Spanish elm

Know Your Islands

There are always natural areas that need exploring and rare plants that need to be rediscovered. It is often a botanist with a keen-eye that finds the rare plant, but it can also be anyone with an interest if they know what to look for! Plant Explorers can be anyone with a real love for nature and plants, whether individually, in groups, or taking your children (or your parents) out for an adventure. Look for the beautiful flowers that are presently blooming on our native tree, the Spanish Elm! The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; photographs by Frank Roulstone.

Spanish Elm (Cordia gerascanthus)

Spanish elm

Spanish elm

A tall, elegant tree, with a straight trunk which branches high to form a rather open crown. The leaves droop downwards, and tend to cluster at the ends of the branchlets. Spanish Elm’s name is locally modified in various ways to produce characteristic Caymanian variants, such as ‘Spanishellum’ and ‘Spanshlellum.’

The bark is firm, with shallow vertical fissures and finer horizontal cracking, giving a grid-like effect. The trunk is usually heavily colonized by lichens, giving an overall pale cream appearance, with tints of green, yellow and pink, and with sooty black patches. Sapsucker drillings are occasionally present.

Spanish Elm trees blossom profusely in January and February, with showy clusters of white flowers which soon turn brown but remain attached to the trees. When the seeds finally fall, the brown, desiccated flower acts like a parachute, helping to disperse the seeds in the wind. Piles of the fallen seeds and flowers often build up beneath the trees.

This tree grows wild from Mexico to Columbia, and is also native to the Greater Antilles region, including all three of the Cayman Islands. In Cayman it grows typically in the mature woodlands of higher, dry and rocky land: in such areas Spanish Elm trees are usually reasonable common, though they rarely dominate.

Spanish Elm has been used for a variety of traditional purposes, particularly for making oars, and is a good general purpose construction material. Although it is not particularly fast growing, it does flower while still young.

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. The Trust can be contacted at 949-0121 or via email at [email protected].

Comments are closed.