Not all species of life on Grand Cayman fared as well as humans from the
effects of Hurricane Ivan.
Some types of plant life, and trees in particular, felt the brunt of the
One tree that did fairly well in weathering the storm is the sea grape, or
more specifically coccoloba uvifera.
Unfortunately, many sea grape trees have been cleared off properties as
hurricane casualties because many people do not realize the remarkable endurance
they have, even when knocked over by wind.
Sandy Urquhart, general manager of the West Indian Club Nursery, is well
acquainted with sea grape trees, and has used them as part of the landscape
schemes in places like the median of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway extension and
in the Growing Communities district parks.
He says that as long as part of the tree stays attached to the ground, the
tree can survive by creating additional rooting, even if much of its original
rooting is exposed from the effect of a storm. “The exposed roots will
eventually die and just drop off.”
This survival trait of the sea grape is one of the reasons the trees can
display such unusual shapes. “Their shapes evolve through a hundred years worth
of storms,” Mr. Urquhart says.
The George Town Growing Communities district park was a month away from
opening when Hurricane Ivan hit. The park features many sea grape trees, one of
which was uprooted during the storm. Mr. Urquhart has no intention of removing
the tree. “It’s a beautiful shape. We’ll put a park bench behind the roots and
let it grow.”
Unlike some trees that have been brought into the Cayman Islands, the sea
grape is a native tree that is well suited for the conditions here, including
The tree plays an important role in beach ecology, helping to anchor the sand
and prevent storm erosion. It is so valued in this regard that the state of
Florida has made it illegal to remove or even extensively prune sea grape trees
near the shoreline.
The sea grape tree is highly tolerant to salt spray and salty soil, and can
withstand strong sun, heavy winds and even droughts.
“It’s a very useful tree,” said Mr. Urquhart. “It provides shade, has an
edible berry, and produces a wonderful wood.”
Another tree that generally survived Hurricane Ivan very well was the Silver
Thatch Palm. Found only in the Cayman Islands, the national tree should be
expected to weather storms successfully, said Mr. Urquhart. “It is genetically
connected to where it grows, and it’s tough.”
Hurricane Ivan also showed which trees are not suited to the environment
because they are not native to the country.
The Casuarina tree, also known as the Australian pine, does not have a root
structure to withstand hurricanes, as evidenced by the hundreds of downed trees
that now litter the Cayman landscape.
“It’s a dreadful plant,” said Mr. Urquhart. “It’s so aggressive it doesn’t
even let its own offspring live.”
So invasive is the Casuarina that it is illegal to import the tree into the
United States and many other countries in the world.
Mr. Urquhart realizes that many people think the Casuarina belongs in the
Cayman Islands. “That’s the problem,” he says. “It’s been here long enough now
that people think its native.