Bringing native plants out of the woods

 With a brand new guide to Cayman plants now in stores, learning about the Island’s leafy life-forms has never been easier.
   And the plants themselves have never been more accessible. Many are now available for sale at the Botanic Park’s native plant nursery, as well as at the Agriculture Department. To get an idea of what they look like, Camana Way is chock a block with plants that are indigenous – meaning they grow here – and endemic – meaning they grow only here.
   They’re in an urban setting. And they look great.
   “We’ve brought plants from the bush that have been considered weeds, and put them right in the heart of the town,” says Dart’s former VP of Design Sandy Urquhart.
   “That is a really important moment for the landscape industry, just bringing these plant types into an urban setting. It has forced the rest of the industry to pick up the baton and start using endemic and indigenous plants.”
More than just pretty
   In the Sandy Beach section, visitors will happen on, not surprisingly, sea grape trees. But they will also happen on sea lavender and beach elder, plants that are so rare they are becoming endangered. Beach elder is near extinction.
   The hope is to bring them back, literally, by popular demand.
   “From a commercial perspective, if you succeed in making something indigenous like sea lavender fashionable, a nursery can grow and sell it, people start using it in their gardens, they find it attracts butterflies, and learn it is a beach stabilizer,” said Urquhart.
Why go native
   The specimens featured throughout Camana Way are not mass produced, or widely available – yet.
   But preserving Cayman’s local plant life is key to maintaining the balance in Cayman’s ecosystem.
   The recognition is catching on. At the behest of Cricket Square developers Lisa and King Flowers part of the car park is being turned into a living tapestry by landscape designer Margaret Barwick.
   “People are coming out of the woodwork to ask about what’s being done,” she says.
   Unlike at Camana Way not all the plants are indigenous or endemic but the point is to show off native plants all the same, says Barwick. Everything has a label for anyone who’s interested.
   She’s keen on building interest in Cayman’s native trees, particularly the ones that attract birds, butterflies and bees. She noted that because people often see them crowded together in the bush with a lot of other things growing around them, their beauty does not stand out.
   They have also been unpopular in part due to the demands placed on landscaping companies, as clients often want instant gratification, meaning large non-native trees are shipped in from Miami.
   “Right now it’s not possible to buy native trees that size,” she says.
   She’s hopeful local nurseries will grow more of them – but people need to ask for them.
    “The reasoning behind putting them in the garden is because I love them, and they are very beautiful trees,” says Barwick.
   “I want to call attention to them and persuade people they are worthy of planting.