Cayman’s wild banana orchid in full bloom

Cayman’s national flower, the wild banana orchid, is blooming ‘en masse’ at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park.

But the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the endemic flower will not last long. The orchid blossoms just once a year, typically in late May and early June, explained the park’s horticultural manager Nick Johnson.

A wild banana orchid blooms in front of the Rankine House, located at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park’s Heritage Garden. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

“In the wild, you can see it a few on places like the Mastic Trail, and there are lots in our protected areas of the park. There are loads on the trails at the moment,” Johnson said.

The Grand Cayman variety of the orchid, displaying a white colour with a red to purple lip, can be spotted currently outside the Rankine House in the botanic park’s Heritage Garden.

The Sister Islands’ variety of the flower, not currently visible at the park, presents a more yellow colour, Johnson said.

The flower’s genus, Myrmecophila, reveals some interesting characteristics about the orchid. The name is Latin for ‘ant loving”, Johnson explained.

“The genus Myrmecophila … is characterised by pseudobulbs which hollow over time and are subsequently colonised by ants, which form a mutually beneficial relationship with the plant,” Johnson said.

The pseudobulbs are the part of the orchid that provide its name. The thickened stems at the base of the plant resemble a banana.

The orchid also has a special relationship with beetles. Gymnetis lanius beetles, rather than bees, serve as the flower’s pollinator. When the beetle is not able to pollinate the flower, Johnson said park workers will step in and pollinate the plant by hand.

Horticultural Manager Nick Johnson views a wild banana orchid blossom at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

While the wild banana orchid is one of Cayman’s more commonly visible native flowers, Johnson advised that the species is delicate. Orchids are sensitive to changes in habitat, he said, adding that it can take seven years for an orchid seedling to become a flowering plant.

Botanic park manager John Lawrus encouraged families to come and observe the Caymanian orchid while the opportunity lasts.

“I encourage you to stop by the park sometime over the next month as this opportunity is pretty rare; the banana orchid only blooms once a year. And while you’re here taking in the beauty of our island’s indigenous flower, you may also get the chance to see a pair of Cayman parrots or one of our beautiful blue iguanas. This is a really great time of year to visit the park,” Lawrus said.

The botanic park is open Monday through Sunday from 9am to 4:30pm.

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