Planting Vetiver – July 2017

Planting Vetiver for erosion control and bank stabilization.

Chrysopogon zizanioides, is commonly known as vetiver.

Vetiver grass has a special root system that works above and below ground, to ensure steep soil stabilization and erosion control. Vetiver’s roots grow downward, 2 metres (7 ft) to 4 metres (13 ft) in depth, deeper than some tree roots. The sturdy, hard stems create hedges, which act to protect the topsoil, dissipate wind and water energy, slow down water flow, trap sediments, and control water runoff. There are at least 11 species of vetiver and lots of cultigens and cultivars. There is one species, Chrysopogon zizanioides, that is sterile, so there is no concern about it being invasive.

This current planting project aims to protect our newly graded road, by stabilizing the banks.

Thanks to Alberto Rodriguez for the Vetiver.

And gratitude to Summer Powers, who brought her two friends, Serena Tsui and Katherine Tsui to volunteer as well, for ten days. (Summer first volunteered here in 2015 with a Globalworks Teen Team, lead by Scott Page). We love returners. Thank you ladies!

Please see this page for info about volunteering at Las Casas de la Selva, Patillas, Puerto Rico. We always appreciate the power of people who love our biosphere.

July 2017

John Allen, Founder of Las Casas de la Selva, May 2016 visit.

Johnny came to visit for the month of May. Here is a link to more images of his time here. Pic credits: 3t Vakil, Irving Rappaport, Andres Rua.

John Polk Allen is a systems ecologist and engineer, metallurgist, adventurer and writer. He is best known as the inventor and Director of Research of Biosphere 2, the world’s largest laboratory of global ecology, and was the founder of Synergia Ranch. Allen is a proponent of the science of biospherics. Allen has also conceived and co-founded nine other projects around the world, pioneering in sustainable co-evolutionary development. He studied anthropology and history at Northwestern, Stanford, and Oklahoma Universities, and served in the U.S. Army’s Engineering Corps as a machinist. He graduated from Colorado School of Mines and received an MBA with High Distinction from the Harvard Business School.

In the early 1960s, Allen headed a special metals team at Allegheny-Ludlum Steel Corporation which developed over thirty alloys to product status. Allen worked on regional development projects with David Lillienthal’s Development Resources Corporation in the U.S., Iran, and Côte d’Ivoire where he became an expert in complex regional development. In the mid-1960s Allen and a group of associates attempted a solder flux company that failed. He has led expeditions studying ecology, particularly the ecology of early civilizations: Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Turkey, India, and the Altiplano.

Allen began the first manned Biosphere Test Module experiment in September 1988, residing in the almost fully recyclable closed ecological system environment for three days and setting a world record at that time, proving that closed ecological systems would work with humans inside. As the vice-president of Biospheric Development for the project, as well as Executive Chairman, Allen was responsible for the science and engineering that created the materially closed life system, as well as the development of spin-off technologies.

Allen currently serves as Chairman of Global Ecotechnics, an international project development and management company with a Biospheric Design Division engaged in designing and preparing to build the second generation of advanced materially closed biospheric systems and ecologically enriched biomic systems; in the EcoFrontiers Division he owns and operates innovative sustainable ecological projects of which he was the co-founder and chief designer in France, Australia (5000 acre savannah regeneration project), Puerto Rico (1000 acre sustainable rainforest project) and England.

He is Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the Linnean Society, and the Explorers Club.

Johnny’s invention, Biosphere 2, the world’s largest laboratory of global ecology. Biosphere 2 set a number of world records in closed life system work including degree of sealing tightness, 100% waste recycle and water recycle, and duration of human residence within a closed system (eight people for two years, early 90s).

Under the pen name Johnny Dolphin, Allen has chronicled his personal history alongside the social history of his many destinations in novels, poetry, short stories, and plays.

