Diverse plants help us to survive.

Just six miles off the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago benefits from lying close to the South American mainland. Richly diverse in both flora and fauna, this twin island republic offers something spectacular for nature lovers.

At a time when the environment and ecology is under stress worldwide, Trinidad is uniquely poised to protect and benefit from its natural resources. In terms of horticulture, Trinidad boasts several beautiful species that are well-known internationally.

Two examples are: native bromeliad Aechmea dichlamydea variety “Trinitensis” and the wild poinsettia or Warszewiczia coccinea “David Auyoung” .

The latter is a double-flowered Chaconia discovered in Trinidad. Incidentally, the single-flowered Chaconia is Trinidad and Tobago’s national flower.

Much of our native and naturalised flora are integral parts of the natural habitat for our wildlife. As gardeners and stewards of the earth, our duty is to preserve this symbiosis and from a gardening perspective, there is much that can be done to preserve our landscape and ecology.

We need to encourage this biodiversity by incorporating plants that are sources of food or nesting sites for various birds, animals or insects in our gardens. For instance, to encourage hummingbirds and other nectar-loving birds there are numerous native flora that can be planted.

Some of the more attractive plants include:  Stachytarpheta speciosa or vervine; the tropical perennial Chrysothemis pulchella or Cocoa lily; the Cardinal’s guard (Pachystachys coccinea); Lantana camara and Heliconia hirsuta.

Of course, there are many more recently introduced plants that could also be used, such as Cuphea, Salvia, Russelia, Pentas, assorted Alpinia, Justicia, Ixora, and so on. To encourage seed-loving birds, palms are popular, as are Heliconias, Lantanas, Fukien tea, Ylang ylang,  Guaiacum sanctum or Lignum vitae and Murraya paniculata or Sweet lime. Of special significance is Rhipsalis cassutha or Old Man’s Beard. The brightly coloured whistling bird Euphonia violacea or Semp feed on its seed.

Bees play a critical role as pollinators both in agriculture and horticulture.  Assorted Cuphea are bee magnets, and so are Cosmos, Zinnias and Daisies. Euglossine bees also feed on native orchids such as the Bucket Orchid or Gongora and native Catasetum orchids. Local spathiphyllum and anthuriums are also hugely popular.

Butterflies are delicate, whimsical creations and they add a dimension of peacefulness and happiness to the landscape. An important food source for adult monarch butterflies is the Asclepias, popularly called milkweed.  The butterfly lays its eggs on this plant and the plant is later consumed by its caterpillars. A word of caution, because of this plant’s prolificacy, it can become invasive.

Several native plants host the eggs and are also important food sources for local butterflies, including Bidens pilosa or the Railway daisy, Lantana camara, and assorted passiflora vines including the native Pomme de Leon.   There are also many additional plants that attract butterflies. These include Cosmos, Zinnias, Marigolds and assorted Vitex.

Sometimes we get lucky and discover plants that may serve as both a food source and nesting space. The McArthur Palm, assorted heliconia and Erythrina falcata or immortelle are three such plants. Numerous birds such as tanagers, thrushes, orioles (Trinidad’s local mockingbird) amongst others feast on their seeds and the flowers are a food source for bees and nectar-loving birds.

The palm and heliconia provide popular nesting spaces for the rufous breasted hermit and the green hermit hummingbirds.  When in flower, our immortelles are irresistible. Not only do they feast on the flowers, they use the branches to attach their unique nests.

Our gardens are the source for so many living things; all we need to do to keep our natural greenery growing is to take a little care.

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