefits
There is no patent held for planting or cultivating croton so there is the added potential of creating thousands of jobs to grow and harvest the plant and produce and package/bottle the extract. Here is one sure way in which Andrew Holness can deliver the economic growth he so stridently promised a few months ago on the campaign trail and protect the health and well being of millions of Jamaicans
Other Cultural Use of Croton In Jamaica
An article published in 1988 in the Jamaica Journal, a quarterly publication of the Institute of Jamaica documents the practice of croton's use to mark graves in rural Jamaica as well as it's use in religious practices and ceremonies of Revivalists, Kumina and Pocomania churches/groups. CLICK THIS LINK TO READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE.
|A Revivalist church in St. Thomas, Jamaica with empty glass bottles, basins of water and a croton tree in the centre. Photo courtesy of The Jamaica Observer|
|Croton leaves hold pride of place on a table in a Revival Church|