THE peskiest weed in Cuba sprouts a charming flower. Pink and wispy, with a bushy yellow tail, it looks like a cross between a Chinese lantern and a Muppet. Marabú, as Cubans call the leguminous tree, covers 2m hectares, about 18% of the country’s territory. It spread unchecked during the “special period” of the 1990s, when the Soviet Union stopped subsidising Cuba and farms fell into disuse. Uprooting it is time-consuming and labour-intensive.
Recently, though, Cubans have begun to view marabú as an asset rather than an irritant. Since 2009 Cuba has exported 40,000-80,000 tonnes a year of “artisanal charcoal” made from marabú, which is used for firing up hookahs in the Middle East and pizza ovens in Italy. That could rise after the United States in January approved marabú as the first legal import from Cuba in more than 50…Continue reading