Cayman’s largest butterfly, the abundant Cayman Swallowtail (Heraclides andraemon tailori), is an endemic subspecies which flies on Grand Cayman and nowhere else in the world.
Its wingspan measures 3¾ to 4 inches (96 – 102 cm).
The Swallowtail that flies on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman (Heraclides andraemon andraemon) also flies on Cuba, the Bahamas, Jamaica and the Florida Keys.
Swallowtail butterflies nectar on different flowers, particularly the delicate pink and white flowers of Bull Hoof (Bauhinia divaricata).
Its larval food plants include Yellow Sanders, Candlewood and lime trees, which all belong to the Citrus family (Rutaceae).
Yellow Sanders, also called Satinwood, (Zanthoxylum flavum) is very rare in Grand Cayman. It is found on all three islands, Florida (where it is endangered), Bermuda, the Greater Antilles and the Lesser Antilles south to St. Lucia.
It was exploited because it was a valuable timber tree. The highly resinous wood has a yellowy, satiny luster, takes a high polish and was used in cabinetry.
Delightfully aromatic Candlewood or White Candlewood (Torchwood), (Amyris elemifera) is also a tree of cultural importance to the Cayman Islands. It too, has a high resin content, can take a brilliant polish and the wood burns even when green. Each leaf has three leaflets.
Candlewood grows on all three islands but it is not very common. It is also found in Florida, the West Indies and Central America. It grows inland in forests and rocky woodlands, whereas highly salt-tolerant Black Candlewood (Erithralis fruticosa) grows along the coast, even on ironshore, where it survives after being pounded by rough waves.
Candlewood was usually used for the kindling in lime kilns. It was placed in a hole left in the center of the circular kiln. As the kindling burnt away, the heated coral rocks fell into the heart of the fire where the intense heat reduced them to a fine lime powder. This lime was mixed with sand and water to make the daub for the Wattle and Daub houses.
The wood of Candlewood was cut into slivers and dried, then tied together in bundles about six inches in diameter and 18 inches long. This was lit and used as a torch on lobster and crab hunts.
Candlewood was also used for fence posts because the extremely durable wood doesn’t rot.
Ann Stafford is a member of Cayman Wildlife Connection, an informal network of people interested in preserving native plants to support wildlife.