Yellow Mastic tree critically endangered

The National Trust encourages all efforts to protect and re-establish rare native trees in their natural environment.

One of our largest native critically endangered trees, the Yellow Mastic tree, not to be confused with our endemic Black Mastic tree (also critically endangered), is found on the Mastic Trail at the highest point on Grand Cayman, a towering 60 feet above sea level!

The heartwood is heavy and strong.

Mastic was valuable for its timber in the Bahamas and West Indies and has been used for cabinetwork and boat timbers.

Yellow Mastic trees were heavily logged but are still found in Cayman.

Mastic has the potential to make an excellent shade tree but not for someone who is impatient.

It can take 100 years or more for mastic to mature to its tallest heights. The Mastic Trail provides a unique opportunity for the adventurous traveler to see a different side of this beautiful Caribbean island. The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford. Photographs provided by Ann Stafford.

Sideroxylon foetidissimum

One of our largest native trees, Yellow Mastic grows as a tall, single trunked tree emerging above the surrounding woodland canopy.

The straight trunk usually appears pock-marked from shedding of irregular flakes of bark.

Old bark surfaces are pale grey with lichen growth, while newly exposed bark beneath shedding flakes is a pale reddish brown. On really old, massive trees the bark sheds in heavy sheets.

The leaves are often so high up that you need a pair of binoculars to make them out: the long leaf stalks and wavy leaf edges are quite characteristic, and can still be seen on dead fallen leaves beneath the tree.

Individual trees do not flower every year, but when they do it is usually in December or June. The yellow flowers have a heavy, musty scent which carries some distance through the woodland. The fruits are just under 1 inch in diameter, ripen to a pale yellow colour, and contain a single large, shiny brown seed.

Yellow Mastic is still abundant on Cayman Brac’s Bluff, but on Grand Cayman the only significant stand remaining is in an area of North Side appropriately called ‘The Mastic,’ partly within a reserve protected by the National Trust. It does not occur on Little Cayman, but is native throughout the West Indies.

This magnificent tree was much more common in times past, but its wood is extremely useful and has attracted the attention of loggers everywhere. Sandpapering the seeds helps to speed up the otherwise slow germination process: the tree is not particularly fast growing.

Protect Cayman trees 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 or contact [email protected] or 949-0121.

Last week’s answer: The Grand Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus) is now extinct. The last specimens were collected (by Brown) in 1916, and the last sight record (by Lewis) was in 1938.

Trivia question: What are the 3 species of marine flowering plants (versus algae), each easily distinguished by the size and shape of its leaves?

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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