Christmas trees have long been a part of holiday festivities around the world, including Cayman. Though firs, pines and spruce trees are now popular with many families today, Cayman’s traditional Christmas tree was a Lancewood or a Sisal tree, beautifully decorated with lights and homemade thatch and shell ornaments. The tradition is kept alive at the Mission House in Bodden Town, where the National Trust Traditional Christmas Tree Competition celebrates Cayman’s traditional Christmas trees. Decorated by groups of young people, these special trees embody the festive spirit of Cayman’s Christmases past that still endures today.
Lancewood (Randia aculeate)
This tree is a slightly spiny, pineland shrub, under 10 feet in height. It has small, spiny, leathery leaves that are clustered toward the tips of the branches. These leaves and the stiff branching habit of this plant give it a sort of geometric look. The small, white, flowers produced by this plant are fragrant and occur throughout the year. The Lancewood will flourish on well-drained sandy or rocky soils. It is quite drought tolerant and prefers to be planted in full sun. This plant has a very high salt spray tolerance and is a great shrub for coastal landscapes. This tree is native to coastal lowlands, pinelands, coastal scrub, barrier islands, and similar habitats from coastal central Florida south through the Keys into the Caribbean. Lancewood berries provide food for birds and other wildlife, and the tree makes a great addition to a native plant or wildlife garden.
Sisal (Agave sisalana)
In the 19th Century, sisal cultivation was spread worldwide, from Florida to the Caribbean islands and Brazil, as well as to countries in Africa. Sisal plants consist of a rosette of somewhat greenish-blue, ultimately green and glossy leaves about 1.5 to 2 meters tall. The leaves are nearly flat and broad near the base. This tree grows up to 6 feet tall (1.8 m), with a 6 feet spread (1.8 m). It needs little water and can tolerate full sun exposure. The sisal plant has a 7-10 year life-span and typically produces 200-250 commercially usable leaves. Each leaf contains an average of around 1,000 fibres. The fibre element accounts for only about 4 per cent of the plant by weight. Sisal fibre is used to produce ropes and general cordage; it is used in low-cost and specialty paper, dartboards, buffing cloth, filters, geotextiles, mattresses, carpets, handicrafts, wire rope cores and macramé. In recent years sisal has been used as a strengthening agent to replace asbestos and fibreglass as well as an environmentally friendly component in the automobile industry. Products made from sisal fibre are purchased throughout the world and for use by the military, universities, churches and hospitals.
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