Category Archives: Field Guide Friday

Fieldguide Friday – Wild Sea Island Cotton

I am ashamed to admit just how long it has been since I have featured a Field Guide Friday post.  That is all going to change now that I have a file folder full of local species identified (thank you Naqqi)!  First up, locally known as Wild Cotton or Sea Island Cotton, Gossypium hirsutum.  The photos above were taken in January of 2012 on the way to Southwest Bluff, an area where there were a great concentration, but if you are driving around Providenciales this time of year you are likely to see these fluffy white poofs by the side of the road in many areas.  Contrary to popular belief, it was not the British Loyalists who introduced this species to the Turks and Caicos.  It came long before, but by whom?  For a couple of hints, reference the wikipedia link above; “native to Central America” and “cultivated for over 5,000 years.”  A people who were weaving the cotton, not into clothing, but very cleverly into sleeping hammocks and mosquito netting. Have you figured it out?  Whether your certain or stumped, you must read this fascinating article to discover this and so much more: Back In Time Sea Island Cotton.
 Image above and images below via the brilliant botanist, B Naqqi Manco, who captured this thriving wild cotton in Lorimers, Middle Caicos in 2012.  Remarkable the white and pink colored blossoms stemming from the same plant!  This lovely looker seems to be spared entirely from the Cotton Seed Bug, Oxycarenus hyalinipennis.  Referencing this CAPS Survey Report; “In the
Western Hemisphere, it was first documented in the North Caicos Islands in 1991 (Slater
and Baranowski 1994); and by 2005, it had been observed throughout the Turks and
Caicos, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and Hispaniola (Baranowski and Slater 2005).” 

The cotton industry in the Turks and Caicos was sadly quite short lived due to the invention of the Cotton Gin, the quality of the soil, and another unfortunate pest, the Boll Weevil.  I have often thought about creative uses for the cotton we still have growing on this island, someday I will hopefully have the opportunity to style with the fluffy stuff like this rustic-wedding-decor-creative-with-cotton!

Fieldguide Fridays – Bearded Cactus

 Easily spotted “bearded” tips of the Dildo Cactus, Longbay, image by Larry Steensland

 The most common species of cactus in the Turks and Caicos Islands is locally known as Dildo Cactus, Pilosocereus Royenii.  The tubular shaped branches often display white tufts at the tops, giving it another common name, “Old Man Cactus” or “Bearded Cactus.”  It is native to the Caribbean and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  They resemble trees in that they are often seen towering above the rest of the local vegetation reaching at heights over 20 feet tall.

A now labeled beautiful specimen on the  longbay-beach-barn nature trail.  Amazing that all those branches are supported by the single stalk.

Field Guide Fridays – Poisonwood

Above and following two images below from

It has been far too long since I posted in field-guide-fridays!  I have a project at hand to create signage for the longbay-beach-barn nature trail and the decision of which sign to make first was simple. If there is only one species you should recognize and remember, this species would be it! Locally known as Poisonwood, the Metopium Toxiferum species is one you should go to great lengths to avoid in the Turks and Caicos Islands!  A member of the cashew or sumac family (Anacardiaceae), the urushiol the plant produces is a severe skin irritant.

 First sign completed!  I hope to identify and label a dozen prominent indigenous species so trail hikers and Provo Ponies horseback riders can familiarize themselves with our beautiful bush!  In the meantime, you will want to steer clear of this species after reading the below excerpt (and photo) from

“Its range in tropical America extends from Florida to the Bahamas, Honduras, and the West Indies.

The sap contains alkaloids that cause serious skin and mucus

Twigs and leaves

irritations after skin contact. Any part of the tree may carry the sap so handling any part of the poisonwood should be avoided. If you live or work in south Florida the ability to recognize and identify poisonwood is beneficial. You can find poisonwood inhabiting hammocks, pinelands, and sandy dunes near salt water.
The wood is dark brown streaked with red and is heavy and hard, but is not strong. The wood has no commercial value. The gummy sap of the bark has been used medicinally but with extreme caution. The fruit of the poisonwood is a favorite food source for the rare white-crowned pigeon. Other birds and animals also enjoy the fruit.”
 Identifying Characteristics


Poisonwood is an evergreen shrub or medium tree that reaches heights of 25′ to 35′ or taller. It characteristically has a short trunk with stout arching limbs and drooping branches that form a spreading, rounded crown. Poisonwood is often a shrub in the pinelands and a larger tree in the hammocks.


The leaves are odd-pinnately compound, alternately arranged, 6″ to 10″ long, and have 3 to 7, usually 5 leaflets. Each leaflet is 3″ to 4″ long by 2″ to 3″ wide and broadest near the base or middle. The oval to elliptical leaflets have smooth, glossy, dark green upper surfaces and are paler underneath. The leaf stem is smooth or finely hairy and swollen at the base. The leaflet base is wedged, rounded, or heart-shaped and the tip is acute or rounded. In addition to its leathery appearance, the leaflet has a margin that is thickened, slightly curled, and entire. Many leaflets will be blotched with irregular spots of black resin.


