Native plants of Cayman

By Joanne Mercille

Flowers on the branch of a Red Birch or 'Tourist Tree'.

Red Birch; Gumbo Limbo; Tourist Tree / Bursera simaruba

Tourists are not so visible on the island since COVID-19 border closures took effect, but the Tourist Tree is plentiful.

Red Birch bears the brunt of many jokes over its peeling copper bark, but it is beloved by many. Its elevated status often means that it is saved from the claws of the bulldozer when land is cleared for development.

It is a versatile plant and its large canopy is an excellent way to create shade. Red Birch is also deciduous. It will shed its leaves in the dry season of winter, and then fresh, lime-green leaves will appear in the spring/summer.

The seeds are easily dispersed and quickly germinate during the rainy season. They are coveted by the Cayman parrot.

Height: 50 x 35 feet
Growth habit: Vigorous with a large canopy. Bark peels as it grows.
Flowers: Cream flowers and red fruits from January to April.
Soil requirement: Weak, sandy-to-fertile soil. It is often found on beaches and ocean-fronts.
Light requirements: Full-sun to part-shade.
Environment tolerance: Drought- and salt-tolerant but not wind-tolerant. It will quickly grow new leaves, if damaged.
Nature attracting:
Bees will be attracted to the spring blooms.

Native to southern Florida, West Indies, the Bahamas, Central America, southern Mexico and northern parts of South America.

Red Birch is locally found on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.

Horticulture potential: It can be used in weak soil and high-salinity environmental situations. Its high drought-tolerance and large canopy makes it a valuable
landscaping material.

About 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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