Native plants important to survival

Know your Islands

Native plants are important because they have evolved with our local fauna, providing food and shelter for wildlife.


Broadleaf (Cordia sebestena var. caymanensi)

Some butterflies and moths rely only on native plant species for food. It is important to conserve our diverse flora because plants are the base of the food chain and will therefore conserve the biodiversity of all life in our region.

Cayman’s flora is beautiful and helps to make our region unique.

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


Cordia sebestena var. caymanensis

Broadleaf does indeed have broad leaves, and these are rough like sandpaper, so much so that they were traditionally used to polish turtle shells and drinking glasses.

This is a uniquely Caymanian variety of an otherwise widespread tree, which occurs throughout the West Indies and along the coasts of the tropical Americas.

Typically this tree grows tall and thin, with a narrow, sparse crown; though this may fill out a little in exposed situations.

The bark becomes thick and corky on older trees, with deep vertical furrows and horizontal cracks.

Lower down the trunk this corky layer may flake off, revealing a smoother, but still shedding bark beneath, which may be lightly drilled by Sapsuckers.

Broadleaf is popular for its abundant, bright red flowers, which ripen into distinctive white fruits.

Broadleaf grows abundantly in coastal areas on all three islands, growing well in sand, but it also can be found far inland in dry, rocky woodlands.

Apart from their use as sandpaper, the leaves reputedly can be boiled to make a tea to cool the blood.

The tree always seems to attract its own ant colony, nesting at the base of the tree with the ants commuting up and down the trunk and foraging in the crown.

The Cayman variety of this tree may eventually be in some danger of losing its unique identity, because of hybridization with the large number of ordinary Broadleaf trees imported for garden landscaping from Florida.

Broadleaf is easy to propagate from seed, though very slow to germinate, and can also be air layered. It grows quite fast.

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.

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