Devil’s Head tree rare in Cayman

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. 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.

Devil Head (Capparis ferrugine)

A small tree, usually less than 20 feet tall, named for its oval fruit capsules which rupture when ripe to show a blood-red pulp inside.

Devil Head trees grow with ascending branches to give quite a narrow profile. The young shoots are a rusty peach colour, and young leaves are dusted with white hairs which rub off like fluff on your fingers to reveal a dark shiny green upper surface. The lower leaf surface is quite different, with a paler colour and a rough texture, showing prominent veins.

The bark is firm, and an orange-brown colour, with mottling from grey and sooty brown lichens, and crisscrossed with small, shallow cracks.

Devil Head usually produces clusters of white flowers in April, and the developing capsules retain the rusty colour of young shoots until they ripen and split open. This small tree is related to the Headache Bush, and the shrub Capparis flexuosa which is variously know as ‘Raw Bones,’ ‘Raw Head’ and ‘Bloody Head,’ all reflecting the gory appearance of the opened fruits of this group.

Devil Head is a rather rare tree in the Cayman Islands, and is not recorded from Little Cayman. It does also occur on Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola. In Cayman it is usually found in rocky woodland areas. Cuttings will take under mist watering, or you can propagate Devil Head from seed. It grows slowly.

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, or call 949-0121. The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust.

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