The Cayman Islands are famous worldwide for their fabulous beaches, clear waters and magnificent diving, but there is much more to these three small islands; things that are often overlooked. This is why Government, assisted by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, decided that it was time for Cayman to adopt its own National Symbols of its wildlife. Three symbols of flora and fauna were to be chosen which would recognise another part of Cayman’s rich natural heritage and add to peoples’ sense of cultural pride and identity.
In a national campaign spearheaded by the Trust and culminating in polling in May/June 1995, the people of the islands were asked what they thought represented Cayman best. They voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Silver Thatch Palm for their National Tree, the Wild Banana Orchid for their National Flower and the Cayman Islands Parrot as their choice for National Bird.
These three nominees ideally fitted the criteria laid down by the ad hoc Advisory Committee, which was established by the Ministry of Community Development, Sports, Youth Affairs and Culture to oversee the selection process. As well as being visually appealing with certain distinguishing characteristics, readily recognisable and fairly accessible, they are all species endemic or unique to the Cayman Islands. They can be found on all three islands and have been and still are of cultural importance. Both historically and traditionally, they are of intrinsic value to the Caymanian people.
Right up until the early 1960’s, the Silver Thatch Palm has played an important role in the lives of the Caymanians. The upper sides of the leaves are a light green while the underside is a silvery colour that is particularly prominent in moonlight. It has unusually tough leaves that have a variety of uses, from roofing for houses to the making of hats, baskets and fans. Shoes known as “wompers” were made with a flat leather sole and held on the foot by straps – like a thong – of thatch rope.
The Cayman Islands also boast a number of spectacular native flowers, and probably the best known and certainly one of the most unique and easily identifiable is the Wild Banana Orchid (Schomburgkia thomsoniana). The flowers appear at the top of a long curved spike at the bottom of which cluster Banana-like pseudobulbs that give this orchid its name.
The sight of a pair of Cayman parrots is a familiar one to many Caymanians. You are more likely to hear their raucous squawking before actually seeing one, especially in the early morning and late afternoon when they are most vocal. When feeding quietly in the tops of trees, they are so well camouflaged you may never realise they are there.
The Cayman Islands’ parrots are two subspecies of the Cuban Parrot (Amazona leucocephala). The Grand Cayman Parrot (Amazona leucocephala caymanensis) has a pink flush to its whitish forehead. The Cayman Brac Parrot (Amazona leucocephala hesterna) is slightly smaller, with more black trim on its green feathers. The crown is pure white, and there is a large maroon area on the abdomen. It is now found only on Cayman Brac.
These symbols are a part of Cayman’s natural beauty which takes pride of place in Cayman’s wonderful natural heritage.