Uses of some Plants that grow in the Cayman Islands
by P. Ann van B. Stafford, January 2018
Ethnobotany is the study of a region’s plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of a local culture and people.
Ironwood – Chionanthus caymanensis, Endangered Cayman Islands endemic
The CAYMAN ISLANDS were discovered by Columbus over 500 years ago. Permanent settlement came later. Indigenous plants were used for shelter, food, clothing, healing, everyday utility, boatbuilding, livelihood and export. They are part of the history, culture and identity of the Cayman Islands and what makes them unique. We don’t have large wild animals, but we do have an interesting diversity of wildlife, for which plants provide food and shelter. Native plants and animals are interdependent, and are part of intricate food webs.
Cayman Native (Indigenous) Species
A Cayman Islands native species is one that occurs naturally in the Cayman Islands without direct or indirect human actions. Some plants and animals are native to only one or two of the three Cayman Islands. 415 taxa (species and varieties) formed the original, ancient flora of Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Cayman Endemic Species
An Cayman Islands endemic species is one that originated or evolved in a particular place, and that situation won’t change in the future. The Cayman Islands have 28 endemic taxa (species and varieties) of plant and 5 endemic subspecies of butterfly.
Cayman Common names
Different countries have different common names, sometimes more than one for the same plant, or one name may refer to several different plants. Several trees around the world are called Ironwood, but Cayman’s culturally important Ironwood trees are only found in the Cayman Islands – Chionanthus caymanensis . Scientific names avoid confusion of which plant is being referred to. Even though there are many plants, many don’t have Cayman common names – especially if they didn’t have a use. Some common names reflect how the plants were encountered.
Cayman common name / other common name(s)
Candlewood / Torchwood – Amyris elemifera Endangered
Dioecious – plant with separate male and female flowers on different plants
Monoecious – plant with separate male and female flowers on the same plant
Cultural and ecological uses
Boatbuilding, Construction, Export, General Utility, Healing
1938 King George VI 5/- (Five shilling) Cayman Schooner stamp
The Western Union, a schooner launched by Heber Elroy Arch in Key West in 1939, is undergoing a US$900,000 overhaul that will allow it to remain seaworthy for another decade or two. The ship, built and designed by a Caymanian, originally featured Cayman mahogany to round out its frame.
Shipbuilder Heber Arch was one of 11 children of James Arch. The family worked together in crafting boats that would traverse the Atlantic.
Cayman Catboats at the Cayman Catboat Club, Aug. 2, 2014
Tools used for making Catboats
Cedar, West Indian Cedar – Cedrela odorata
Cedar tree in George Town, April 1, 2004
Cedar, West Idian Cedar – Cedrela odorata
Fiddlewood – Petitia domingensis, Family: VERBENACEAE (LAMIACEAE), Endangered. OPPOSITE leaves. Birds love to eat the fruits, particularly Mockingbirds and White-crowned Pigeons. The wood is heavy and very hard and was used for making fence posts and in shipbuilding. Flora of the Cayman Islands, Proctor 2012 p.584, Plate 56.
Fiddlewood – Petitia domingensis
Mahogany – Swietenia mahagoni
Pepper Cinnamon – Canella winterana
Pompero – Hypelate trifoliata
Popnut, Plopnut – Thespesia populnea
Sea Grape – Coccoloba uvifera
Spanish Elm – Cordia gerascanthus
Candlewood / Torchwood – Amyris elemifera Endangered
Cabbage Tree – Guapira discolor
Cabbage Tree / Blolly, Beefwood – Guapira discolor
Cherry – Myrcianthes fragrans, Endangered
Cherry / Twinberry, Simpson’s Stopper – Myrcianthes fragrans, attractive, pinkish bark, opposite leaves, strongly aromatic when crushed. Cherry was used for wattles.
Ironwood – Chionanthus caymanensis, Endangered Cayman Islands endemic, Family: OLEACEAE, leaves arranged in exactly Opposite pairs. The heavy wood is very hard, strong, termite and water-rot resistant, not inclined to warp. It was traditionally used for the foundation posts of houses. It grows only on Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac and nowhere else in the world, in rocky woodlands, close to a fresh water table.
Ironwood posts, Cousin Cora’s Cottage, Boggy Sand Road, West Bay.
Sea Grape – Coccoloba uvifera, Critically Endangered
Silver Thatch – Coccothrinax proctorii, Endangered Cayman Islands endemic
Silver Thatch trees growing on Pedro St James bluff. They grow extremely slowing, about one inch per year. The underside of the fronds are silvery.
Spanish – Cordia gerascanthus, Family: BORAGINACEAE, Endangered. In the Cayman Islands, Spanish Elm was used in general construction and for making oars.
Greater Antilles, Mexico, Central America and Columbia.
Strawberry – Eugenia axillaris
Wattle and Daub construction, Cayman Catboat Club
Fustic – Maclura tinctoria (dye wood), Critically Endangered, Family: MORACEAE
Fustic is DIOECIOUS – male and female flowers grow on separate trees, fruits form from female (pistillate) flowers only.
Fustic is native to the West Indies and continental tropical America. It was exported from Grand Cayman for its yellowish dye, known as fustic or khaki, which was extracted from the wood. Flora of the Cayman Islands, Proctor 2012 p.241, Fig.84.
Logwood – Haematoxylum campechianum (dye wood), Invasive
Mahogany – Swietenia mahagoni, Endangered
The same huge Mahogany tree in East End, before and after Hurricane Ivan (Sept. 2004)
Silver Thatch – Coccothrinax proctorii (rope), Endangered Cayman Islands endemic
Calabash (or Gourd) tree – Crescentia cujete, Family: BIGNONIACEAE. The sprawling tree bears large green fruits, gourds (up to 25 cm in diameter) – the woody outer shells were traditionally used to make water containers, soup bowls, plates and for bailing boats. Florida, West Indies and continental tropical America.
