As soon as this year’s rainy season begins in earnest, volunteers will plant hundreds of trees in and around Puerto Escondido with the primary objective being to reduce temperatures.
Anyone familiar with Puerto Escondido knows that the heat at the end of the dry season — in April and May — is oppressive. Many people prefer to stay inside between 10 am and 5 pm, and children are less likely to play outside. There are increased hospital admissions for heat-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders and heat stroke.
The heat is more intense in urban than rural areas due to the heat island effect. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies.
Urban areas, where these structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited, become “islands” of higher temperatures relative to less built-up areas.
In response, the local environmental organization SOS Puerto is overseeing the community tree-planting project, entitled Punto Verde.
After consulting with arborists and local nursery Vivero Leslie, four trees that offer plenty of shade and are suited to Puerto Escondido’s climate were chosen for planting.
- Primavera (Tabebuia donnel-smithii), sometimes called the gold tree in English, is a tough, native, fast-growing, drought-resistant tree that produces bright yellow flowers between March and May. It will need water two to three times a week in its first four years. In this region, it can grow to between six and eight meters in height.
- Macuil (Tabebuia rosea), also called pink poui and rosy trumpet tree, is a native neotropical tree that in Puerto grows to between six and 10 meters. In the dry season, abundant flowers in various tones of pink to purple are present on the defoliated trees. The macuil must be watered twice weekly until it matures enough to source water through its roots.
- Lluvia de Oro (Cassia fistula), also called “golden shower tree” (I know), is a tree whose flowering is profuse. In bloom, the trees are covered with aromatic yellow flowers, often to the point that no leaves can be seen. It grows well in dry climates. Growth for this tree is best in full sun on well-drained soil. It can grow to seven meters high.
- Ciricote (Cordia Sebastian), also called the geiger, is a native shrubby tree in the borage family. The ciricote grows to a maximum height of eight to nine meters, with a dense rounded crown and rough simple leaves. It flowers in cornet-shaped panicles with intensely orange corollas. The ciricote flowers between February and May and produces a fleshy fruit up to four centimeters long. The greenish, acid-tasting fruits are edible. It needs plenty of water in the first few years and can grow to a height of eight to nine meters.
According to Mayra Jiménez Villanueva of Vivero Leslie, “Planting trees requires time and effort, but the work doesn’t end there. People must keep the trees alive by watering them regularly and sufficiently.”
If you look closely at the various neighborhoods of Puerto, you will see many trees that were planted in the dry season but didn’t receive enough water. Many are dead.
Jiménez also recommends planting trees at least five meters apart to get plenty of sunshine and allow air circulation to prevent fungal issues. If the leaves of mature trees are within touching distance of each other, they can spread tree diseases.
The most apparent way trees reduce temperatures is by providing shade. The canopy of trees blocks direct sunlight, preventing it from reaching the ground and reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed by buildings, roads, and other urban surfaces. Shade reduces surface temperatures and the overall heat absorbed by urban areas.
Trees also release water vapor through evapotranspiration, where moisture evaporates from the leaves and surrounding soil. This evaporative cooling effect helps lower air temperatures by absorbing heat energy from the environment, similar to how sweating cools down our bodies.
In addition, the leaves of trees absorb and reflect a portion of the incoming solar radiation, and this absorption reduces the amount of heat transferred to the immediate environment. By reflecting sunlight, trees also minimize the heat gain experienced by buildings and other structures.
Trees can improve air quality in urban areas by absorbing pollutants such as carbon dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter.
As in much of Mexico, Puerto Escondido is facing a water shortage crisis. So another significant benefit of planting trees is their essential role in reducing water shortages and promoting water conservation.
Trees save water by intercepting rainfall on their leaves, branches, and trunks, reducing the force of falling raindrops and allowing water to drip slowly to the ground. This interception prevents direct runoff and enables more water to infiltrate the soil, replenishing groundwater reserves and maintaining streamflow during dry periods.
By absorbing and intercepting rainfall, trees reduce the volume and intensity of stormwater runoff. This helps prevent localized flooding and reduces the heat impervious surfaces generate during heavy rain events.
Research shows that regularly spending time around trees provides many human health benefits, from lowering stress to improving cognition to boosting longevity.
Peter James, assistant professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that trees’ effects on us “translate into long-term changes in the incidence of depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Nature heals mind and body. Anyone who has enjoyed a walk through a wooded area on a fine day knows how beneficial being among trees is.
Punto Verde needs your support. If each Puerto resident planted and cared for one tree, Puerto would look and feel much better and brighten our future in many ways.
- Volunteers are welcome to join the planting project. Just contact SOS on their Instagram page. Donations are also needed to buy more trees. They can be made here.
Patrick Sheehy is an Irishman who has been living in Puerto Escondido, on and off, since 2005. He has a degree in psychology and experience in various fields including teaching, tour-guiding, writing, working with adults with intellectual disabilities and organic horticulture.