Neem tree’s journey

Most young Caymanians grew up with
the neem tree as one of the largest sources of shade. However, the tree is not
indigenous and had an interesting journey to Cayman.

Back in 1974, Joseph Jackman came
to these shores to serve as the director of Agriculture. The Montserrat native
states back then there was a need for large trees that could spring up quickly
with little maintenance. As a result, he would go to his homeland a year later
and bring back the first seeds of the neem tree.

“I brought the neem tree to Cayman
as there were many people, especially nurseries, looking for shade trees,” Dr.
Jackman said. “Cayman was nothing then as it is now. So I went home on a visit
and brought back quite a few seeds. I gave some to the North Sound Road nursery
owned by Myrtle and Oswald Thomas and to Dick Black of Vigoro Nursery.

“The landscapers liked it as it
grew fast and never shed. The seeds grew easily, and conversely, the parrots
loved it and they helped spread it around Cayman. It’s all over now and it grew
in particular in alkaline soil.

“However people never realised its
other uses. The Indians had used it for insecticide and medicinal purposes for
thousands of years. In Cayman the tree only became popular for its other uses
in the last 15-20 years. I credit that to research being done on the internet
about the tree.”


Versatile plant

The neem tree is indeed a versatile
plant. The tree is native to countries like India, Burma and Malaysia, and all
parts of it have medicinal uses. In fact, it has been part of Indian
medications for thousands of years. In Cayman the first neem tree was planted
in George Town in October 1975. Recently a commemorative plaque was placed at
the base of the tree, which is near the George Town library.

A brief ceremony was held and
featured Dr. Jackman along with the Minister of District Administration, Works,
Lands and Agriculture Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Recreation Parks and
Cemeteries Unit Director Jonathan Jackson.

Dr. Jackman, who was Cayman’s chief
veterinary officer between 1976 and 1982, states the plaque leaves him with a
feeling of pride and validation.

“It’s a lovely shade tree and it’s
great that a lot of people use it during the day. I feel honoured because I’m
the person who brought the tree here. I can see where generations of Caymanians
will learn and benefit from the tree being highlighted. I’ve heard people say
they thought it was indigenous, and unfortunately they did not have a clue
(about its true origins).

“In fact the George Town tree was
planted in the spot it is today because years ago the Department of Agriculture
was there. It’s on what used to be a little lawn. The feeling was the
department should have one so it could show off the department in spite of
being behind a library and across the street from Cable and Wireless (now LIME)
and the clock tower.

“Another interesting fact about the
tree was that gardeners mowed it down constantly when it was sprouting up. They
thought it was a ganja plant and that constant cutting explains the shape of it


From left, Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Joseph Jackman and Jona-than Jackson at the neem tree plaque.
Photo: Submitted