Native trees offer shade

CUC has suggested many ways to reduce electricity bills (Compass, Friday 28 April).

But there is one very simple and inexpensive way to cut down on electricity consumption that CUC did not mention, and that is to create shade.

The shadier the area surrounding a building, the lower the air-conditioning bill. How do you create shade? You plant trees.

Now is the perfect time of year for planting trees; the rainy season soon come, when saplings will not need watering and will shoot up.

It is not necessary to buy big trees for planting; small ones – two to four feet – will be fine, and much cheaper than their bigger counterparts.

Might I suggest that the following trees, native to the Cayman Islands, make good shade trees, and would do well in almost any garden:

Cedar (Cedrela odorata) is a large shade tree: it reaches 100 ft with a billowing crown. It is very fast growing and repellent to insects. It is moderately salt-tolerant, but resistant to drought.

Sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) is a pretty, seashore tree that also does well inland. Its berries are popular among birds, particularly parrots, doves and pigeons. The sea grape has a reputation for being slow growing but in fact will grow reasonably fast if watered in the dry season. Its maximum height is fifty feet; its wide canopy provides dense shade. It is highly salt- and drought-tolerant.

Mahogany (Swietenia mahogany) is a beautiful, salt-tolerant species which does well in marl-filled, brackish land where little else will thrive.

Reaching up to 80 ft, the mahogany is fast growing despite its dense wood and is a strong hurricane survivor. Its cultural significance to the Cayman Islands has been well documented. The shade provided by the mahogany is not sufficiently dense to prevent grass growing underneath it, making it an excellent tree to have on, or close to, a lawn.

Broadleaf (Cordia sebestena, var. caymanensis) is a much undervalued, small, pretty shade tree that produces bright-orange flowers, often year-round. It grows fast, up to about 30 feet, and will develop a good crown if given plenty of light. The broadleaf, endemic to the Cayman Islands, is famously drought- and salt-resistant. The Cordia gerascanthus, locally known as Spanish Elm, is a very pretty white-flowered cousin, growing to a maximum of 60 feet.

Although not indigenous, other shade trees that are commonly found here and weathered the storm well include the rapid-growing neem, which is salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant. It can reach fifty feet, and repels mosquitoes. It offers dense shade year-round. The Indian almond (Terminalia catappa) is likewise fast growing, salt- and drought-tolerant, and can grow to 100 feet. It survived Ivan remarkably well. The disadvantage of the almond is that it constantly sheds its big leaves; but its fruit is popular with birds and bats. The red-flowering, wide-spreading poinciana (Delonix regia) is a quick grower, and also proved fairly Iavn resistant. Its light, feathery leaves make it a good lawn tree, but it is leafless for a significant portion of the year .

The Botanic Park is a good place to start looking for native trees, and its nursery is reasonably priced.

If you want to see what a particular tree looks like when mature and to know more about it, just tap the Latin name into a search engine on the net. Better still, find a tree encyclopaedia – Caymanian Margaret Barwick’s Tropical and Subtropical Trees is fabulous.

Trees are very simple to plant – any nursery will tell you what to do.

The Shade Brigade currently has 20 or so small broadleaves to give away for a token donation. Anyone interested should email Shadebr[email protected].

So why battle with high a-c bills? The arboreal solution is super cheap, rarely ‘goes wrong’, is ‘easy to install’ and environmentally friendly.

Eliza Harford – The Shade Brigade