Calabash, Gourd tree, has trumpet-shaped flowers that sprout directly from the branches and trunk and are pollinated by Buffy Flower bats.
Silver Thatch – Coccothrinax proctorii (rope), Endangered Cayman Islands endemic
The information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be an endorsement of any of the old-time remedies. Some parts of a plant, ripe or unripe, may heal, while other parts of the same plant may be poisonous. There may be a fine line between kill and cure.
Aunt Eliza Bush – Tournefortia volubilis
Aloe Vera “Sempervivie”, ‘Alloways” – Aloe vera
Basil “Tea Basil” – Ocimum micranthum
Basil “Sweet” – Ocimim basilicum
Birch – Bursera simaruba
Broadleaf – Cordia sebestena var. caymanensis
Castor Oil Plant, Castor Bean – Ricinus communis. Family: EUPHORBIACEAE.
A wide-branching shrub 2-5 m tall, with watery sap and ALTERNATE leaves, native to Africa. It is monoecious: separate female (upper) and male (lower) flowers are borne on the same plant. The fruit, a capsule, is usually spiny and the seeds mottled. The seeds and leaves have been used since ancient times as a purgative and emollient. It was one of the most popular and revered plants in Cayman. Habitat: old fields, roadsides, open waste ground, gardens.
Warning: the seeds contain the highly POISONOUS phytotoxin RICIN and can be fatal if swallowed. Heat inactivates ricin (a protein).
Castor Oil Plant, Castor Bean – Ricinus communis
Cochineal, “Scotchineal”, Prickly Pear – Nopalea cochenillifera
(syn. Opuntia cochenillifera)
Coconut – Cocos nucifera
Cowitch – Mucuna pruriens
Dandelion – Senna occidentalis
Dandelion, Coffee Senna, Stinking Bush, Septic Weed – Senna occidentalis (syn. Cassia occidentalis), Family: FABACEAE (LEGUMINOSAE, subfamily: CAESALPINIOIDAE).
An erect shrubby annual herb, to about 1 m tall, often subwoody near the base.
Compound leaves that have an unpleasant odour when crushed, flowers yellow, pods oblong-linear, slightly curved. The roasted and pulverized brown seeds were used as a substitute for coffee. It is the larval food plant of the Cloudless Sulphur butterfly – Phoebis sennae.
Dandelion – Senna occidentalis
Dashalong – Turnera ulmifolia
Dogwood, Jamaica Dogwood, Fishfuddle Tree, Fish Poison Tree – Piscidia piscipula, Family: FABACEAE, Endangered. Leaves Alternate, compound, odd-pinnate. Pink flowers in panicles, pod greenish-yellow, straw-coloured at maturity, with papery wings.
The bark, especially of the roots, is well-known for its narcotic and poisonous properties. It has been used to relieve toothache and for curing mange in DOGS. If the bark and leaves are crushed and thrown into water, most nearby fish will become stupified and will float on the surface. The fruit has been used in South America for arrow poison.
Dogwood – Piscidia piscipula Note: Care must be taken with the use of this plant. Cayman Islands National Archive Oral History: A tea made from bark and leaves was ‘just nice”. Sap will draw a prickle from a finger.
Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus globulus, Family: MYRTACEAE. used as a balsamic, a hypoglycaemic and an antiseptic. The terpenoid volatile oil, cineol, is an expectorant and has a stimulating effect. Used as an inhalant.
Eucalyptus – Eucalyptus globulus, Shedden Road, opposite the Eucalyptus Building. The bark was burned to ward off mosquitotes.
Leaves of Eucalyptus “were made into a tea and the leaves were steeped in the bath and that was used to bathe you and steam you, for bad cold or pneumonia”. Eucalyptus oil is one of the active ingredients of Vicks VapoRub.
Fever Grass – Cymbopogon citratus
Headache Bush – Capparis cynophallophora
Heart Plant – Ruellia tuberosa
Juniper, Jennifer – Suriana maritima
Lavender, Sea Lavender – Tournefortia gnaphalodes (syn. Argusia gnaphalodes) Family: BORAGINACEAE. Dense, mound-like shrub, narrow leaves ALTERNATE, fleshy, velvety, silvery-grey. The fragrant white flowers attract butterflies. Seacoasts and saline shores, particularly sandy beaches. Bermuda, Florida, West Indies, and coasts of Yucatan, Cozumel, Belize and Venezuela. Photo: Ann Stafford, Pedro bluff, Grand Cayman, Feb.16, 2014. FLORA of the CAYMAN ISLANDS by George R. Proctor 2012 p.559, Fig.208, Pl.52.
In Cayman, a tea was made from boiled leaves for stomach problems and nerves
Sea Lavender – Tournefortia gnaphalodes (syn. Argusia gnaphalodes)
Leaf-of-Life, Curiosity Plant, (Cathedral Bells) – Kalanchoe pinnata (syn. Bryophyllum pinnatum), Family: CRASSULACEAE. Succulent perennial herb to 1m tall, leaves have scalloped edges, native to Madagascar, naturalized throughout the tropics.
In Cayman, the leaves were used to treat coughs, colds and sore throats, and to bathe swellings, sprains and bruises. It is called Leaf-of-Life, because when leaves fall on the ground, new plants sprout from the scalloped edges and take root.
Leaf-of-Life, Curiosity Plant – Kalanchoe pinnata
Lime – Citrus X aurantifolia
Liquorice, Wild, “John Crow Bean” – Abrus precatorius
Mulberry / Noni – Morinda citrifolia
Old Lady Coat Tail – Priva lappulacea
Pepper Cinnamon – Canella winterana
Periwinkle – Catharanthus roseus
Pomegranate – Punica granatum
Providence Mint – Lippia alba
Rhubarb Root – Morinda royoc
Rosemary – Croton linearis
A dioecious, pleasantly aromatic shrub, Rosemary (Pineland Croton or Grannybush – US) is a multipurpose plant. The leaves were steeped to make tea for striction, as a tonic, boiled to make a tea for diabetes or smoked as tobacco to relieve asthma.