Lucilla Fuller Marvel, AICP, PPL, and Buckminster Fuller Institute Board Secretary, has more than 30 years of experience in urban and social planning, housing and community development in Puerto Rico. Since establishing Taller de Planificacia’s Social (Social Planning Workshop), a consulting firm, in 1973, she has worked with community organizations, private entities, and city and state governments in the preparation of needs analysis, social sector studies, housing plans, and strategic plans. Ms. Marvel co-founded the non- profit Puerto Rico Housing Network in 1996. She is also a member of the Board for the Center for the New Economy, a recently created independent think tank in Puerto Rico and the Chana and Samuel Levis Foundation.

L-R: Corey, Denise, George, Miho, Magha, Flash, 3t, Johnny, Irving and Andres. May 2016

Pic credits: 3t Vakil, Irving Rappaport, Andres Rua.
Link to Google image album

San Francisco Day School with Globalworks, May 2016!

This May another 60 students from San Francisco Day school came to Puerto Rico along with their staff, and on a Globalworks organized trip, they stayed all over the island, spending valuable time at Las Casas de la Selva, (20 at a time) during some torrential rainy weather, helping us with the mixing and pouring of a a new cement floor. Thanks to Globalworks staff, Ari W, Luis Bertolo, and PR Globalworks Director, Scott Page. The work was led by Andrés Rúa, and Norman Greenhawk. Thanks to Ricardo Valles, Alex Figueroa and Joel Bernier, for help with all the work. Yara Solis gave three full-on Salsa Dance classes, and Magha Garcia provided some of the finest Puerto Rican food on the island! Thanks to 3t Vakil and Irving Rappaport for images.

Thank you everyone, for all the great energy, even through some of the worst weather we have had this year!

Pepperdine University – Getting down and dirty! March 2015

Pepperdine University students spent seven days at Las Casas de la Selva, helping with various tasks led by Andrés Rúa, ranging from plastering the new retaining wall and walls on the main house, as well as work on the ethnobotanical trail, step-building, pruning, and prepping surfaces for more work. This team were lucky to have a cooking class with renowned gourmet chef Magha Garcia Medina, and a rocking Salsa Dance Class with Yara Soler Garcia.

We had a superb time with this team, and we thank you all for all the joy and enthusiasm that you brought to the project. Please revisit in the future! Thanks also to William Robinson who has been volunteering here for one month.

On the second day of the group’s visit, Simarouba, our beautiful white cat gave birth to 5 kittens. Magha Garcia Medina takes the students on an exploration of the foods of Puerto Rico, and we end up with a Sancocho for dinner. If you have never had Sancocho, here’s the place to come and try it!

Ready, willing, and able.

Erin Dahl, (who first came here two years ago with a team from University of Miami), Christopher Sanchez, and Danielle Ungermann all participated in the January harvest of mahoe trees from around the homestead. Andres, chainsawyer, and 3t, felling buddy, were happy to have the help of these three ready, willing, and able apprentices, and together, everyone trained and learned something in the essential art of directional felling, using cuts, wedges, ropes, and a come-along (a small portable winch usually consisting of a cable attached to a hand-operated ratchet).Gentle gasps of astonishment were heard as 65 feet tall trees fell, and fortunately, they all fell exactly where Andres designated. The team have been busy clearing the slash (the small twigs and branches), and depositing it back into the forest for nutrients and erosion control. Thank you Erin, Chris, and Danielle, we have really appreciated your stay with us.

Collecting Ausubo seedlings

Collecting seedlings sounds like an easy task, but carrying full tree bags up and down forest slopes back to the homestead is demanding physical labor.
Our current Earthwatch Team assisted with this task on New Years Eve, and in one morning we collected 110 Ausubo (Manilkara bidentata) seedlings.

Ausubo (Manilkara bidentata), also known a balata, is a large evergreen forest tree that was probably the most important timber tree of Puerto Rico. It grows best in Puerto Rico on alluvial plain where it may reach the age of 400 years. Ausubo is extremely tolerant of shade. The strong and attractive wood makes it highly valued commercially an it is widely used in the tropics for many woo products. The tree is often tapped for its milky latex the source of balata gum. Although growth is slow, ausubo is planted for shade and timber.

