Tamarind has African roots

Know Your Islands

Wild Tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala) is common on Grand Cayman, and also occurs on Cayman Brac.

Wild Tamarind is a weed tree, possibly introduced to Cayman from Central America. It is commonly seen along our roads, producing feathery foliage which recovers rapidly if you cut it back and it is difficult to get rid of completely.


Wild Tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala) is common on Grand Cayman, and also occurs on Cayman Brac.

The pods are dry and inedible which is very different from the true Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) from which this tree takes its local name.

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford. Photograph by Frank Roulstone.

Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)

Mature Tamarind trees usually still have old seed pods on the tree by the time they start flowering in June, when the young foliage is filling out after the dry season. A second flowering often results from late summer rains. The flowers are pale yellow, with the petals flushed orange and veined in red.

The tree has a ‘weeping’ habit, with slender branches drooping towards the ground.

Tamarind grows to be a large tree, with a broad trunk and a spreading crown. The bark is firm, brown in colour and roughened by dense vertical ribbing. Older trunks shed irregular woody flakes, and the branches often support abundant bromeliads.

Tamarind is believed to be originally native to Africa, but has been planted widely throughout the tropical regions of the world. In Cayman it has taken to the wild in all three islands: its seeds germinate readily, and it can also be propagated by air layers. Our native parrots have learned to enjoy the fruits.

The leaves have been used in traditional medicine in Cayman, being boiled in combination with leaves of Broadleaf, Velvet Leaf, Vervine and other herbs to make a medicinal tea to treat measles, prickly heat and whooping cough.

Tamarind wood is one of the woods used to make ‘gigs’ (children’s spinning toys) though Guava is considered better.

But the sticky, acidic pulp of the ripe seed pods is the main reason for Tamarind’s popularity: it can be eaten raw, used to make a drink, and incorporated into food in many ways.

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: Trichilia is one of Cayman’s rarest trees that have leaves somewhat similar to the cultivated ‘Jasmine’ shrub.

Trivia question: What is the name of the fish distinguished by filaments trailing from dorsal and anal fins, with a blunt forehead often swimming in open water off the North Wall?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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