Rosemary brooms were made to sweep the interior of the house.
Rosemary is the larval food plant of the Cuban Red Leaf butterfly – Anaea troglodyta and Drury’s Hairstreak butterfly – Strymon acis and is a butterfly nectar plant.
Note: The Cayman shrub, Rosemary, should not be confused with culinary woody, perennial herb, Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), native to the Mediterranean region, or the variegated leaf landscaping shrub, Croton (Codiaeum variegatum).
Sage, Black – Cordia globosa var. humilis
Sage, White – Lantana camara
Scorn-the-Ground – Phoradendron quadrangulare
Scorpion Tail – Heliotropium indicum
Serasee – Momordica charantia
Soursop – Annona muricata
Strong Back, Kidney Bush, (Shiny-leaved Wild Coffee) – Psychotria nervosa, Family: RUBIACEAE, Vulnerable. Shrub up to 2.5m tall. Butterflies nectar on the white flowers, birds eat the fruit – red drupe. The leaves were used as a medicine for back trouble, a tea was made for kidneys and as a tonic.
Florida, the West Indies and continental America, variable.
Cayman plants grow is rocky woodlands. Culturally significant plant, suitable for use in landscaping.
Wild Coffee (Florida) does not contain caffeine. Seeds used as coffee substitute resulted in “only bad taste and terrible headaches”.
Flora of the Cayman Islands 2012 by George R. Proctor, p.629, Fig.240, Pl.62 Kings GC 316, Lewis GC 33a
Strong Back, Kidney Bush / Wild Coffee – Psychotria nervosa
Tamarind – Tamarindus indica
Tea Banker – Pectis caymanensis
Thom Thistle – Argemone mexicana
Tittie Mollie – Euphorbia mesembrianthemifolia (syn. Chamaesyce mesembrianthemifolia)
Tobacco, Wild – Crossopetalum rhacoma
Vervine, “Worry Vine” – Stachytarpheta jamaicensis
Wormwood – Ambrosia hispida
The above list is based on HEALING PLANTS in the CAYMAN ISLANDS
compiled by Lorna McCubbin, March 15, 1995.
Lorna McCubbin in her Wattle and Daub house, with Ironwood posts, Cousin Cora’s Cottage, Boggy Sand Road, West Bay, Jan. 19. 2003.
Other Healimg Plants
“Caymania”, Desmodium – Desmodium adscendens
LOOK, DON’T TOUCH!
Beware of these plants!
Other Cayman Plants
native, non-native, cultivated, invasive
EUPHORBIACEAE – Spurge Family: subfamily: Euphorbioideae
Bellyache Bush – Jatropha gossypiifolia, pantropical. Low shrub, leaves deeply divided, flowers deep crimson or purple. Proctor p.448 – Bitter Cassava, Wild Cassava
Bellyache Bush – Jatropha gossypiifolia. Photo: Ann Stafford, Camana Way, Grand Cayman, April 10, 2009.
Candlenut, called ‘Walnut’ in Cayman – Aleurites moluccanus = A. moluccana (It is not related to the true Walnut – Juglans regia)
Cassava, Tapioca, Manioc, Tapioca, Yuca – Manihot esculenta. Native to Brazil. Kings GC 309, Proctor p.450
Cassava, Tapioca, Manioc, Tapioca, Yuca – Manihot esculenta
Cassava – Manihot esculenta Extract: There are several named cultivars available. The primitive “bitter cassavas” contain large amounts of cyanide and need a great deal of processing to make their roots edible. The modern “sweet” cultivars require only peeling and cooking.
Cassava meal and tapioca are made by grinding the roots in water and then evaporating off the liquid which includes the cyanide compounds. Products made from the cassava root include yuca, tapioca pudding, farinha, starch, soaps, glue, sugar, alcoholic drinks, acetone and cyanide. In tropical Asia the tender young leaves are boiled and eaten. In the Caribbean, juice extracted from cassava roots is flavored with cinnamon, cloves and sugar and called cassareep; it is used for preserving and flavoring meats, and is an essential ingredient in pepperpot stew.
Warning: All parts of the cassava plant are poisonous and must be processed by peeling, pressing or cooking before eating. It is reported that the Caribbean Arawak Indians committed suicide be eating raw cassava rather than face slavery under the Spanish invaders.
Coral Plant – Jatropha multifida, ornamental, butterfly nectar plant
Peregrina – Jatropha integerrima, native to Cuba; ‘Compacta’ is a smaller, more compact cultivar, ornamental, butterfly nectar plant
Physic Nut – Jatropha curcas, shrub or small tree with viscid milky or reddish sap. Proctor p.448
The Whole Truth by C. Dennis Adams
It is quite true that if you cut the bark of the Physic Nut Tree, Jatropha curcas, at noon on Good Friday it will bleed red. It is also true that if you cut it at 10am on August 28 or 3pm on January 5 it will bleed red. This does not of course bear on any conflict between Science and Religion; the matter has little to do with wither, but is one of stating what is true and, by omission and implication, what is false. An incomplete statement can be as misleading as a purposely inaccurate one.
What in effect we have here is a trick to impress the gullible. Those who carry out a simple investigation can find out how the trick is made to work convincingly.
Physic Nut – Jatropha curcas, 10 minutes later. Photo: Lois Blumenthal, April 18, 2003.
