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Beetles killing our ‘Tu lee’ must be stopped

James E. BillieMy grandparents and their forefathers on my mother’s side of the family were practitioners and users of traditional indigenous medicine.

As a child I would go along with Grandmother to collect medicine plants for the Medicine Maker.

On many occasions one particular plant or tree was selected. A carefully chosen branch full of leaves would be snapped and taken.

Tu lee (redbay) was one of those trees. The leaves have many uses such as repelling evil spirits or easing the pain of arthritis. And the list goes on and on.

Since moving to Brighton Seminole Reservation, I reacquainted myself with the landscape of the geographic areas. One of the first plants I sought was Tu lee. Traveling north on County Road 721 from the Brighton Reservation to State Road 70, then taking a left (west), you start seeing an abundance of Tu lee on both sides of the road.

When in need of Tu lee, I would go collect from there.

Three years ago, I noticed that one of trees appeared to have been struck by lightning. It had that typical look. The tree was dying and its leaves were turning reddish in color.

Next time I came by there, more trees were dead. I didn’t recall any bad thunderstorms in that area. It was very baffling to me. Something strange was killing those trees.

Before Christmas of 2014, Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger called a community meeting and this is when I learned of the problem. Councilman Tiger had observed the same thing I had noticed, except he observed it months before. He became concerned and contacted the Big Cypress Forestry.

Tu lee is being wiped out by an invasive beetle from Asia.

In this issue of The Seminole Tribune, Pete Gallagher has a report on what is happening and what is being planned to save Tu lee and other medicine plants.

Please read his report, which begins on page 1A.


James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.