With the start of the rainy season now here, North Side’s Mastic Trail is featuring lots of plants in flower and fruit.

According to the National Trust’s latest trail conditions update, heavy rains toward the end of April resulted in temporary flooding of sections of the trail, but this soaked away within a few days. “As we get further into the rainy season, more persistent flooding is likely in low-lying areas along the southern third of the trail. The water can be murky, obscuring the uneven surface beneath. If flooding is encountered we suggest accessing the trail from the northern end,” the report advises.

Trust Field Officer Stuart Mailer, who leads guided tours along the trail, noted that the Trust has been improving trail by placing gravel in areas prone to flooding.

The report also notes the rains have also resulted in a sharp increase in numbers of mosquitoes, which are most active around sunrise and sunset. Hikers are advised to wear light colored protective clothing and carry an ample supply of repellent.

The name of the trail comes from the trees once used to create a boardwalk for early settlers to traverse the trail’s wet areas, and this month’s issue of the Department of Environment’s Flicker newsletter features a profile on the Yellow Mastic (Sideroxylon foetidissimum) so named for its foul-smelling flowers. Often known as “false mastic” and not to be confused with Cayman’s endemic Black Mastic (Terminalia eriostachya), the Yellow Mastic is one of Cayman’s largest native critically endangered trees, and some impressive examples can be found growing along the trail.

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“Found in high elevation pristine forests, this tree can be seen on the Mastic Trail on Grand Cayman and on the Bluff of Cayman Brac,” the article notes, adding that the tree grows much taller than surrounding vegetation to a height of around 10-15m (33 – 50 feet).

As the Compass has previously reported, it can take a Yellow Mastic 100 or more years to reach its mature height. Each tree does not flower every year, but flowering usually occurs in December or June.  Flowers are heavily scented and the small fruits ripen to a yellow color and contain a single large brown seed.

“The single straight trunk is comprised of heavy and strong heartwood hence Yellow Mastic was valuable for its timber in the Bahamas and the West Indies and has been used for cabinetwork and boat timber,” the article notes. “While Yellow Mastic trees were heavily logged in times gone past they can still be enjoyed in Cayman. They are excellent shade trees but very slow growers.”

According to “Wild Trees of the Cayman Islands” by Fred Burton:

The straight trunk usually appears pock-marked from shedding of irregular flakes of bark. Old bark surfaces are pale grey with lichen growth, while newly exposed bark beneath shedding flakes is a pale reddish brown. On really old, massive trees the bark sheds in heavy sheets.

“The leaves are often so high up that you need a pair of binoculars to make them out: the long leaf stalks and wavy leaf edges are quite characteristic, and can still be seen on dead fallen leaves beneath the tree,” Mr. Burton writes.

Hikers interested in visiting the trail are also advised to familiarize themselves highly irritant Maiden Plum (similar to Poison Sumac) which is usually found as a shrub in overgrown pastureland. Highly toxic Manchineel is a tree found at the edges of swampy areas. Contact with the leaves or trunk can result in blisters, and eating the fruit (which are green in colour) could prove fatal.

“Stay on the trail and wear closed-toe footwear to reduce the likelihood of contact with these plants,” advises Mr. Mailer.

“The trail is rocky and uneven and is not suitable for small children, anyone in poor health, or with mobility or balance issues. A sturdy walking stick is recommended, as is plenty of drinking water and mosquito repellant. A composting toilet is located a short distance from the southern trail head.”

He also noted that for safety reasons, baby carriers, bikes, running and jogging are not permitted along the trail.

For updated information, or to arrange a guided tour, please call Stuart Mailer, National Trust Field Officer, (345) 926-0418.

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