THE ATOLL FOREST
Human activities have greatly changed the vegetation of atoll and reef island forests of the Marshall Islands over many generations of use. Numerous plants found in this type of vegetation are useful, serving as sources of food, fiber, and construction materials. On relatively undisturbed atolls, this type of forest is usually found in the interior of the larger, wetter islets. On the more disturbed islets, it is usually found behind the strand vegetation, along sandy or rocky coasts, especially as crescent shaped strips of forest on the windward sides where they have been left as windbreaks to protect coconut plantations and taro pits from salt spray. This cultural practice is quite advantageous -- it helps preserve biodiversity (the natural variety of species) and aids food and copra production in the harsh atoll environment.
Many plants in the atoll forest are useful. Some plants, like mā, the breadfruit tree, and makmōk, island arrowroot (a large under story herb), are valuable sources of food. Other plants, such as bōb and wūmaañ, are important as sources of fiber for weaving. Some plants, like nen, serve as sources of medicine. And, of course, there are plants, such as ni, nen, mā, and bōb, which have several different uses. For example, the fruit of bōb is a very important food source. When fresh it is eaten as fruit, when cooked it is eaten as starch. When preserved, bōb keeps for long periods of time, and usually served as food on long voyages or during the season where breadfruit and other food are not available. When preserved it is used as a staple food, as well as a form of nutritious drinks known as "Jennup."