ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO
By the second half of the c18th, no respectable nautical expedition was complete without at least one naturalist or geologist on board. Within a few decades, that intentionally sweeping generalisation would include Charles Darwin himself. Louis Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729 – 1811) was a French admiral and explorer, and a contemporary of Captain James Cook. However the well-known ornamental vine to which Bougainville lent his name might more properly be called Commerconia… or indeed an even more obscure name.
When Bougainville set off on a voyage of circumnavigation in the 1760s, he took with him a botanist, Philibert Commerçon. He was the first European to examine and ‘write up’ these plants, his findings being published in France in 1789. One attractive theory is that the first European actually to observe these plants was a woman called Jeanne Baré who was Commerçon’s assistant, and indeed his lover. He is said to have sneaked her on board, despite regulations, disguised as a man. If this is right, this would make Jeanne Baré the first woman (let alone cross-dressing woman) to circumnavigate the globe. And perhaps make her entitled to be immortalised by having the plant ‘Bareia’ named after her. But I guess Admirals had more clout in plant-naming circles than female stowaways – or indeed botanists on board their ships.
As first printed in 1789, the plant was spelled ‘Buginvillæa’, an unexplained variation from the Admiral’s true name. The ‘correct’ spelling for this plant did not finally settle down until the 1930s, when a botanical consensus was reached. Nonetheless, many variations still persist (most usually with the addition of an e after the n). I myself spell it any-old-how and let the spell-checker take care of it…
STOP PRESS Further research suggests that the name of the plant was ‘gifted’ by Commerçon to the Admiral, a self-effacing tribute or possibly a rampant piece of sycophancy – or (my own theory) to avoid being keelhauled when his ‘valet’s’ gender was apparently unmasked by the ship’s surgeon. In what precise circumstances, one longs to know…
Credits: Delphi plants courtesy of Willie the Gardener; photos RH; text-assists by ‘Magpie-Pickings’
NEW POST May 2013
THE PODS AND SEEDS OF THE COONTIE PLANT
The Coontie (Zamia integrifolia) is well-known for being a favoured plant of the beautiful ATALA HAIRSTREAK butterfly (Eumaeus atala). Indeed it is the plant they prefer for their EGG-LAYING. However I had never really noticed another aspect of the Coontie – its dramatic pod and seed arrangements. I have been sent a couple of small images taken by Sarah Bedard for ID – taken near Treasure Cay – and they deserve a wider audience. So here they are:
A BUNCH OF FLOWERS (& PLANTS) FROM ABACO, BAHAMAS
Time to face up. Time for flora. This post has been… er… post-poned several times. When I first started this blog, it was an adventure into the unknown. Basic computer skills. Zero blog experience. Scant knowledge about much (any?) of the subject matter. Looking back at early posts there is evidence – plenty – of floundering and general incompetence while I gradually learnt more. The birds and other wildlife came quite easily; the flora not so. Apparently I even carry a bunch of flowers in an odd way (opines Mrs RH), under one arm like a rugby ball. Don’t all men? Oh! Just me, then. Anyway, it’s time to try again and brave the land of petal, stamen and pistils at dawn. Here are 20 plants that you will come across on Abaco. Many were photographed at Delphi or in the nearby coppice and pine forest. A couple were in Marsh Harbour, 2 more were at Sawmill Sink Blue Hole. The beautiful Cannas are from Hope Town, with thanks to Abaco Island Artist Brigitte Carey. Some will be known locally by different names – I’d be interested to hear them via the ‘comment’ box.
ANGEL’S TRUMPET (Datura Candida) CANNASCOCONUT WHITE FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)MARSH PINK (Stellatia Maris)MORNING GLORY (Convolvulus)MOSS ROSES (Portulaca)OYSTER PLANTRED HIBISCUSPINK CORAL (FRINGED) HIBISCUSPINK PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)RED PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)PLUMBAGO / CAPE LEADWORT (Plumbago auriculata)ROYAL POINCIANA / FLAME TREE (Dolonix regia)SPIDER LILY (Hymenocallis littoralis)THATCH PALMWILD ALLAMANDA (Urechites lutea)BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER (Strelizia)BANANAS at the Delphi Club
SEA OATS Uniola paniculata
A species of grass that grows along the East and the Gulf coasts of the US and Mexico, and on the Caribbean islands. They thrive in a salty environment and are ecologically significant as ocean-side plants. Their long root systems bind loose soil and help prevent erosion from extreme weather such as hurricanes. Sea oats are a protected grass in most states along the East Coast. Picking or disturbing sea oats is punishable by fine in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.