Wild Oil Nut – Jatropha divaricata, monoecious shrub, native to Jamaica and Grand Cayman only. Found near Forest Glen and along the Mastic Trail. Critically Endangered. Proctor p.448
Wild Oil Nut Jatropha divaricata fruit, Mastic Trail, May 19, 2004
Botanists and collectors
William Fawcett May 1888
John T. Rothrock “Winter of 1890-1891”
A. S. Hitchcock Jan. 1891
Charles F. Millspaugh Feb. 1889
C. A. Mately Jan. 1924
Wilfred Kings May-Aug. 1938
C. Bernard Lewis Apr. 1938, Dec. 1944, Mar. 1945, Dec. 1945
C. M. Maggs June 1938
George R. Proctor Feb. 1948, Apr.-May 1956, June-July 1967, Aug. 1968, Nov. 1968, Sep. 1969, Aug. 1975, Nov. 1991-Apr. 2004 (15 short collecting trips)
Marie-Helene Sachet Sep. 1958
Robert A. Dressler May 1964
Richard A. Howard & B. Wagenknecht Jan. 1969
Martin Brunt May-June 1967
Jonathan Sauer June 1967
John Popenoe Apr. 1969
Donovan S. & Helen B. Correll Nov. 1979
G. F. Guala June 1998
Wild Trees in the Cayman Islands by Fred Burton, illustrated by Penny Clifford
1773 Gauld map of Grand Cayman
by P. Ann van B. Stafford, April 2017
The 1938 Oxford University Expedition to the Cayman Islands (April 17 to August 27) was the first natural history survey of all three islands, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and reports were written about the flora, fauna, geology and wetlands. The founding study of Cayman’s butterflies was done then by entomologists C. Bernard Lewis and Gerald H. Thompson, both Oxford students, (Carpenter and Lewis 1943) and gave a good indication of the number of species on each island at that time.
The expedition was in acceptance of a long-standing invitation by Cayman Islands Commissioner Allen Wolsey Cardinall (1934-1941) to make a biological survey of the islands. Lewis was a Rhodes scholar from the United States, who later became Director of the Institute of Jamaica in Kingston. The identification & documentation of specimens were delayed by of the outbreak of World War II in 1939.
The Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera) collected and observed were fully discussed and published in 1943 by Carpenter and Lewis. (G.D. Hale Carpenter, Hope Department of Entomology, University Museum, Oxford and C.B. Lewis, Museum of the Institute of Jamaica).
Places: Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
Transportation: CIMBOCO, truck, motor boat, catboats, HMS Orion
Accommodation: Headquarters in George Town
Animals: Reptiles – Lizards and Iguanas
Animals: Reptiles – Geckos
Animals: Reptiles – Snakes
Animals: Insects – Dragonflies, Damselflies
Animals: Insects – Cicadas
Animals: Insects – Beetles
Animals: Insects – Bees, Ants, Wasps
Animals: Insects – Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera)
Animals: Insects – Moths (Lepidoptera)
Animals: Insects – Flies (Diptera) – Mosquitoes
Animals: Insects – other
Poem of farewell by Leila E. Ross
Return to the UK
The party comprised:-
W. Gemmel Alexander (Brasenose College) – Leader and Organiser
C. Bernard Lewis (Wadham College) – Biologist (Rhodes Scholar from the United States) (lewisi)
Gerald H. Thompson (St. Edmund Hall) – Biologist (thompsoni)
W. Neil Paten (Magdalen College) – Marine Biologist
Wilfred Kings Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby – Botanist (kingsii)
Allen Wolsey Cardinall – Commissioner of the Cayman Islands, from 1934 to 1941
Joseph Rodriguez (Roddie) Watler – Police Inspector, truck owner
Bentley (Benny) Ross – boat owner – the ‘BRAVO’
Urban Myles – cook
Norris Jackson – assistant
Pershing Merren – assistant
Sam Ebanks – assistant
John Howard – assistant
Ira Thompson – Commissioner’s chauffeur
Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands 1938 – homemade equipment, the still – for recovering waste alcohol. (C. B. Lewis photo 1938). Alcohol was needed for the preservation of specimens.
Sam Ebanks, Gerald Thompson and John Howard – off to work – Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands (C. B. Lewis photo 1938)
John Howard, (C. B. Lewis photo 1938)
Urban Myles, 97 years old. He was the cook on the 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands.
They camped on the little schooner ‘Meritwell’ in North Sound for one week
and used a motor boat and canoe for their biological observations and collections.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Mar. 3, 2007.
Gemmel Alexander – 1938 Oxford Expedition Leader and Organiser,had his 20th. birthday in Kingston, Jamaica, on his way to Cayman. Caymanian Compass, March 15, 2004.
Liverpool, UK; Kingston, Jamaica; Grand Cayman (population:4,500); Cayman Brac (population: 1,500); Little Cayman (population: 64).
Grand Cayman map
Grand Cayman, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 13 – 17 and June 11 – August 10.
Cayman Brac, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 18 – May 28.
Little Cayman, Wilfred Kings, botanist: May 28 – June 11
Ship from Liverpool, UK March 22, (14 days voyage) to Kingston, Jamaica, CIMBOCO (motor boat) from Kingston to Grand Cayman, truck, motor boat, catboats.
CIMBOCO, Cayman Islands Motor Boat Company, was the first locally built, motorized sailing ship in Cayman. CIMBOCO was Cayman’s connection to the world: regular travel, shipping, parcel post, providing a reliable supply of staple & exotic foods, such as flour, sugar, fruit & even ice! “Her launching in May 1927 was a great day in the history of the Cayman Islands,” said Miss Annie Huldah Bodden, secretary until 1947.
Launching of the CIMBOCO, May 1927, photo: N.L Booker, father of Aarona Booker Kohlman, who is the author of ‘UNDER TIN ROOFS Cayman in the 1920’s’ (1993).
Catboats: unloading cargo stamp $1.60, (release date Aug. 31, 2011).
CIMBOCO and HMS Orion from Grand Cayman to Kingston, Jamaica.
Expedtion Headquarters in George Town – Althea’s cottage
Rum Point – tents
South Sound – Czar Hurlston’s house
‘Oxford House’ (photo: Ann Stafford, Nov.30, 2007). The team stayed in Czar Hurlston’s house on South Sound. It was subsequently moved to South Church St, its current location. The front porch was added.
