Got a headache? Find a bush

Know your islands

Traditional Caymanian names for trees evolved because of various reasons.

The most obvious reason is that the name is related to a particular use or characteristic of the tree.

Headache Bush

English language names from nearby countries with traditional ties to Cayman, in particular Jamaica and Honduras, are also used.

Naming practices for trees also vary from district to district and several common names apply to two or more plants in Cayman.

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

Headache Bush

Capparis cynophallophora

The Headache Bush is a distinctive and attractive small tree, with leaves glossy dark green above and pale silvery green below, matted with tiny scales on the underside.

The ribbed young stems and leaf stalks are also clothed with tiny scales, appearing slightly grainy and a rich reddish brown.

Young leaves begin developing folded tightly in half, and often leaf eating insects chew through both layers together.

When the leaf opens out, the holes and notches which result are perfectly symmetrical on each side of the leaf!

This tree grows slowly, with upward forking branches which divide many times to produce a dense, even canopy of fine twigs.

Branches are often fluted or ribbed: the younger bark is thin, firm, and matt brown.

Bark on the trunk of older trees is usually heavily colonized by lichens in pale greens and greys, dark green and black. The bark tends to split into narrow vertical cracks.

Headache Bush produces spectacular but short lived flowers, white and pale purple with numerous long stamens.

The immature fruits look a little like bean pods, but when they ripen they split open sideways to reveal a bright red interior, with black seeds.

Rocky woodlands are the favourite habitat for this tree: it is native throughout the West Indies and the tropical Americas, and can be found quite commonly on all three of the Cayman Islands.

The name Headache Bush comes from the tradition of inhaling the vapour from crushed leaves to relieve headaches.

Grown from seed this tree goes through a long juvenile stage with narrow leaves: cuttings of mature stems will take under mist, and will retain the adult leaf form.

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. The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

Last week’s answer: Our 3 species of marine flowering plants include, Turtle Grass, Midrib Seagrass, and Manatee Seagrass.

Trivia question: What tree, more than any other, has a history of commercial and traditional use in the Cayman Islands?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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