Tree known for its peppery aroma

To better understand our native biodiversity we need to know how to identify native plants and animals. This will also allow us treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

Pepper Cinnamon

It is important for home owners and developers to leave in place native trees rather than plant exotic foreign trees that are not a natural part of the Cayman Islands. While the colourful non-native plants still have a place in our gardens, greater use of local plants will reduce dependence on fertilizers, chemicals and water, and benefit all wildlife by providing food and shelter.

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

Pepper Cinnamon (Canella winterana)

The Pepper Cinnamon tree is named after its strongly aromatic bark and fruits, and the peppery sensation experienced if a broken leaf is place on the tongue. The leaf itself is not aromatic unless crushed, and the ‘pepperiness’ varies between trees and seasons.

Traditionally, the leaves and bark were sometimes boiled to make a medicinal tea.

Rather an elegant tree, it has a straight trunk, and branches high to form a neat, rather open crown, with the branchlets ascending towards the tip.

The bark is textured by shallow vertical fissures: it is mostly firm, but may peel slowly in layers on old trunks. In colour it usually appears pale grey, mottled by lichens to give patches of white, mid grey, pinkish and greenish black.

The leaves are silky dark green above, and the flowers which usually appear around January and again in June are brilliant red. The soft berries are velvety crimson: they are avidly eaten by Caribbean Elaenias, White-crowned Pigeons (‘Bald Pates’) and other woodland birds. It used to be said that Bald Pates feeding on Pepper Cinnamon berries were ready seasoned for the cooking pot, but these pigeons have declined so severely in recent years, we don’t suggest you try for yourself!

This tree is found throughout the West Indies. In Cayman, it grows in dry woodlands and thickets, both on rocky ridges and on lower land, wherever the groundwater is not too salty. It’s quite common in undisturbed woodlands. 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 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: Ironshore is formed by coral, mollusk shells and limestone cemented together over time.

Trivia question: What type of fish has huge, pectoral fins that often have brilliant, iridescent blue line and dot markings, usually found in shallow areas?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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