REPTILES: Lizards and Iguanas
Eastern Grand Cayman Blue-throated Anole – Anolis conspersus lewisi (endemic)
The endemic Blue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi, Grand Cayman’s largest native land animal, is named after Bernard Lewis.
Blue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi, Endangered Grand Cayman endemic, named after biologist C. Bernard Lewis, Rhodes Scholar, who took a male and female to the British Museum of Natural History, collected during the 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands. Photo: Ann Stafford, on the Woodland Trail, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, Apr. 22, 2012.
Blue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi. Photo: Ann Stafford, on the Woodland Trail, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, Aug.18, 2013.
Grand Cayman Blue Iguana – Cyclura lewisi. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Grand Cayman, March 3, 2011.
Sister Islands Rock Iguana (Lesser Cayman Islands Rock Iguana) – Cyclura nubila caymanensis, subspecies endemic to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
Ground Gecko, Cayman Least Gecko – Sphaerodactylus argivus
This Antillean species is endemic to the Cayman Islands (Henderson and Powell 2009).
Ground Gecko, Wood Lizard – Spherodactylus argivus lewisi, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies. It probably occurs island-wide, including the satellite islands. It has been found under rocks at the bottom of sink holes, in the mouths of caves on a limestone ridge (south of Old Man Bay), and in bromeliads (Seidel and Franz 1994) .
On Little Cayman, the subspecies bartschi probably occurs island-wide, but most known specimens were collected near the beach at South Town and at Tarpon Lake (Seidel and Franz 1994); it also occurs in Owen Island.
Cayman Brac, the subspecies argivus is found island-wide (Schwartz and Henderson 1991).
Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies
Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Courtney Platt. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.
Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Courtney Platt. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.
Grand Cayman Water Snake – Tretanorhinus variabilis lewisi, found by Fred Burton and photographed by Lois Blumenthal. Photo: Ann Stafford, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, Sept. 21, 2003.
INSECTS: DRAGONFLIES, DAMSELFLIES (Order: Odonata)
INSECTS: CICADAS (Order: Hemiptera – True Bugs)
Suborder: Auchenorrhyncha (Cicadas, Leafhoppers)
Diceroprocta caymanensis Davis, 1939
Diceroprocta cleavesi Davis, 1930
Diceroprocta ovata Davis, 1939
Each island has its own endemic Cicada species –
Grand Cayman Cicada – Diceroprocta cleavesi
Little Cayman Cicada – Diceroprocta caymanensis
Cayman Brac Cicada – Diceroprocta ovata
The species are morphologically very similar, differing principally in their colouration, and they are allied to D. biconia from Cuba.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Aug. 13, 2005
Cicadas are locally called ‘crickets’ . The male Cicadas’ ‘song’ is a high-pitched buzzing sound. Female Cicadas lay their eggs in the bark of a twig. When the eggs hatch, the nymphs drop to the ground. They burrow with their front legs, which are enlarged for tunneling, and they live underground, feeding on roots. When they are ready for their fifth and final molt, they dig their way out to the surface and climb a short distance on to a plant to which they anchors themselves. The winged adults emerge in July and August, leaving the empty nymph case attached to the plant.
Adult Cicada, just emerged from its nymph exoskeleton. Photo: Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Aug. 5, 2002.
Davis, William T. 1939 Journal of the New York Entomological Society, vol. 47, no. 3, pages 207-213
Photo: Wallace Platts, Cayman Brac, May 1, 2011.
INSECTS: BEETLES: (Order: Coleoptera)
Family: Carabidae – Ground Beetles
Family: Staphylinidae – Rove Beetles
Family: Scarabaeidae – Chafers and Dung Beetles
Family: Cerambycidae – Long-horned Beetles or Timber Beetles
Styloleptus lewisi (Fisher) 1948, (synonym: Leptostylus lewisi)
Eburia caymanensis Fisher 1941
Eburia concisispinis Fisher 1941
Eburia lewisi Fisher 1948
Derancistrus (Elateropsis) caymanensis (Fisher) 1941
INSECTS: BEES, ANTS, WASPS: (Order Hymenoptera)
Caribbean Cicada Killer Wasp, Mangrove Giant Wasp – Sphecius hogardii
INSECTS: BUTTERFLIES: (Order Lepidoptera: Rhopalocera)
Cayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana – Cayman Islands endemic subspecies
Cayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana larvae on their pseudospurs they made on their larval food plant Wild Cinnamon – Croton nitens, Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman, Nov. 17, 2009.
Cayman Brown Leaf Butterfly – Memphis verticordia danielana larva securing its rolled-leaf shelter with silk, on larval food plant Wild Cinnamon – Croton nitens, Ann Stafford, Grand Cayman,Sept. 21, 2010.
The endemic Pygmy Blue Butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsoni Carpenter & Lewis 1943 is named after Gerald Thompson. He discovered it on June 23, 1938 in English Sound (named after T.M. Savage English), a lagoon off North Sound.
Cayman Pygmy Blue butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsoni, Grand Cayman endemic subspecies named after Gerald Harvey Thompson, 1938 Oxford University biology student.
Photo: R. R. Askew, Jan. 19, 2008
ANNALS OF THE CARNEGIE MUSEUM Vol.XXIX p.392-394
Carpenter & Lewis 1943:
This tiny butterfly is indeed limited in its distribution for it was not found outside of an area of about fifty square yards, on the edge of a secluded lagoon, known as English Sound, lying to the east of and off of the Great Sound. The vegetation of this area is low, but not unusual, and is typical of such situations which are numerous on the island. No early stages were found.
English Sound is a very shallow lagoon off North Sound, Grand Cayman, where Grand Cayman’s Pygmy Blue butterfly – Brephidium exilis thompsonii was discovered by Bernard Lewis and Gerald Thompson in 1938. English Sound is not named on maps, but was the locality of property of naturalist T. M. Savage English, who resided in Grand Cayman from late 1910 to 1914.
