Devastation at the Botanic Park
By Christopher Tobutt
“It’s worse than Hurricane Ivan,” said heartbroken John Lawrus General Manager of the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park as he surveyed the destruction wrought by tropical storm Grace. Lots of the most valuable and rare trees in the beautiful collection, the crown jewels of the Cayman Islands, were snapped like twigs or bent right around. Some, like the rare Poke-Me-Boy Acacia which only grows natively in the British Virgin Islands, were possibly restorable – a gust of wind had knocked over half, but half remained in the ground.
“it’s come as quite a shock to see how bad some of the areas have been damaged,” he said. “I am feeling grateful that it is rainy season and hopefully that means we will bounce back quicker than if we were in the middle of the dry season. A Lot of our hardworking staff members have been clearing up since the morning after the storm and we will continue working through the best we can to get the park opened up as soon as possible.
Some of the favorite trees that visitors love to photograph at the entrance to the park because of their colours and shapes, like the many-coloured Rainbow Gum Eucalyptus , had been blown right over “Unfortunately we haven’t been able to assess all areas of the park fully yet. A few of the other trees we lost a beautiful clusia, some native chordias and a few royal palms that were mature specimens which were started from seed by our longest serving employee, Trevor Leslie that were planted 28 years ago,” Mr. Lawrus said, “and the list goes on and on. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild the collection but we’ve been through Ivan already and we’ll bounce back, in time, with help from the community.”
All the lovely structures in the Children’s Garden including the 70-foot observation tower, the three beautiful giant-sized bird’s nests made by artist Tansi Maki, the bridge over the pond, and the Rotary Club Study Centre, escaped any serious damage, a testament to their sound design and construction.
Everywhere, else, there were scenes of destruction as trees were toppled over like matchsticks. “One of my favorite trees the corvia, and the racemose a native of Madagascar, located in our xerophytic garden, has nearly come out of the ground completely. We hope to right a major portion of the trunk with the help of the Cayman regiment. we’ll have to reduce the canopy significantly but we hope to get this back up. These xerophytic plants are designed by nature to withstand harsh conditions.”
The plant nursery, full of hundreds of baby plants, had been completely devastated by the storm. The plants there are carefully tended in pots and little beds, under a wooden framework holding up a black mesh to keep off harmful insects and to provide shade, and it was all shattered to pieces. Mr. Lawrus was encouraged, however, by the response from the public. Anonymous donors had been offering money, he said, including one man who met him at the entrance to the park and gave him a check for two thousand dollars. Many others have come to volunteer their time and help in any way they could, and on Friday after the storm, a dozen soldiers from the Cayman Islands Regiment spent the whole afternoon moving downed trees with their heavy equipment, and clearing paths with chain-saws.
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