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I recently started travelling through the Yucatán Peninsula in México, in old colonial towns like Valladolid, Mérida and Campeche, and noticed lots of trees painted white at the base and up to 1 meter high. At first I thought perhaps this is some sort of decoration in colonial towns, but then I started to notice this phenomenon on farms and in the countryside as well. I was also concerned as to the damage constant painting can cause to a tree’s bark.
So why are trees painted white?
I started researching the topic and found some interesting benefits if the right paint is used…
In México farmers use Calcium Hidroxide (“cal”) to paint the bottom of trees, especially fruit trees, to protect them against pests and specifically a certain kind of ant, Atta or leafcutter ants.
Leafcutter ants cut and process fresh vegetation (leaves, flowers, and grasses) to serve as the nutritional base for their fungal cultivars. This process can cause serious harm on farms for instance one colony of Atta is capable of defoliating an entire citrus tree in less than 24 hours. Cal is extremely alkaline and ants avoid crawling over it as it “burns” them, therefore protecting trees against the potential damage these ants could cause.
Trees painted white protects them from sun damage
White paint reflects the sun and can protect trees against sun damage especially trees with thin bark, but do consult your local nursery as to the right paint to use.
Paint can also be used to protect exposed tree trunks in cases where the bark has been damaged, this method protects the fragile trunk against pests and further damage until the bark has recovered.