WHITE FRINGED HIBISCUS
This photo was taken on Nevis by photographer Bill Drake, who describes it as ‘rare’. So it’s not an Abaco flower, but I am giving it some publicity in the hope that someone may have come across this unusual albino variant on the familiar coral pink and flame red…
THREE PHOTOS FROM BRIGITTE CAREY
The Bird of Paradise Plant Strelitzia is a native of South Africa, but its exoticism and all-round fabulousness has ensured its export to other parts of the world with suitable climates. These plants can be found throughout the Bahamas, including Abaco. It’s fortunately a plant that is impossible to confuse with any other, an added attraction for non-floral people… Here are a couple of my images of the plant about to flower, and having burst into flower
And here is a flower recently photographed (June 2012) in Marsh Harbour, Abaco
NATIONAL TREE OF THE BAHAMAS & THE WOOD OF CRICKET BAILS
LIGNUM VITAE – the “tree of life” (Guaiacum sanctum) is a very heavy wood with clusters of small blue flowers at the branch tips. Its strength, density and durability made it a valuable trade wood historically. It easily sinks in water and is the densest of all trade woods. As alternative materials and compounds have been discovered, the demand for LV has fallen… which is fortunate, since Lignum Vitae (also commonly known as Greenheart and Ironwood) is now considered a potentially endangered tree species.
The wood had – and still has – many important uses. All cricketers know that bails of lignum vitae are used in windy conditions to forestall any “…and the bowler charges in… reaches his delivery stride and… oh my goodness the bails have blown off…” dramas. The wood is also used in other sports: for bowls and skittle balls, and croquet mallets Flower Image Credit Grooko
10 MEMORABLE FACTS ABOUT LIGNUM VITAE
- Traditionally, it was used for making British Police Truncheons (now made of soft fluffy pink fabric to reflect new caring policing methods)
- Its physical qualities made it widely used in shipbuilding (though presumably not the whole ship, which would sink instantly)
- Cabinet-makers, stone-carvers and gem-cutters all use the wood in their crafts
- LV has many engineering uses. The wood is self-lubricating and is ideal for bearings. The 1st nuclear submarine had some of these
- The world-renowned UK fishing rod maker Hardy’s made a famous ‘Greenheart’ rod
- LV has medical uses, including for arthritis; and its bark / shavings allegedly make a nice cup of “tea”… (Any evidence of this?)
- A 1920’s calypso song “LignumVitae” was sensationally saucy for its allusions to the bark tea’s prophylactic quality in addition to exploiting the phallic connotations
- Gabriel Garcia Márquez incorporates uses for the wood in two of his novels (neither of which I have read. Oh dear. The guilt)
- Pete Seeger, singer / songwriter, made the neck of his banjo from LV
- The wood is also connected to mauve tiling, vitamin glue, anti-evil gum and the ‘vigilant emu’ by anagrammatic chance
A Lignum Vitae tree at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco, with a camera-shy juvenile black-faced grassquit
JANKA HARDNESS TEST
The Janka Hardness Test is an international test of the hardness of a given wood by measuring the force needed to embed a steel ball to half its diameter. The size of the ball is internationally standardised, though the reading may be given in ‘local’ units. The hardest wood (using pounds/force units) is the Australian Buloke (5060); Lignum Vitae is the second hardest (4500). Other examples are Ebony (3220); Satinwood (1820); Zebrawood (1575); Caribbean Pine (1280); Teak (1000); Mahogany (800) Balsa (100)
Some examples of items traditionally made from lignum vitae: gavels (auctioneers, TV Judiciary eg in Perry Mason); bowls; pestle & mortar; and (for dudes) a seriously cool guitar pick (less than $5 too)
PS 2012: I now have 2 hardwood plectrums (plectra?) to try out. The Lignum is nearly 3 times as hard as the Zebra wood. This does not imply that I am a dude (or even a superannuated one), but merely that I haven’t had the heart to dispose of my guitars. Mrs RH has a view about that… a strong one, I think
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER
YELLOW ELDER (Tecoma stans) is a flowering perennial shrub of the trumpet vine family. Common names include Yellow Trumpetbush, Yellow Bells, Yellow Elder, Ginger-Thomas, and Esperanza. Tecoma stans is the National Flower of The Bahamas.