Ausubo is one of the strongest and most attractive commercial woods in Puerto Rico. It is widely used in the tropics for railway sleepers, bridging, heavy construction, furniture, turnery, flooring, violin bows, and billiard cues. Its strength, high wear resistance, and durability qualify the timber for use in textile and pulpmill equipment. Its excellent steam-bending properties make it suitable for boat frames and other bent work.

The heartwood is light red when cut and turns to dark reddish brown when dry. The sapwood is whitish to pale brown. The wood is very hard, strong, fine textured, and heavy, with a specific gravity of 0.85. The wood rates excellent for boring, fair for planing, and poor for turning. It is difficult to air season and shows severe checking and warp if dried too fast. The wood finishes very well and resembles mahogany.

This info is by Peter Weaver, one of our favorite foresters, and good friend. For more detailed info on this tree and its properties see:

Earthwatchers at Las Casas

Planting endangered endemicsWe have an enthusiastic team of Earthwatchers here till the 6th January 2014. Continuing our collaborative project with Fish & Wildlife, we planted critically endangered endemic tree saplings, Styrax portoricensis and Cornutia obovata. To date 116 Styrax and 21 Cornutia have been planted in our spectacular secondary forest here in the Mira Flores mountain, better known as Las Casas de la Selva.

Latest News February to June 2013

Dear Friends,

Welcome to our new website! This year, we are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Las Casas de la Selva, and hope that near and far, folks will be in touch and revisit to celebrate with us. We are planning a BIG Party, so stay in touch! Get comfy, get a cup of tea or coffee and settle in to catch up with the latest news at Las Casas de la Selva!…

To make it even easier to stay in touch there is a comments section down below.



Always a busy time at Las Casas de la Selva, this February and March 2013, we received five Alternative Spring Break groups from all over the USA. Each group stayed between 7-10 days and we were rewarded with the presence of many wonderful university students all looking to provide service as well as have a life-changing experience. Most groups experienced the heavy rains of this region, but none-the-less, hard labor was the order of the day with never a dull moment. Thank you all for helping us to continue to upgrade this project. 

Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, helped on trail-work with Norman, and tree handling with 3t.
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, helped build a concrete floor for the new drying shed, with Andrés and worked on main homestead trail with Norman.
Northeastern, Boston, Massachusetts, also helped build a concrete floor for the new drying shed with Andrés, and worked on main homestead trail with Norman.
Appalachian State University, Boone, North Carolina, worked on building a walk-bridge in a day, and main house wall plastering with Andrés.
Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, helped the Endangered Endemics Tree Planting Program, by planting 80 Styrax portoricensis in the forest, with 3t.



For 23 years Globalworks has been providing exceptional Community Service, Cultural Exchange, Adventure Travel, and Language Immersion programs for teenagers all over the world. One of their stops whilst on a Puerto Rico adventure is to stay at Las Casas de la Selva for a few days, immerse themselves in an alternative lifestyle, carry out intensive hard labor, whilst bonding with each other and getting to know the crew at Las Casas. This year the team worked on making a cement path to the bunkhouses, which will be really appreciated by everyone in the rainy season! Thank you to Meghan Sullivan and Jesse Woodworth for their superb facilitation of this great bunch of teens.


Headstart groups from Cacao Alto and Esmeralda Ambar, Patillas joined us for our trips designed for 4-8 year olds. After a fun digital presentation in El Teatro, and a show-and-tell of some frogs and lizards caught and released around the homestead, we take to the forest, and tell stories of the land, stories about trees and forests, tree-planting and cutting, and a detailed look at all kinds of flora and fauna. Then arriving back at the homestead we peek into the woodshop where we show our wood stock and some products. A packed lunch eaten outside, if no rain, finishes up the morning; a morning of fun, and, we hope, the start of a lifelong love of the green!


