Local history alive with nature
In almost any view of St. Martin, you will see stone walls dividing the landscape. These walls were built from stones taken when land was cleared for farming. They marked property boundaries and fenced in fields and livestock. For over a century, they were built by enslaved people. Today, many people still call them “slave walls”.
These walls are built from stones stacked upon each other with no mortar, but they have survived for hundreds of years. The design is very strong and stable. They have lasted through hurricanes and earthquakes. They survive flooding because water can pass through.
Stone walls provide habitat for many local animals. Anoles are called tree lizards, but they are also happy to live on stone walls.
Unlike many things made by people, these walls are a valuable natural habitat. They are made of natural stone and have many places where animals can hide or lay their eggs. The walls provide shade during the day, and the stones retain the warmth of the sun at night.
The Bearded Anole lives only on St. Martin. It needs shade to survive the tropical heat, and is often seen on stone walls.
Plants that don’t need much soil find a place to grow on stone walls. In shady areas, mosses and ferns grow on them. In sunny places, lichens, vines and cacti make stone walls their home. Without stone walls, many of these slow-growing plants would be covered up by grass or other plants.
Flowering vines climb rock walls to get sunlight. The Heartleaf Amazonvine, also known as Wiss, covers many walls and provides food for insects like the caterpillar of the Long-tailed Skipper butterfly.
Plants like cactus can live on stone walls because they need little soil. Without stone walls, they can be smothered by faster-growing plants.
Stone walls can stop brush fires from spreading. This gives animals a place to live and eat while the burned areas grow back.
Stone walls are an important part of St. Martin’s history and its natural landscape. They are some of the oldest structures still standing on the island, and they are alive with local plants and animals.
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In almost any view of St. Martin, you will see stone walls dividing the landscape. What is their story? Find out!