*This is a TWO-part series.
More than just beautiful beaches, rum drinks, and reggae music, Jamaica has the highest number of native birds and plants of any Caribbean island. Unfortunately, deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution are Jamaica’s ecosystems greatest threats. To learn more about these threats and Jamaica’s sustainability initiatives, follow The National Environment and Planning Agency and read.
For the new year we spent time in Ocho Rios in St. Ann’s Parish and Kentucky Cave Mountains in Westmoreland Parish. For 12 days we walked around with eyes wide open passing by the same landscapes each day just to notice something a little different. We captured our experiences through an iPhone, a digital camera, and notebooks full of illustrations.
This trip brought up a lot for us. We spent many mornings thinking about our own carbon footprints. We talked about sustainability efforts - particularly sustainability efforts in Black neighborhoods. We discussed how we can use this platform to connect more Black people with plants and how to bring Jamaicans’ vast knowledge of plants and the land back to New Orleans. Lots of thoughts, but this how we spend most mornings over coffee.
Along with each picture, we’ll describe each plant. *If you’ve traveled to Jamaica, seen some of these botanical masterpieces, or know more about their sustainability efforts please share in the comments.
Mr. Henry has been working as Jamaica Inn’s Head Gardener for over 20 years. He is a wealth of botanical knowledge and he and his team are always hyped to talk to you about plants. Our camera hadn’t properly charged so all photos were taken with an iPhone and not that NEW new iPhone either.
When traveling see if you can find inexpensive or complimentary garden tours. Another option are botanical gardens and conservatories. These low-cost spaces are great to bring the whole family. They are also havens from the buzz and congestion of popular tourist locations.
The word dracaena is derived from the Greek word “drakaina” which refers to a female dragon. It is a hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance plant. It is said to bring good luck as a houseplant. These are actually hard to kill. As New Orleans residents, we have a few outside and every year they bounce back after one of our winter “freezes”. Dracaenas are air purifiers which clean benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and other airborne pollutants. These plants do well indoors or in part shade when outside. They can survive in temperatures of 60°F to 90°F and do not need to be watered frequently.
Also known as the Jungle Flame or Flame of the Woods, Ixora is a tropical to semi-tropical evergreen bush. It is often grown as an annual in temperate and cooler climates. Ixora flowers are the most poppin’ when grown in full sun and well-drained and slightly acidic pH soil. It’s also part of the low maintenance plant club. If you live in colder climates, plant Ixora in pots and bring indoors if frost is imminent.
A pollinator-friendly flower that thrives on little moisture and survives in full sun. Blooms come in many colors to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Gather your crew together to admire the blooms in Fall or Summer. Have snacks and beverages to make it a cute garden party.
A show-stopping, fast growing flowering machine bougainvillea can survive in temperate climates. Used as an ornamental landscape element it can survive in full sun and heat. Bougainvillea is drought tolerant and only needs to be watered deeply every 3-4 weeks. Plant it in a pot or along a trellis or archway to maximize its floral showiness.
Formally known as Heliconia rostrata the Lobster claw plant looks exactly how it sounds. They are not all frost hardy, so they do best grown in more tropical climates. It’s a pièce de résistance in any floral arrangement. Red, orange, or yellow flowers with gold splashes appear when the perennial plant is two years old.
A fragrant shell shaped bloom with yellow and green leaves, perfect in a container indoors or outdoors in tropical climates. Best in part sun with regular watering. Blooms are most poppin’ in Spring. This one is on our list to find.
Turks Cap Hibiscus
Also known as Sleeping Hibiscus or Cardinal’s Hat, Turks Cap Hibiscus is a common ornamental garden plant. The blooms looks like they are just about to open, but never actually do.
A hummingbird favorite, the shrimp plant is cultivated for its decorative flowers. Obviously it’s resemblance to shrimp is how it got its name. With a flowering season of 10 months it can be grown indoors or outdoors in tropical climate zones.
Indigenous to Jamaica, the Silk Cotton tree or Ceiba is home to wild orchids, birds, and creepers - like dragon fruit and philodendron. A source of shade and shelter, this majestic tree is a source of mysticism and cultural significance. In Jamaica, the Silk cotton tree serves as a site for spiritual gatherings and rituals in Revival and Kumina. To learn more about the Silk Cotton tree head here.
Mr. Henry and his team propagate wild orchids in a greenhouse. Wild orchids are epiphytic meaning they grow on the surface of another plant and get their nutrients from air, rain, and debris around it. According to Mr. Henry to create a realistic mixture to house your orchid use charcoal, rocks, coconut core, and peat moss.
The miraculous Moringa, a tree full of beneficial qualities can be grown in climates from arid to tropical. It is known as a superfood. Its leaves pack a wealth of nutrients and vitamins to help with high blood pressure, boost the immune system, and regulate hormonal imbalances. They grow quickly in poor soil and sunny spots in your yard. First year flowers should be removed as they bloom to encourage fruiting in the following years.
Not actually an orchid, Schizanthus pinnatus known as the Poor Man’s orchid can be grown indoors or outdoors. It’s best grown in rich, well-drained soil and in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade. A fast growing plant, the Poor Man’s orchid is an annual or biennial. This plant attracts all kinds of pollinators like honeybees, hummingbirds, bumble bees, flies, moths, and wasps.