Rare Brac shrub gets species protections

Sybil's crownbeard - Photo: Wallace Platts

A flowering shrub found exclusively in Cayman Brac will receive protections under the National Conservation Law.

Sybil’s crownbeard, named in 2018 in honour of Grand Cayman’s Sybil McLaughlin and Cayman Brac’s Sybil Jackson, occurs along a limited stretch in Cayman Brac that includes Spot Bay and the Big Channel Bluff Road area.

The limited range of the Verbesina caymanensis, its Latin name, means that this member of the daisy family will likely always require critically endangered status.

“Because its global population is restricted to this small, highly specific habitat, it is vulnerable to unpredictable threats,” explained a Department of Environment species conservation plan.

“While the Sybil’s Crownbeard population appears healthy at this time, any new plant pest or disease or other unpredictable threat could affect the entire population.”

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Invasive plants, such as the shamrock, for example, may encroach on the shrub’s limited habitat.

To protect the species, the DoE has designated the cliffs that support it as critical habitat, and will control invasive plants on the Peter’s Road bluff ascent.

For habitat, the small shrub prefers the upper third of the cliffs over Spot Bay, explained Frederic Burton, manager of the DoE’s Terrestrial Resources Unit.

“The plants root into crevices in the rock and stay evergreen. The leaves are lobed,” he said, adding that they attract pollinators, such as butterflies, native bees and beetles.

The shrub produces white flowers in summer, and prefers growing on rock faces and ledges above the forest canopy.

Public education about the plant’s characteristics, such as where it occurs and what it looks like, may serve as another step towards species conservation.

“Residents of Cayman Brac have become widely aware of Sybil’s Crownbeard and value it as part of Cayman Brac’s unique natural heritage,” the species conservation plan read.

The plant will not be permitted for garden cultivation, protecting the shrub’s exclusive association with the cliffs of Cayman Brac. It cannot be taken, purchased, sold or transported to other parts of the islands unless a permit has been provided.

Given the vulnerability of Sybil’s crownbeards, the DoE will continue to monitor and research its health to improve understanding of the species.

Seed banking may follow the research phase. Such a bank, if approved by the National Conservation Council, would serve to protect the plant’s genetic diversity in the case of a disaster.

While Peter’s Road and Big Channel Bluff Road fall in the protected habitat area, pedestrians will still have right of way in these areas.

“However, the protected status of this species does require that the use and maintenance of these rights of way does not involve unpermitted take of Sybil’s Crownbeard,” the species conservation plan noted.

“The Department of Environment will partner with District Administration to educate trail maintenance crews and establish a sustainable operation to control invasive plants and safeguard Sybil’s Crownbeard individuals on the Peter’s Road and Big Channel Bluff Road ascent paths.”

In 2017, the public was invited to make name suggestions for the plant, which previously did not have a common name due to its rarity.

One of the suggested names that did not make the cut was Scrubby McBracshrub.

The incorporation of Sybil was suggested by David Holmes as a nod to Sybil McLaughlin and Sybil Jackson.

Crownbeard refers to the plant’s genus, Verbesina.

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  1. I am so happy to learn about this! When I chose the name for the plant, I also suggested the the DoE and the Dept. of Education do two further things: 1. Give both the ladies, after whom the plant is named, framed pictures of the plant with engraved plates. 2. A Competition should be started in the schools to bring awareness to this plant and the two Sybils behind the name. This could be a competition in several areas of both primary and secondary education (essay, art, poetry, music, etc). I even suggested the idea to my former student, your current Minister of Education. However, nothing has transpired. Maybe, someone could now take on this project: a project in Conservation, National History and Fauna & Flora, one of pride; a project that would involve the youth of today, by using their own skills and interests, in sustaining the future of The Cayman Islands.