This project initiated by Tropic Ventures Research & Education Foundation, led by Andrés Rua, and the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA), has made great progress with several key events in 2012 to highlight the current situation of forest product use and potential in Puerto Rico. 18th April 2013, saw a well-attended conference at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry attended by key players in the DRNA , the USDA, University of PR, and IITF. The group formally became CADA (Consejo Asesor para el Desarrollo Agro-Forestal) at the meeting at Cayey University on 6th May 2013. See more about this project at

Back row: Andrés Rua (TVREF), Enrique Santiago Irrizary (DRNA), Augusto Carvajal (UPR Cayey), Mark Schofield (former editor of Fine Woodworking Magazine), Gerardo Hernandez (Management Official for Toro Negro State Forest), Franklin Roman (UPR Agriculture Extension Officer and Agronomist), 3t Vakil (TVREF)
Front: Jimena Forero Montanez (UPR Phd student), Christina Cabrera (Special Assistant to the Secretary, DRNA), Rosamaria Quiles (DRNA)


See more about our timber for sale.


Designed and built by 3t and Andrés in February 2013, just in time to catch all the resources of the groups mentioned above.

“The world is divided into two categories of people: those who defecate in drinking water and those who don’t. We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate in water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our body’s excrements, we flush the once pure but now polluted water “away,” meaning we probably don’t know where it goes, nor do we care. This ritual of defecating in water may be useful for maintaining a good standing within western culture. If you don’t deposit your feces into a bowl of drinking water on a regular basis, you may be considered a miscreant of sorts, perhaps uncivilized or dirty or poverty stricken. You may be seen as a non-conformist or a radical. Some would argue that a simple system of humanure composting can also be the most advanced system known to humanity. It may be considered the most advanced because it works very well while consuming little, if any, non-renewable resources, producing no pollution, and actually creating a resource vital to life”. SOIL.

Thank you everyone who made the effort to overcome fecaphobic tendencies, to see that this is a really wise and sustainable way to collect and use all our resources, especially in the rainforest where we need soil for food production. 3t has been very successfully composting humanure for nearly nine years. Thanks to Reka Komaromi and Klaus Eiberle and great salutes for inspiration to Mark Nelson, and Joseph Jenkins for the quote above. (See his book)



Norman Greenhawk was honored by Earthwatch with a Neville Schulman Award. The award is given for the training of emerging environmental leaders. For the award, Norman submitted a proposal: “Herpetological Conservation in the Neo-Tropics: An Interdisciplinary Approach”, and he is currently two and a half months into his seven month sabbatical. He has spent a month at La MICA Biological Field Station in El Cope, Panama. He has worked with Dr. Julie Ray, a specialist of Panamanian snakes and has also interviewed citizens of the rural barrio of Barrigon about their attitudes and beliefs about snakes. His time in Panama will end with a stint at the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC), which partners with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. PARC is a captive breeding program dedicated to preserving genetically diverse populations of Atelopus frogs, a genus of frogs that are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus, a disease currently wiping out populations of amphibians all over the world. While working at PARC, he is continuing his interviews of local and indigenous peoples, focusing on beliefs about reptiles and amphibians in general, as well as perceptions about conservation organizations. We wish the best for Norman on his intrepid explorations! More…


Above left: Marta Edgar started a Bird Survey with Earthwatch volunteers this June. Alyssa Solis, who first landed at Las Casas on an Earthwatch teen expedition in 2008, has been back several times since and was an invaluable help on the Bird study, as well as helping 3t with Las Casas logistics and team management of the two Earthwatch groups in June 2013. Thank you Ladies!



This wonderful all-ladies team above started our Earthwatch season in June 2013, and we really appreciated their enthusiasm especially in such a rainy time, and with early pre-sunrise starts. We are happy to announce the launch of a bird survey at Las Casas de la Selva with ornithologist, Marta Edgar. The ladies also partook in the planting and monitoring of critically endangered endemic trees with 3t. Below, our most exceptional teen team of Earthwatch volunteers, who completed several days out in the forest in very wet conditions and not a complaint! We really appreciated the work carried out on bird and tree studies and also the fun back at the homestead. Special thanks to Jackie Pomposelli and Amy Reggio, Earthwatch facilitators who did a superb job of holding it all together!



(Newsletter editor: 3t)