Naturalist Thomas Mylius Savage English lived in Grand Cayman between late 1910 and 1914. He owned property in the Cayman Kai area. This shallow lagoon, English Sound, is named after him, but it is not named on maps. The location of his dock can be seen in the centre of this photo.
Photo: Kayaker James Macfee June 18, 2008
Butterflies of the Cayman Islands 2008 by R.R. Askew and P.A. van B. Stafford 2008
This book includes records from the
1938 Oxford University Expedition to the Cayman Islands and
1975 Joint Royal Society – Cayman Islands Government Expedition to Little Cayman
INSECTS: MOTHS (Order Lepidoptera)
Family: Sphingidae – Sphinx or Hawk Moths
INSECTS: FLIES (Order Diptera)
Family: Culicidae – Mosquitoes
Family: Psychodidae, SubFamily: Phlebotominae, Sandflies (Luyzomyia) ?
Black Widow Spiders Order: Araneae, Family: Theridiidae – Comb-footed Spiders)
Latrodectus mactans – Southern Black Widow Spider – GC and LC
unidentified species – GC and CB (The Cayman Islands Natural History and Biogeography book p. 310, Chapter 16. Terrestrial invertebrates (other than insects) of the Cayman Islands by M. V. Hounsome).
Black Widow Spider, with egg sac, found by Carla Reid, Grand Cayman, May 2, 2003
Avibase – Bird Checklists of the World – Cayman Islands:
History of Ornithology in the Cayman Islands:
1880’s C. B. C. Cory (1857-1921), a wealthy amateur ornithologist and founder member of the American Ornithologist’s Union, was the first to study Cayman’s avifauna. He described 13 new species of landbirds. All but one, the Grand Cayman Thrush, were later reclassified as endemic subspecies (Bangs 1916).
1889 Charles J. Maynard first reported the two sulids as a single new species, later named as two:
Red-footed Booby on Little Cayman, and Brown Booby on Cayman Brac.
1892 C. B. C. Cory’s checklist of 55 species, 30 of them breeding.
Late 1910 – 1914 Thomas Mylius Savage English, naturalist, lived on Grand Cayman. He did not see the endemic Grand Cayman Thrush (Turdus ravidus) until his third year on the island.
1911 P. R. Lowe published a checklist of 75 species, 40 of them breeding.
1904 – 1938 Avian collectors visited from time to time. Their specimens were housed in various museums:
Chicago, New York, Washington, Boston (Harvard), London (Tring) and Baton Rouge (Louisiana).
1938 C. Bernard Lewis was the last person to record seeing the Grand Cayman Thrush, which became extinct.
‘The beautiful Grand Cayman Thrush is extinct. The thrush was relatively common when first described in the 1880s, but was rare by the turn of the 19th century, and the last report came in 1938. It is unclear why this species went extinct, although habitat conversion, as well as hurricanes, have been blamed. This thrush was dark gray with a white belly, and dark, graduated tail with white tail corners; the bill and legs were bright red. The white-tipped tail, largely grayish plumage and red bare parts all suggest a close relationship with the Caribbean endemic Red-legged Thrush (Turdus plumbeus). Very little is known about this thrush as it was gone before much of the Caribbean was explored.’
Thrushes, © Princeton University Press/ illustration by Ren Hathway
Grand Cayman Thrush on Cayman Islands 1/4 d (1/4 penny) = one farthing, stamp, June 5, 1969, when the Cayman Islands currency was British pounds, shillings and pence.
Grand Cayman Thrush – Turdus ravidus, GC endemic, is extinct. This was the only Cayman Islands endemic bird species, as opposed to subspecies.
Grand Cayman Thrush on Cayman Islands 1/4 cent stamp, Sept. 8, 1970, after the Cayman Islands currency changed to the Cayman Islands Dollar from British pounds, shillings and pence.
Grand Cayman Thrush on Cayman Islands 1 cent coin, currently in use.
W. Neil Paten (Magdalen College) was the Marine Biologist. (He was killed in World War II.)
Map of North Sound (the Great Sound), Grand Cayman and the barrier reef.
Vidal Cay (named after survey ship HMS Vidal), off Barkers, West Bay, is also known as Barkers Cay. It was the site of the original Stingray City, about 12 ft deep. Stingray City sandbar is the location of the current shallow, popular, Stingray City. Fisherman’s Rock can be seen as a pimple on the horizon from the southern area of North Sound, and is a useful landmark near the Main Channel through the reef.
Much of Gemmel Alexander’s work (the 19 year old Team Leader) was carried out in conjunction with Neil Paten, in North Sound, inside the reef, examining and collecting specimens from the spongy, Turtle Grass–covered bottom (Thalassia testudinum). They camped on the little schooner, the ‘Meritwell’, in North Sound for one week, and used a motor boat, operated by Benny Ross, and canoe for their biological observations and collections. Urban Myles was the cook.
Ford’s Lagoon is probably English Sound, (neither are marked on any maps), named after Thomas Mylius Savage English who live in Cayman for about 3 years (late 1910-1914). It is a very shallow lagoon, with a narrow entrance, off Little Sound, south of Rum Point.
Jackson Point rock-pool, SW of George Town. Neil collected from the rock-pools on April 23 and 26, 1938.
Neil had a lot of special requirements. He ran out of alcohol to preserve specimens, because they had done so much collecting, more than expected. They set up a still to make their own alcohol, in the garden of the house in George Town that was their headquarters.
The Cap Pilar , a 3-masted square rigged French Barquentine (Schooner Barque), owned and captained by Adrian Seligman (1909-2003), nearing the conclusion of its two year round the world voyage, visited Grand Cayman in June, on its way from Montego Bay, Jamaica (May), to New York (July). The Cap Pilar had a marine biologist on board, with equipment from the British Museum. W. Gemmel Alexander, Oxford Expedition Team Leader, cabled the British Museum to request the transfer of equipment from the Cap Pilar, in George Town harbour, to the Oxford Expedition. Permission was granted.