The fruit is a yellow-orange drupe that is about ½” long. The fruit hangs loosely in clusters and each drupe contains one, ¼”, hard, brown seed.


The reddish-brown or gray bark is thin and has dark, oily patches from the gummy sap. Older trunks have scaly bark.


Poisonwood grows near salt water on shorelines and in sandy dunes, tropical and coastal hammocks, and rockland pinelands.

Field Guide Fridays – Wild Pomegranate

Last week on a morning rubbish run, we caught a flash of scarlet in the bush just off the side of the road.  Upon closer investigation we saw what looked to be a very small shrub heavy with ripe, bulbous fruits.  We took one that had fallen to the ground home to open it up, not convinced that we had ourselves an actual pomegranate.   Sure enough, this scraggly looking little shrub was indeed producing beautiful, perfectly formed, super-fruits. But the pomegranate trend, thanks to its natural abundance of antioxidents, is actually not so recently fashionable.  Some believe that Eve herself, at the beginning of time, may just have been lured by the Chinese Apple

Pomegranate entymology in itself is a fascinating subject and since I don’t dare leave any of it out, read below from wikipedia
“The name pomegranate derives from medieval Latin pōmum “apple” and grānātum “seeded”.[10] This has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (e.g. Granatapfel or Grenadine in german, grenade in french). Mālum grānātus, using the classical Latin word for apple, gives rise to the Italian name melograno, or less commonly melagrana.

Perhaps stemming from the old French word for the fruit, pomme-grenade, the pomegranate was known in early English as “apple of Grenada”—a term which today survives only in heraldic blazons. This is a folk etymology, confusing Latin granatus with the name of the Spanish city of Granada, which derives from Arabic.
The genus name Punica refers to the Phoenicians, who were active in broadening its cultivation, partly for religious reasons.
Garnet comes from Old French grenat by metathesis, from Medieval Latin granatum, here used in a a different meaning: “of a dark red color”. This meaning perhaps originated from pomum granatum because of the color of pomegranate pulp, or from granum in the sense of “red dye, cochineal”.[11]

The French term grenade for pomegranate has given its name to the military grenade.[12] Soldiers commented on the similar shape of early grenades and the name entered common usage.”

After reading the above could you have guessed that Grenadine, the ruby red syrup frequently found in cocktails, originally was made with pomegranate juice, and not high fructose corn syrup as most processed foods are today?

Punica Granatum, or the wild pomegranate, may or may not have been picked by the biblical Eve but it has been cutivated since ancient times; revered for it’s great beauty and used often as a symbol of abundance and fertility.  With seeds ranging from 200-1400 per pomegranate, no wonder!  A common marital ritual in Asia was to shatter the fruits upon the honeymoon suite floor, sending seads in every direction and thus ensuring many offspring for the newlyweds. 
To read much more on the fascinating history of the pomegranate, from it’s culinary and medicinal uses, to it’s symbolism in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Persia and significance to Christian, Judaism, Hindu, Chinese, Islam, Armenian, and Azerbaijan cultures and religions, please visit wikipedia.

Field Guide Friday – Agave Sisalina

Image and quote below from maritime heritage

“August 13, 1892, Colonies and India
London, United Kingdom

 The cultivation of the pita (sisal) plant has made fair progress, especially in the Caicos Islands, and the reports from the plantations towards the end of the year were satisfactory. Two companies, the West Caicos Fibre Company (Limited), at West Caicos, and the East Caicos Company (Limited), at Breezy Point, formed for the purpose of raising pita plants and extracting the fibre, are registered under the companies’ ordinance, and there are several private plantations. A small shipment of fibre was made to New York within the year from one of the latter, and the first quality fetched a cent a pound more than the second quality—an equal price to the best from Yucatan. This speaks well for the quality of the fibre which can be produced in these islands, and promises a bright future for the local fibre industry.”

 Sisal is still prevalent throughout  the Turks and Caicos Islands, these giant agaves dot the landscape, distinctive due to their sword like leaves.  The plant is in bloom this time of year; very hard to miss with their towering central stalk branching into a multitude of plush bright yellow Dr Suess like poofs, usually swarming with bees and other flying insects.   

 The booming sisal industry, as documented in the 1892 registry above, no longer thrives in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the East Caicos Plantation abandoned long ago.  On my last visit to Middle and North Caicos, Cardinal Arthur told me stories of his boyhood, his memories of the long preparation of sisal before weaving it into rope.  I recently approached the middlecaicos Co -Op about commissioning a handwoven rug like this, but sadly none of the artisans currently work with sisal for baskets, hats, or other handcrafted goods.   I sincerely hope this once important process does not die with this generation, we must keep the knowledge of Turks and Caicos forefathers and farmers alive! Please visit to read a fascinating article on the Rise and Fall of the Sisal Industry.