Wash wood trees, Jacquinia keyensis, are endangered in the Cayman Islands and can only be found growing naturally in West Bay.
“They have pretty white flowers, are extremely salt-tolerant, very slow growing, difficult to transplant and are culturally significant – in Cayman, the leaves and bark were used to make a foam for washing clothes,” notes naturalist Ann Stafford.
“It is called Joewood in Florida and the Bahamas (both the scientific and common names are in honor of the Austrian botanist, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin). It grows in sand, in marl and on ironshore … and can be seen on West Bay Beach just south of Sundowner, at Barkers, and on the ironshore just south of Morgan’s Harbour.”
In 2011, Dart worked with Ms. Stafford to fence off and protect wash wood trees found along the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension to West Bay.
According to “Wild Trees of the Cayman Islands” by Fred Burton, the small, angular slow growing tree’s crooked branches are often stunted by sea spray to give a “bonsai” effect.
“The stiff leaves with down-rolled edges form an often sparse foliage, on pale grey, scaly young twigs. The firm grey bark is usually colonized by patches of white, charcoal grey and sooty black lichens. The cream colored flowers are fragrant, and the fruits mature from green to orange,” writes Mr. Burton.
“Wash wood is also found in Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba and Jamaica. A closely related plant (Jacquinia proctori) grows as a shrub on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and a very similar shrub on Grand Cayman may turn out to be a new and unique species.”