Native Trees and Plants of Cayman Brac

Native Trees and Plants of Cayman Brac


The flora of Cayman Brac closely matches that of the other two islands. Numerically, Grand Cayman has the most species, Cayman Brac second and Little Cayman third. However the other two islands have been studied more thoroughly. For example, some 40 species in this permanent blog posting of native species occurring on the Brac have not been credited to the Brac in the official texts, up to now. So this is a contribution to scientific knowledge.
But the primary purpose of this photo gallery is to display the beauty, value and great diversity of our plants. They are “our” plants because we are the one species that can protect them. They enhance our daily lives. Without them we’re just another concrete jungle. (Asphalt jungle perhaps, on this island.)
Made more aware we can be more vigilant against harmful “development”. (Why does this word appear when destruction would be a more appropriate word?) We live on a green island with an incredible inheritance of ironshore, blowholes, beaches, cliffs, caves, and some remaining forest, shrubland and wetland. Nature nourished us before and remains the single most vital component of our happiness, our sense of calm and beauty. When we lose it, we lose this sense of peace and our community becomes downgraded.
Hence this record of your blogger’s photos taken over a 26 – year period, and dedicated to the preservation of all the natural habitats remaining on Cayman Brac, and the restoration or “re-wilding” of some that have been lost.

The photos are listed alphabetically by scientific name, followed by common name, then the name of the plant family. Commentary includes observations that may help in plant recognition or appreciation. Plant postings will continue through 2018 – we’re starting with letter A and will proceed. Please note: 1. The list is not complete; you are seeing only what the author has seen and identified, with the help of many; 2. You should refer to other sources for lots more information,
particularly Flora of the Cayman Islands by Dr. Proctor; Wild Trees of the Cayman Islands by Burton and Clifford; and the on-line virtual herbarium hosted by Queen Elizabeth 11 Botanic Park. 3. Further acknowledgements will be given later in the blog, though not all who accompanied your blogger in the bush or helped with identifications will be credited by name. The author in any case bears responsibility.
Please save our bush. Work with us to retain what we have – every small plant, every landscape of trees and rock, every cliff, every quiet shore to walk in the sunset.

PLANTS BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | L | M | N | O | P | R | S | T | V | W | Y | Z


These photos and captions are my contribution (still ongoing) to a wider appreciation of the amazing phenomenon we call nature. We think we are above it but we are part of it. Nature shines here on Cayman Brac.

This is not a virtual herbarium. My photos and identifications are not backed up by collected specimens. Nor is it a complete compendium of our trees, shrubs flowering and some non-flowering plants. You and I will find plants that are not in here. Whole life-forms have been largely ignored – the grasses, mosses, underwater plants, plant/animals such as fungi, lichens… huge groupings including the microscopic things that share our planet. Even the ones I’ve included — I am sure there are errors here. Identifications have been made as best I could do with the help of friends, books, visiting scientists, and by sharing photographs. Different cameras and conditions over the 26 years of this study may have led me to errors. Please point them out to me so we can confirm and correct the text.

The plants themselves are incredible and many are published here for the first time. Over 40 species in fact. Most of these unheralded plants are listed for our other two islands (one or both). This will be further rectified — we have taken steps to be more welcoming to scientists. They will help us know our island and will add to the body of science. Perhaps we will see a multi-discipline blitz of a single habitat such as the cliff face. It would reveal species previously unknown to science.

There are no GPS readings. I have explained why. I am the GPS. I can take anyone with a legitimate reason to inspect any of these plants. For some reason most locales stick in my mind. Perhaps it’s from pushing through them, sometimes on hands and knees. (Head first or butt first depending on the severity of the tangle.) Our bush is tough. But that’s a good thing. It helps keep invasives out. All too often, we have been the invasive agency. When we go in, we must remember to tiptoe out, leaving nothing. Not even a trail.

You may ask why is the mango tree not shown? I’ve tried to stick to naturally occurring species. The mango tree, introduced long ago and enjoyed by all, if left alone in the forest, will die just like an orange tree or most other introduced species.

This study will continue as long as I and my friends and colleagues are around, and as long as we the decision-makers (every resident) leave large areas of our world alone — to evolve as species have evolved since time immemorial. Nature itself will find its various niches and openings. Nature will even handle global warming, nuclear and “conventional” war, mass displacement of peoples, poverty, gross excess or any other cataclysm we bring upon ourselves. We are the ones that will suffer when we destroy the world that has nurtured us so far. Will we be happy with food pellets or “meals, ready- to- eat”? That is actually the way “civilization” is heading. But pressure to change direction is mounting. We are in the forefront.

The author has thanked only one or two people by name and it is prudent to leave it at that. I must bear responsibility for any errors. Nobody has reviewed or vetted my work, except one plant at a time, from time to time. However, I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with our greatest authorities, particularly Proctor and Burton, and with visiting scientists from our highly-respected department of environment, from Kew, from leading American and other institutions. Nurse Ruth Smith first put me on to the incredible plant life of Cayman Brac. The pond she showed me is now named after her. Brac people of my own age, men and women in equal number, have shared their knowledge generously – they knew the bush and the bluff because they “lived it” and many of them are still around, still sharing their knowledge. Experts from the National Trust and other organizations here and abroad have assisted me whenever I asked. Some experts on Grand Cayman have plant blogs – I hope mine will be as helpful. Another group, “the “botanizers”, have plodded through the bush with me, often leading when the going was roughest. Some have been doing it for years, as time permitted. Several have done research on our Brac plants even when back in their home countries! Most have been members of the National Trust, Cayman Brac District. I am too, but my blog posting is independent of any organization.

My main plea, if you use this guide to the native trees, shrubs and other plants of Cayman Brac, is to look at our “bush” and leave it alone. Protect it please. Fight against destruction. We’ll try to use the minimum land for our personal needs. Keep our population low. Welcome visitors who like our place the way it is– not as a fantasy island. Control our personal lives to minimize the threat to nature of our machines, and our foreign associates such as cats, rats, chickens, dogs and green iguanas. We must not chop, drill, blast, bulldoze, pave and ruin this island home. In places where it has been spoiled, let us resolve to restore it – re-wilding it. It will be very difficult due to our incredible bio-diversity. Given our type of bush the best way, perhaps the only way, may be to prepare the ruined portion of our land, then back off and allow seeds from our cherished forests and other habitats to blow and creep their way back in. I have measured 50% reforestation in only 25 years in a test patch.

Just stand back and let the wetlands spread and the ancient forests grow. To summarize:

This work is our pleasure. It keeps us happy and healthy. As a very young lad I loved to explore the bush. It is its own reward. In the case of the Brac bush, one cannot spend an hour there and not find something new and interesting – “Eureka!” Now we come to realize that this great pleasure is something of a higher calling. This knowledge is needed in the world today, more than at any other time.

This blog posting and this complete blog — copyright JW Platts November 4, 2018