By Lindsey Turnbull
The first in a series of four garden tours took place last Saturday morning at the Botanic Park, taking visitors around the Park’s Woodland Trail and Heritage Garden, and providing guests with an illuminating discovery of native flora, and in particular, their uses and healing properties.
Hosted by the extremely knowledgeable Hannah Reid of www.BushGirlMedicine.com, the tour began with attendees explaining a bit about why they had chosen to undertake the tour. Some were bird lovers, some interested in the medicinal properties of plants, some of the younger guests most likely there simply for a good romp in the gardens and a splash in the puddles; however, it was evident that all were clearly avid nature-lovers.
The Woodland Trail gives visitors a glimpse into the natural landscape of Cayman, how it looks in many places still - especially out east and in the Sister islands - and how it would have looked like to many settlors who first arrived in the early 1700s.
Hannah advised that plants were given two names, their scientific Latin name and their common name. The common names of many plants in Cayman gave an inkling as to what the plant was used for in times gone by.
“Sometimes plants were named because of things that they reminded people of from other countries,” she explained, pointing to the native Juniper/Jennifer plant (Suriana maritima), so named because it may have reminded people of Juniper.
Hannah pointed out a Duppy Bush (Phyllanthus Angustifolius) named after the mischievous ‘Duppy’ spirit, a plant that often hosts the Duppy moth. Visitors then walked past Cayman’s iconic tree, the Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni), used for making anything from schooners to furniture, a critical export for Cayman, Hannah explained.
Ratwood (Erythroxylum Rotundifolium) was a prolific plant on the tour, its bark looking as if it had been nibbled by rodents, perhaps a suggestion of why it was so named. Fiddlewood (Citharexylum spinosum) was another common tree frequently spotted on the tour.
Christmas blossom (Vernonia divaricata) was looking a bit sorry for itself right now, but Hannah assured that at Christmas time it would be full of purple or white blossom, an excellent reason to visit the Botanic Park later on in the year. Black Sage (Codia Brownei) appeared along the walk, which, when the leaves were combined with local Rosemary (Croton Linearis) leaves and leaves from the Tamarind tree makes a healing bath, while Worry Vine (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), was, as the name implied, steeped to make tea to help ease anxiety.
But not all native plants are good for you, as Hannah pointed out the Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella) a very poisonous plant, which has been called the deadliest tree in the world. Blue Iguanas love the little apple-like fruits but the fruit, bark, leaves and sap of this tree can be deadly for humans. At the Park, the tree is marked by a red ribbon tied around its trunk to warn people walking by. Shakehand Tree (Xylosma Bahamensis) is another to avoid, its spines causing anyone who touches it to vigorously shake their hands to rid themselves of the spines.
Native plants were a great choice when creating a garden in Cayman because they were often salt and drought tolerant, required less water and maintenance than plants brought into Cayman, Hannah said.
The tour then took visitors to the Heritage Garden that sits in front and around the traditional Cayman cottage in the Park, a great example of how grounds would look like in years gone by.
Traditional Caymanian cottages would have had some fruit trees in their yard, like breadfruit, while other trees and plants would have been in a provision ground further away from the house where settlers would have undertaken subsistence farming in order to survive. Calabash (Gourd) and Naseberries (Manikara Zapota) would also populate the provision ground, which would have been areas simply cleared, slash and burn style, out of the bush.
The tour ended with Hannah explaining that some of the plants that were of particular importance to Caymanians would have been grown in a Medicinal Garden kept close to the home. She pointed out plants that would have populated such a garden, such as Fever Grass or Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon citratus) which was used to ease cold and flu symptoms when made into a tea, thereby rounding off a fascinating glimpse into Cayman’s heritage.
Garden Tours are CI$20 per person and are limited to 12 persons in each group, and funds raised will go toward the completion of the Children’s Garden at the Botanic Park. To pre-book your space email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 947-9462.
Over the next month or so you can attend tours with the Park’s own horticulturist, Nick Johnson, dates are as follows:
• Sunday 18th October, 10:00 am
• Sunday 1st November, 10:00 am
• Sunday 15th November, 10:00 am
To learn more about donating toward the completion of the Children’s Garden email email@example.com