Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spring in St. Croix

Pelican Cove, along north shore of St. Croix, USVI.
I just got back from a week in St. Croix, USVI, where the temperature on the first day of spring was in the mid-80's, surprisingly about the same as it was in the Boston area.  Despite the similarity in temperatures, the view was very different.

We spent most of the trip snorkeling and taking in the underwater sights, but we spent one day at the St. George Village Botanical Garden.  The 16 acre site is on a former sugar plantation dating from the early 1800's.  It is located on the western end of the island  in a transitional area between the rain forest and the grasslands.  The botanical collection contains 1500 species, both native and introduced, that are woven into the remains of the plantation's buildings.  This collection includes plants from drier east end of the island, as well as those of the grasslands and rain forest.

 In the former Sugar Factory building are found some display gardens featuring many species of Aloes and Bromeliads.
The addition of the little waterfall really enhanced this garden.

Notice the crazy growth on these leaves
The Crested Euphorbia, which is at the lower right in the photo above, is a variant of Mottled Euphorbia, a plant native to tropical Asia.  This variant tends to grow in random directions creating ridges and waves along it's leaves.

There were a number of different members of the Euphorbiaceae family in these gardens.  Another one that caught my eye was called Red Bird, Pedilanthus tithymaloides.
Another member of the Euphorbiaceae family,
note its Poinsettia-like leaves.

Bromeliads are featured in another part of the Sugar Factory.  Not all of these are native to the Virgin Islands, but most are from the American Tropics.

The spines on this Kapok Tree are
difficult to make out at a distance.

In addition to these smaller tropical plants, there are a number of larger trees in the collection.  The Kapoc Tree is among the largest trees in the garden. This native tree can be found growing in many spots on the island.  The larger specimens can be recognized the the massive buttressing roots.  On smaller and medium-sized trees a key feature is the large spines that decorate the trunk.

The fiber found in the seed pods of the Kapok tree is very hydrophobic (water resistant) and was used in life vests before synthetic materials were available.

Another tree that I had noticed around the island is the Cannonball Tree.  It is most easily spotted by its large orange flowers.  The tree's common name is for the 4-5" spherical fruits it produces.
The Cannonball Tree is native to the northern
parts of South America.
These flowers are easy to spot at a distance.

This member of the Bignoniacea family is native to the Virgin Islands.

When I saw the flower of the White Cedar, or Pink Poui, I did a double take.  This flower looked very familiar, but I did not expect to see it on a tree. After reading the tag, it noted that this was a member of the Bignoniaceae family, same family as the Trumpet Vine, found in many parts of mainland North America.

I think this may be Lobster Claw,
Heliconia rostrata,but I couldn't find a tag.

Moving back to the leafier plants I was struck by this bright red and yellow flower coming out of what looked to me like a banana tree.  Well it wasn't a banana, but instead was a Heliconia (both in the order Zingiberales).  

As we were winding up our visit we passed through the Cactus and Succulent garden.  These plants are usually found on the drier eastern third of the island. 

In the background on the right is another Cannonball Tree.

When travelling I always like to visit a local botanical garden to learn something about the indigenous plant life and to see how some of the tropical plants we have look in their native environment.

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