The plant is cultivated as an ornamental and blooms throughout the year. It has characteristic sharply-toothed, lance-shaped green leaves and large bright yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. It is drought-tolerant and grows well in warm climates. The flowers attract bees (nb see below), butterflies and hummingbirds. Yellow Elder produces pods containing yellow seeds with papery wings. The plant is apparently desirable fodder in fields grazed by livestock. It also readily colonises rocky, sandy and cleared land, occasionally becoming invasive.
The leaves and roots of the plant contain “bioactive compounds which may have medicinal uses” (unspecified – more research needed?). Honey bees are attracted to the flowers but “unlike most flowering plants, the honey produced from Yellow Elder’s nectar / pollen is poisonous”.
[rh note – so many questions arise here: Poisonous to the bees? Can the bees tell? What if they mix it up with non-toxic honey back at the ranch? Can the beekeepers tell if their product is toxic? How? Do they bother? Why not? What are the effects? What’s the antidote? What “medicinal use” can there be? Is there a PhD for someone in this: “An impact survey into the effects of pollinic toxicity in honey derived from Tecoma Stans“?]
Selection of the yellow elder as National Flower over many other flowers was made by the vote of members of New Providence’s garden clubs of the 1970s: the Nassau Garden Club; Carver Garden Club; International Garden Club; and YWCA Garden Club. Other flowers – such as the bougainvillea, hibiscus, and poinciana – had already been chosen as the national flowers of other countries. The yellow elder was then unclaimed (although it is now also the national flower of the United States Virgin Islands) (Floral tribute to TopTropicals)
EXTRACT FROM SANDY VERNON’S DELPHI PAGE
OLEANDER (Nerium Oleander)
FLOWERING WITH RICKY JOHNSON
RJ’s eco-tour is not just about parrots and other avians. He is also an expert in the plant and tree life, and a great deal else. Here are some of the flower / tree images from the day, to which I will (may?) put names in due course. But frankly the pictures are far more satisfying than the knowledge that something is or is not a variant of a Cuban Popcata Petal Tree. Or whatever. If you feel like it, fast forward to the end of this post for a blue hole, a butterfly and a team photo…
Having left the parrots and the very lovely private garden we were shown round (where most of the plant shots were taken), Ricky took us to a blue hole nearby. The choice of 3 was narrowed down by the forest fires raging in the area (see FOREST FIRE post. The 2 largest were in a part of the pine forest that was busily engulfed in flame and dark smoke. So we went to the smallest.
However, what we could see was merely the entrance to a large and deep cave system in the limestone rock, the extent of which is still being explored (though not by me, thank heavens). The rock to the left was actually covered by 6 inches of water so clear that you could not see it – as one of our group discovered when he stepped onto the rock…
It was here that we saw Atala Hairstreaks. This one is a different one from the one in the main BUTTERFLY post… but even their mothers can’t tell
And so to the final photo of the day, taken as we sustained ourselves… before having to leave rather sharpish when the wind changed direction and the smoke and fire decided we might be worth incinerating. Possibly Ricky, in the background on his cellphone, is calling for help…
The ‘Flora’ part of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a bit of a blind spot for me except in a very basic daffodils-tulips-roses english gardening sense. So it was with a massive sense of relief that, browsing through (namecheck here) ‘Dr Ralph’s Abaco Forum’, I stumbled across a comprehensive blog about the flora of Abaco with excellent pictures and very informative descriptions, posted by Iris Spikes. She includes notes about the plants that are poisonous, and those that have medicinal / antidotal properties. For example poisonwood and gumbo limbo trees grow side by side, as poison and antidote – you can find them growing together along the Delphi drives (the gumbo limbo fruit is especially popular with the Abaco Parrots).
With thanks for permission, I have added the web link drralph.net/FloraofAbaco.html to the Blogroll list so that you can get to it straight away (if not from this page). Please note that there are two linked posts – you get to part 2 from the link at the end of part 1.
Here are a few random flora images of ours, most now readily identifiable… Almost all (including the bananas outside our room) are from the Delphi gardens or beside the drives – and one cheat that is much more Abaco than UK
An EPIPHYTE (or air plant) is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph post), deriving its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it and not from its host