Terrific and terrible tropical tress
- Published on Tuesday, February 28, 2017
By Patricia Hanbidge
Saskatoon School of Horticulture Principal
Travelling to different places in the world is not only exciting but very educational. The Caribbean region is noted for displaying a very diverse vegetation. This region includes the islands of Bahamas to Trinidad. Currently I am enjoying a being on Canouan Island in St.Vincent and Grenadines. This island is a quiet, peaceful crescent-shaped island with few tourists and excellent reef-protected beaches. Flowers are abundant and you can enjoy a variety of hibiscus, bougainvillea and of course, many orchids. Tillandsia are also present and one only needs to look up into the trees to enjoy a whole host of epiphytes. Although it is fascinating to see the flowers, it is the trees which seem to always capture my attention.
The tamarind tree is actually native to tropical Africa but is also growing here. One of the local schools has a very nice tamarind tree just loaded with fruit. The fruit is actually a pod which houses the hardened dark-brown seed which is used to create delectable salsas, chutneys and sauces.
The spiny palm tree is native to the Caribbean and is present in great numbers here on Canouan Island. It is a smaller palm that only reaches five to eight metres in height, but boasts beautiful red fruit which is stunning.
As this island is semi-arid, there are many trees and shrubs growing which are less than hospitable with thorns and prickles that make hiking in wild areas less than pleasant. To my surprise, there are many cacti happily growing all over the island. Disberocereus Innesii is actually only found here. There are also many plants that belong to the Euphorbiaceae family as well.
One of the most dangerous trees in the world also grows here. And yes it is part of the Euphorbiaceae family. As a method of keeping people safe, you will often see this tree with painted red bands around the trunk. This poisonous tree is called the manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella). It is also commonly called the "little apple of death" in Spanish or manzanilla de la muerte. It grows up to 50 feet tall and has reddish-grey bark, small greenish-yellow flowers and shiny green leaves. The fruit looks much like an apple that is greenish-yellow when ripe. All parts of the tree contain strong toxins that contain phorbol and other skin irritants which cause severe allergic dermatitis. Standing beneath this tree in the rain will cause blistering of the skin from even a small drop of sap. The fruit, when consumed, is reported to be pleasantly sweet at first, with a subsequent strange peppery feeling which quickly progresses to a burning, tearing sensation of the throat which continues to worsen. Strangely enough, although this tree is toxic to many birds and animals, the black-spined iguana is known to eat the fruit and even live among the limbs of the tree!
On a more positive note, the papaya is also seen all over Canouan Island. It is a large tree-like plant with a single stem growing up to 35 feet tall. The leaves are large and distinctive as they are palmately lobed. The fruit, as it ripens, has an amber to orange hue.
Last but definitely not least is the guava, which is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is native to the Caribbean. It is easily pollinated by insects and provides one of my favourite fruits.
Hope you enjoyed this article about great plants that grow in another wonderful part of our world — the southern Caribbean!