Shaking and moving to the melody of cool breezes, Caribbean blooms dance along to Nature’s tune. The Caribbean’s call card might be a snapshot of gorgeous beaches and sunny skies, but not to be forgotten is the abundance of flora that dots coastlines and mountain ranges around our verdant islands. Nothing speaks to natural beauty like a finely bloomed hibiscus, the delicate exquisiteness of poui trees in gold and pink, and even the stark, odd beauty of tropical cacti.
Folklore aside, the hibiscus is something I am still fascinated by to this day. I remember a story about the impossible beauty of the hibiscus flower: once upon a time, deep in the forest, a beautiful flower named Hibiscus boasted loud for all to hear, “Oh, how beautiful I am! There is no other more beautiful than I!” Hibiscus told every forest native she met, from the does and stags, to the bees and trees.
But one day, an unhappy Mother Nature, wary of Hibiscus’s indelicate manner and arrogance, sought her out and taught her lesson. Mother Nature told Hibiscus, “For your vanity, your beauty will only last one day. From sun-up, you will be at your best. But when the sun goes down, your beauty will fade as the dusk approaches.”’
If you’ve noticed the darkening of satiny hibiscus petals by day’s end and the sad, shrivelled state the next day, then this story makes sense. The hibiscus blooms boldly, but for just one day. Even though we admire the hibiscus for its sheer loveliness, there are many who hold it dear for its edible properties as well.
As a flowering plant member of the mallow family, the hibiscus (also known as roselle) comes in several hundred species that are native to warm-temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions throughout the world. Growing up in the Caribbean, we have all had sorrel around Christmas or hibiscus tea to ease the stress of a long day. High in Vitamin C, the hibiscus isn’t just delicious; it also aids in lowering blood pressure, eliminates some nerve diseases, eases upper respiratory tract pain and swelling (inflammation), fluid retention, stomach irritation and circulation problems.
If you want to experiment yourselves, try drying the flower in the sun until it shrivels up. After that, steep the buds in hot water to make hot or cold tea. Add honey or sugar for sweetness or candy it and use as a garnish for your next meal. Just don’t go down the road of Ms Hibiscus and start boasting of your gastronomic prowess. Madam Nature may not look upon you so kindly either!
It is an iconic symbol of the beginning of the dry season. Because of the explosion of pink, yellow and soft white ethereal petals that swirl down from the treetops, many Caribbean people look forward to the natural phenomenon with as much verve as Carnival. The poui is one heck of a natural beauty as it sheds its leaves to signal the start of the dry season. It is native to Central and South America and some of the islands in the Lesser Antilles.
Usually, as the flowering season rolls around, many Trinidadians get their cameras out to capture the showers of petals around the Queens Park Savannah in Port of Spain. Imagine walking on a carpet made entirely of flower petals. On the dry, ochre hills, the poui trees display their bright hues.
As one of the largest and strongest of tropical forest trees, the poui tree can grow up to 150 feet tall and about four to seven feet wide. The lumber from the poui tree also provides much-needed material for ship and boat makers, as the wood is insect and water resistant. It is ideally suited for waterlogged areas such as boardwalks, piers and any outdoor structure that will get wet.
Yikes! Those thorns are sharp menaces if you have no clue how to handle these seemingly one-note plants. Once you understand this rare beauty, you will, however, come to admire this layered and under-appreciated plant. Grown in arid climes, cactus (singular) and other types of cacti (plural) come in various shapes, heights and girths. Some even bloom the prettiest flowers, and some are even eaten (and are actually quite yummy).
Specifically, there are three species of cacti that grow freely on the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao (ABC islands). Also called columnar cacti due to their height, the species each play an important role in the ecology of each island. The two most common types are the kadushi and the yatu cacti. The kadushi is large, grows upwards and looks like the type you see in cartoon renderings of a Wild West scene. The yatu looks similar, but the columns are wider and there are many more thorns on the outside of the cactus.
Bet you won’t be looking at cacti with a wary eye anymore. Rather, they now seem more honourable, despite their thorny outsides. We oft take for granted the natural boon of floriculture, but as experience and research deepens, more people are embracing these natural wonders.
The good news is, we always have these pages to help us remember our blessings for many years to come.
For more information on Caribbean floriculture, please visit:
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance: www.dcnanature.org
National Herbarium of Trinidad and Tobago: www.sta.uwi.edu/herbarium/
National Tropical Botanical Center: www.ntbg.org