Native plant of the week

by Joanne Mercille

The Smoke Wood tree can be found on all three Cayman Islands.

Smoke Wood/Erythroxylum areolatum

Height: 20 feet high x 8 feet wide
Growth habit: It has a ‘V’ shape growth habit
Flowers: White flowers
Soil requirement: Well-drained soil or seasonally flooded land
Light requirements: Sun to part shade
Environment tolerance: Drought or seasonally flooded land
Nature attracting: Butterflies, bees and a specific green beetle

Bahamas, Belize, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest, Nicaragua, Panama and Puerto Rico.
It is locally found on all three islands: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

Cayman has three species in this genus. This one is known as Swamp-Redwood in the US or Smoke Wood here.

Deciduous in the spring, it will shed its leaves to flower for a week; this is followed by emerging bright, new lime-green leaves. On the reverse of the leaf, you can see distinctive parallel lines on both sides of the main vein.

The undersides of the leaves have a very distinctive pattern.

Related to Erythroxylum coca/Cocaine, our Smoke Wood was culturally used as a mosquito repellent. The green leaves and branches were set alight in a metal bucket with side slits for the smoke to repel mosquitoes.

Smoke Wood is a versatile plant material. This small tree is good as a tall hedger or as a specimen tree. The new spring lime-green leaves add interest to a spring landscape.

Joanne Mercille
Mercille has called Grand Cayman home since 1997 and she has a keen interest in local flora. She is curator for the National Trust Herbarium and has created an online database for public viewing of the physical herbarium. She is also webmaster for and owns Caribbean Blooms – a native plant nursery. She is an avid gardener and member of the Garden Club of Grand Cayman.

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