National Trust urges native tree planting

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands and plant nursery Caribbean Blooms is inviting the public to celebrate nature and its ties to local history, while at the same time supporting the Trust and contributing to the preservation of the environment.

In a statement, the National Trust said, “The last few weeks of lockdown have allowed us to appreciate wildlife more than ever before. Our senses have awakened to the twittering of birds; the vibrant blue and green colours of the lizards that jump from plant to plant and the mass of white butterflies.

“Some of us have indulged on fresh local fruit while others have found happiness in the beautiful flowers that we had little time to notice when life was more hectic.”

The Trust stated that as the islands stand still a little longer, it is an opportunity to remember the resourcefulness of our ancestors.

“Plants had more value than just beauty or food, they were essential to Caymanian livelihood. Silver thatch palms were used to make rope, whitewood tree trunks were often used to make Cayman catboats and schooners, and there were a host of plants that were used for medicinal purposes,” the organisation said in the statement.

To mark upcoming Discovery Day on Monday, the Trust is sharing some of the history of native tree Erythroxylum areolatum, known locally as smoke wood, which it is hoping the public will help preserve by buying and planting.

“Thanks to Caribbean Blooms, this plant can be purchased for your garden,” the Trust stated.

Smoke pot heritage

Smoke pots like these were commonplace in Caymanian homes in the old days when they were used to keep mosquitoes away. – Photo: Andy Gibb

When the old Clayton Nixon house on Goring Avenue was saved from demolition and moved to the National Trust’s Mission House property in Bodden Town in January, several old paint tins with wire handles were unearthed during the excavation of the old stepwell, the Trust reported.

“Looking closer at these tins, it was noted that they had slits cut into the sides and in the base,” the Trust said. “They were in fact ‘smoke pots’.

“It is not unusual to find such artifacts in old homes. They were culturally used to burn branches of smoke wood to keep mosquitoes away. The wood produces a white smoke and has a pleasant odour. Historic reports suggest that mosquitoes were heavily felt by both man and beast.”

Fast forward to present day, with the quarantine and isolation of the COVID-19 virus, people are again realising they are dependent on their homestead; “making do with what is at hand, the past is becoming more relevant than ever,” the Trust said.

Long before days of mosquito planes and insect-repellent spray, smoke wood was the only protection from biting insects.

“Caymanians used what was naturally found around the dwelling,” the Trust noted. “Smoke wood is a common small 20-foot tree, often lining the edge of the premises along fences. The wood is also used for fence posts.

“There are three species of smoke wood in Cayman. Smoke wood was the one used as an insect repellent. It is a deciduous bush with a ‘V’ shape growth habit; it makes an excellent hedge or specimen tree. Signalling spring, fragrant light green flowers will invite many insects to its nectar for about a week and fresh new lime green leaves will emerge on the bare branches. It

“It is easy to identify as there are two parallel lines to the mid vein on the underside of the leaf. It is fairly drought tolerant and locally found in dry woodland but also on the edge of wetland habitat.”

The Trust says it is inviting the public to celebrate Caymanian heritage by preserving this native tree.

“If you are interested in helping to preserve this native tree, please support the National Trust by purchasing one today,” it said.

Prices range from $12 to $35.

Visit the National Trust website at or email [email protected] for more information.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now