The purpose of the Cap Pilar’s two-year round the world voyage, begun in September 1936, captained by Adrian Seligman, then of Wimbledon, England, was partly adventure and partly to collect plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The original botanist on the Cap Pilar was A. F. Roper, but when the ship reached South Africa on its outward journey, his place was taken by C.M. Maggs, then a Horticulturalist at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa. The Cap Pilar visited Australia and after making collections on various Pacific Islands (including the Galapagos) and at Panama, made a final stop at Grand Cayman, where a few plants and seeds were collected.
The Cap Pilar set sail from Grand Cayman on June 23, 1938 and arrived in New York on July 12, 1938. They were upstaged by Howard Hughes, who had just flown around the world nonstop and was being given a ticker-tape reception up Broadway.
Wilfred Kings was invited to join the Oxford University Biological Expedition to the Cayman Islands by Gemmel Alexander on March 21, 1938 in the capacity of Botanist, as their Botanist was unable to join the Expedition at last moment.
Report on the Botanical Collections
from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
Wilfred Kings Sept. 1938
Grand Cayman May 13 – May 17 and June 11 – Aug.10
Cayman Brac May 18 – May 28
Little Cayman May 28 – June 11
Kings saw Mr Alston at the British Museum (Natural History), explained the situation, and that he was not a Specialist in any capacity. They were satisfied that he should go merely as a Collector.
Mr Charles Elton and Dr Hobby in a interview at the Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford, were also willing for Kings to work in that capacity.
Lawrence Sheriff School, Rugby, Governors granted Kings a leave of absence for the term, where he was the Geography Master. Kings eventually joined the party in Grand Cayman on May 13, 1938.
The Collection, as far as the Flowering Plants and Ferns were concerned, was almost entirely in duplicate.
George Town area – beach, bluff and pasture lands
East End – beach and bluff
West Bay – beach
South Sound – beach and bluff, mainly along ‘Leg and Knee Road’
East End – inland to the swampy Savannah Land
Governor’s Creek and Sound
Batabano – pasture land
North Side – beach, bluff, Forest Glen, Cedar Cliff, Malportas Pond, Round Cay Pond, Savage English’s Cistern, Rum Point
Old Man Bay
North East Coast – from Old Man Bay to Roger Wreck
Frank Sound Bridge
George Town Barcadere
West Bay – North West Point, Mount Pleasant
Pedro Castle and Newlands
Cayman Brac localities visited:
Cotton Tree Land, West End
Across the Island from Stakes Bay to the North Side with its abrupt Undercut Cliff and sandy coastal strip, with broken coral on the coastline.
Along the NE to Spot Bay and on the high bluff to the North East Point Lighthouse
Little Cayman localities visited, there were no roads on the Island:
South Town wide strip of coast land at the Western end – most collecting was done here.
Track from South Town to SW of Bloody Bay
North coast to Jackson
‘Cross the Land Road’ to South Hole Sound
Extreme East End was visited by boat.
Information on place names and locations:
Round Cay, North Side, Grand Cayman
Where the ground is pure Coral Sand a plantation is made by collecting bush and coral rock from the shore, roughly in the proportion of 3:1 and burning this in a carefully constructed fire. On such a “Ground” at Round Cay, North Side, the owner grew six crops of maize in three years. No rotation or manuring is attempted and such ground is then left to grow bush for a few years and this is then burned for further planting. The constant burning of the bush also fragments the Limestone and improves the tilth. This method is commonly used in road-making.
1988 Ordnance Survey map of the Rum Point, Cayman Kai, English Sound, Bowse Land area of North Side, Grand Cayman.
Savage English’s Cistern, Old Man English’s Cistern
Fresh Water Sponges – It was hoped to obtain specimens – for Mr. M. Burton of the British Museum (now the Natural History Museum, London) as I understand that none have been recorded from the Caymans. Only one possible specimen (and this may prove to be an alga) was found in SAVAGE ENGLISH’S CISTERN (the circular one) North Side. This cistern has not been used since about 1917 when the house was destroyed (by a hurricane).
Thomas Mylius Savage ENGLISH – naturalist, lived in Grand Cayman over a hundred years ago (late 1910 to 1914)
Link to List of plants by Collector – Kings, W.
on Missouri Botanical Garden website, Tropicos.org:
FLOWERING PLANTS of JAMAICA
by C. Dennis Adams, 1972
Dennis Adams’ intermittent visits to the Natural History Museum (formerly the British Museum – BM), London, began in 1959 when it was suggested that he might get a useful preliminary overview of a West Indian flora by checking through a rather comprehensive collection of Cayman Island specimens (645) made there in 1938 by Wilfred Kings during the Oxford University Expedition. That was prior to Adams’ move from Ghana to Jamaica.
If a Cayman species was also found in Jamaica, Adams included it in the range in his book Flowering Plants of Jamaica 1972.
FLORA of the CAYMAN ISLANDS
by George R. Proctor, 2012
Encylia kingsii Orchid (synonym Epidendrum kingsii), named after Wilfred Kings, biologist on the 1938 Oxford Expedition, June 7, Jackson, Little Cayman.
Encyclia kingsii (C.D. Adams) Nir, Lindleyana 9(3): 147. 1994.
The illustration (link) shows the shape of the lip, petal and sepal.
Encyclia kingsii Cayman Islands Orchid stamps issue 2005.
Encyclia kingsii and Banana Orchid (Myrmecophila thomsoniana var. thomsoniana) on Shake Hand tree (Xylosma bahamense). Photo: P. Ann van B. Stafford, East End, Grand Cayman, June 24, 2007. Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor, 2012, p.201, 206 & 319.Grand Cayman, June 24, 2007.
Encyclia kingsii (= Epidendrum kingsii), ORCHIDACEAE, from Cayman Brac, in a private collection in Grand Cayman. P. Ann van B. Stafford, July 2, 2010.
