Know your islands
The Buttonwood is commonly found in mangrove stands and seems to be tolerant of the low nutrient soils near the shoreline.
This tree looks very similar to the other three mangrove species. The leaves are, however, different.
First, while similar in colour, the leaves are very narrow and pointed. In addition, the leaves on this species extend from the branches in an alternate pattern.
In the three other mangrove species, leaves on either side of the branch extend directly across from each other. Finally, the flowers of this tree resemble little buttons, hence the name buttonwood.
The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; Photographs by Marnie Laing.
Buttonwood is a wetland tree, characteristic for its sprawling growth habit, with the trunk and large branches arching and tangling in all directions.
The wood is extremely hard, and is covered by a dark rough bark, which sheds abundantly in long thin woody strips from older branches. It is almost bare of obvious lichen growth.
The undersides of the leaves bear distinct glands along the mid-vein: the flowers are yellowish cream, developing into hard, round seed cases.
The combination of rough bark and a preference for damp places means this tree is often thick with Bromeliads and Orchids.
Buttonwood is abundant in association with inland Mangroves, and in a stunted form on some rocky coastlines, throughout the Cayman Islands and everywhere in the tropical Americas.
It can not tolerate the saltiness of pure sea water, but grows in brackish conditions throughout much of the Central Mangrove Wetland.
The hard wood burns slowly and at a high temperature, and so was traditionally a popular fuel for cooking: it also makes good quality charcoal. It is easier to propagate from cuttings or by air layering, than from the tiny seeds.
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, or call 949-0121.
Last week’s answer: Approximately 1,500 acres of the Central Mangrove Wetland is protected through the Marine Parks Law, forming part of the Environmental Zone which has been in effect for Little Sound and its fringing mangroves since 1986.
Trivia question: Thatch roofing almost disappeared from Cayman by 1935. What replaced it?
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!