Living Fences

A living fence along the Pan-American highway in Costa Rica. (Jackie Trahan/Missouri School of Journalism)

A living fence along the Pan-American highway in Costa Rica. (Jackie Trahan/Missouri School of Journalism)

By Jackie Trahan

RINCON DE LA VIEJA, Costa Rica — Along the curvy, narrow roads of Costa Rica there are long fences, beautiful trees and sometimes an innovative combination of the two. Living fences offer strong, sustainable alternative to standard manufactured posts.

A living fence or “live fence” is made of trees spaced evenly in a line to form a property border or barrier. A barrier would have the trees closer together and may have barbed wire woven between the trees.

Living fences have many benefits over their dead counterparts. The root systems of the trees decrease erosion and give the fences a sturdier foundation beyond posts pushed into the ground.

If the trees are allowed to grow freely, they will provide shade for crops and animals in the closed area. Depending on the type of tree used, it may also offer fruit.

If the limbs of the trees are trimmed, they can be used for firewood, timber or in the case of Costa Rica’s La Fortuna de San Carlos, more posts.

“Around La Fortuna de San Carlos, the volcanic soil is so fertile that the fence posts take root, sprout, and grow into trees. The fences have to be kept pruned so that they don’t sway in the wind and break free of the barbed wire, and the branches that are cut off are used for new fence posts,” according to Finca Leona, a sustainable lumber producer.

Aside from security, privacy, sustainability and overall environmental friendliness of living fences, there are also economic benefits.

Living fences don’t have to be replaced as often as traditional fence posts because of the self-healing nature of trees. This saves money that would have been spent on the initial purchase and subsequent purchases.

The Costa Rican government even offered payment for ecosystem services to farmers who had living fences from 2003 though 2008.

UPDATE: After further research due to demand, I have deemed it important to note that Pochote trees are the most common tree used for living fences. These trees have sharp thorns on their trunks that make them threatening to potential intruders.

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3 thoughts on “Living Fences

  1. Andrea Bjerge says:

    WTG Jackie! Your articles are enjoyable and well written. Moms friend Bamse

  2. Debbie Allen says:

    Well written, informative. I don’t recall this topic covered by previous study abroad students. Kudos to you!

  3. jrandallt says:

    Well done. Interesting and something I did not know.

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