National tree is the Silver Thatch

Know your islands

In the spring of 1995, at the request of the Ministry for Community Development, Sports, Women & Youth Affairs & Culture, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands called a meeting of an Advisory Committee to set guidelines and poll public opinion on the best candidates for National Bird, Tree and Flower.

By a very large percentage, the public was found to support the Cayman Islands Parrot, the Wild Banana Orchid and the Silver Thatch Palm for the National Symbols.

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photographs by Frank Roulstone and Patrick Broderick.

Silver Thatch

Coccothrinax proctorii

The distinctive Silver Thatch palm, often just known as ‘Tatch,’ is a tree unique to the Cayman Islands. It can easily be distinguished from the rather similar Bull Thatch by looking or the silvery reflection from the underside of the leaves. The trunk, which is often slender and sometimes very tall, is brown though usually covered with grey, pale green, orange and yellow lichens.

The surface is split by vertical grooves, and often bears termite runs. The base of the trunk sometimes splits open to form a mass of rootlets, and the ground around it is usually carpeted with fallen dead fronds. Berries are produced in clusters just below the tree’s crown: they start out green, then turn red before ripening to black.

Although similar, closely related trees are found throughout the region, the Silver Thatch is native only to the three Cayman Islands, where it grows abundantly on dry land with soil and in rocky woodlands.

More than any other tree, the Silver Thatch has a history of commercial and traditional use in the Cayman Islands. The tough fibres in the emerging leaf spikes (the ‘Tops’) make a rope which is durable in sea water: this was much in demand by fishermen before the invention of synthetic fibres, and was often used to barter with. The leaves are still used to thatch roofs of cabanas, and Tops are still plaited and made into hats, baskets, mats, mosquito swats, etc. Thatch trunks provided the rollers for launching locally built schooners. In the ‘bush,’ a Thatch leaf provides tough twine to tie anything from a split shoe to a broken gate.

The Silver Thatch is the National Tree of the Cayman Islands. It grows very slowly, but can be easily propagated from fresh seed. Transplanting mature specimens is rarely successful and is not recommended.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, www.caymanwildlife.org or call 949-0121.

Last week’s answer: Cayman has nine species of bats.

Trivia question: Which blenny generally lives in association with the pink-tipped anemone? Look for the answer in next week’s column.

The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust. The Trust can be contacted at 949-0121 or via email at [email protected]

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