Ouch! Maiden Plum

Know your islands

There are trees in Cayman that people should avoid or beware of such as Maiden Plum, Lady Hair and Manchineel.

These plants can have prickles, spines, or sap that is highly irritating to skin and eyes.

Such a plant is easy to keep away from when we know what to look for and how to identify it. You may also minimize the risk of plants irritating your skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts or trousers whenever you are walking along trails.

Suggested remedies include lime juice, rubbing alcohol, Hydrocortisone 1 per cent cream, an antihistamine, and don’t scratch!

The following is taken from Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, with illustrations by Penny Clifford; photographs generously provided by Ann Stafford and Paul Watler.

Comocladia dentata

Don’t Touch! The sap of Maiden Plum is highly irritant and corrosive, causing severe skin reactions in most people.

Fortunately the large, compound leaves with dark, shiny leaflets are easily recognized and avoided.

If you do accidentally crush the foliage or break the branches of a Maiden Plum you will be alerted by the distinctive, acrid smell of the sap.

The resulting itching and skin lesions can last for two weeks!

The active ingredient of the sap is not water soluble, so unlike Manchineel, washing after exposure does not offer much relief.

Maiden Plum is usually seen growing up to 6 feet high in agricultural areas, where it can become very abundant.

However it does grow into a tall slender tree in wooded areas, with bare ascending branches bearing clusters of leaves at the top. The bark of such mature trees is deeply marked by rough, vertical furrows: it turns black wherever sap has exuded from damaged areas; otherwise it is dull brown, with patches of white and green lichens, and moss.

Maiden Plum is so common because it is very efficient in colonizing cleared land.

In original woodland it is quite rare, but in pastures and abandoned farm land it can become the dominant vegetation over considerable areas. It is native to Grand Cayman, Cuba and Hispaniola, and appears to have been accidentally introduced to Little Cayman (in the Salt Rocks area) and Cayman Brac (in one small central area of the Bluff)

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, 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: From 1901 to 1906 over two million fathoms (over two thousand miles) of thatch rope was exported from the Cayman Islands. Most of it was made by women and children working in their homes.

Trivia question: What tree should you avoid standing under when it is raining?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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