Agalinis kingsii Proctor, Sloanea 1: 3 (1977)
King’s Agalinis (Agalinis – False Foxglove) Agalinis kingsii
A hemiparasitic slender ANNUAL herb with pink flowers, Critically Endangered Grand Cayman endemic, (Family was SCROPHULARIACEAE, is now OROBANCHACEAE) was collected by Kings (Kings GC 257) “in mangrove swamps on the drier land” at Forest Glen, North Side. The species has since been found east of Duck Pond Bight and south of the Salina Reserve (Proctor, Aug. 8, 1992).
Ref. Flora of the Cayman Islands by George R. Proctor, p. 601, Fig. 224, Plate 58.
In the Salina Reserve sedge wetlands, this species appears to benefit from fire. This occasionally spreads from neighbouring agricultural land and burns back stands of Cladium jamaicense sedge during the dry season. In the Central Mangrove Wetland the species colonizes exposed peat in trail clearings through Conocarpus erectus shrubland, suggesting that populations might expand widely in the Central Mangrove after widespread tree fall resulting from major hurricanes.
Agalinis kingsii, showing habitat, with Cutting Grass, Saw Grass – Cladium jamaicanse (Sedge) and Buttonwood – Conocarpus erectus. Photo: Maribeth Latvis, Salina Reserve, Grand Cayman, 2011.
This species is reported to be hemi-parasitic, tapping into root connections to other plants. An unknown species of ant colonizes the raised peat mounds where the species grows. These ants may be involved in pollination and/or dispersal of its seeds.
Agalinis kingsii, photo: Maribeth Latvis, Salina Reserve, Grand Cayman, 2011.
Salina Reserve, where Agalinis kingsii grows, affected by fire.
The reserve, which is owned and maintained by the Cayman Islands National Trust and is home to hundreds of the protected indigenous Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi), is described on its website as totaling 646 acres “comprising sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrubland and forest in an intricate mosaic.”
Expeditions 2011: Grand Cayman Island Agalinis kingsii, Maribeth Latvis
Heliotropium humifusum – Matlike Heliotrope Kings GC 59, LC 48, LC 78
Salvia caymanensis – Cayman Sage Kings GC 422
Fresh water sponges?
Thomas Mylius Savage English’s Cistern (the circular one). Photo: C. Bernard Lewis, North Side, Grand Cayman, 1938.
Wilfred Kings hoped to obtain specimens of Fresh Water Sponges for Mr Burton of the British Museum, as none had been recorded from the Cayman Islands. The only possible specimen, which might have proved to be an alga, was found in this cistern, which had not been used since 1917 when the house was destroyed by a hurricane.
In 1930 Leila Ross-Shier (nee McTaggart) composed a song she called “Beloved Isle Cayman” and for many years it was regarded as the unofficial national song. It was not until 1993 when it became the official national song when the Cayman Islands Coat of Arms, Flag and National Song Law were passed. She was the mother of Benny Ross, boat owner and driver.
She wrote a poem of farewell to the Oxford team in C. Bernard Lewis’s copy of the book Life and Adventures in the West Indies, by Vaquero, originally published in 1914, which it in the Cayman Islands National Archive.
Oxford University Cayman Islands Biological Expedition
by Leila E. Ross
August 18, 1938
It seems so unworthy to tell your worth,
For you are the very salt of the earth,
Messrs. Alexander, Thompson, Neil, Lewis and Kings,
We wish you the best of all good things.
You have shared our hardships, and our joys,
Grown friendly with our girls and boys;
You have killed mosquitoes, butterflies caught
And wonderful things with your hands have wrought.
We wish you “Godspeed” as home you go
Starting out on the good ship “CIMBOCO”;
May you find your loved ones happy and well,
Good news of our isle be able to tell.
But we hope that sometime soon you’ll come
Again, to visit our island home,
For we have grown so used to you, you know,
We shall very much miss you, when you go.
Return to the UK
Types and paratypes are held in South Kensington Natural History Museum, London, the Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford, London Zoo and American Zoos.
Aug. 31, 1938. Quote from The Telegraph, 31.8.38 under the heading GREEN TURTLES AND IGUANAS ‘Animals and reptiles rarely, if ever, seen in Europe, were landed in Liverpool today on the return, after a six month absence, of members of the Oxford University expedition to the Cayman Islands in the West Indies…….some of the specimens will shortly be seen at the London Zoo, which is to have the choice of the collection………’
The collection included 19 iguanas or spine lizards up to four feet in length, two green turtles, four hawksbill turtles, 16 land turtles, several lizards and land crabs, 27 black snakes and nine wood snakes as well as spiders, scorpions and centipedes.
Little Cayman is seldom mentioned in entomological literature. The 1938 Oxford University Biological Expedition spent thirteen days on the island and reports on the resulting collection deal with Odonata (Fraser, 1943), water-bugs (Hungerford, 1940), Nemoptera (Banks, 1941), cicadas (Davis, 1939), Carabidae (Darlington, 1947), Cerambycidae (Fisher, 1941, 1948), butterflies (Carpenter and Lewis, 1943) and Sphingidae (Jordan, 1940). During the 1975 expedition, insects of all orders were studied, over a period of about five weeks, and many additions will eventually be made to the island’s species list. At present, however, identification of the insects collected has, with the exception of the butterflies which have been considered separately, proceeded in the majority of cases as far as the family level. Application of the family names for the most part follows Borror and DeLong (1966). In this paper the general characteristics of the insect fauna are described.
The Cayman Islands Natural History and Biogeography
M.A. Brunt & J.E. Davies / Editors, 1994
Adams, C. Dennis 1972 Flowering Plants of Jamaica (Reader in Botany at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
Bradley, P.E and Rey-Millet, Y-J. 2013 Birds of the Cayman Islands
Kings, Wilfred September 1938 Report on the Botanical Collections from Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
Lewis, C. Bernard, Photographic Collection 1938. Cayman Islands National Archive Accession No. 414 B.