EVERYTHING GREEN – The wonder of our gullies
GIVE A GULLY a bad name and hang it.
This parody on the old saying could best be applied to Blackman’s Gully, in St Joseph. For when one thinks of this sinkhole, one thinks in terms of garbage – by the tonne.
But there is another side to this natural wonder – a side very few people see under the mounds of tractor tyres, fridges, stoves and offal.
Recently, professor of plant biology at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Sean Carrington, took a group of hikers and nature enthusiasts on an interpretative tour of the St Joseph ecosystem. Veering off a road that disappeared into the distance and making tracks into the dense undergrowth, Carrington started with a brief geology lesson of how gullies were formed.
The Blackman’s Gully of today was different from that of 50 years ago when it had been cleared.
Less that 100 metres in, he halted the group to point out a variety of plants – Black-eyed Susan (an ornamental vine); thunbergia fragrans (another ornamental that originated in Asia) and Star of Bethlehem (poisonous).
One of the “alien” plant species in the gully is the Macarthur palm.
“It really shouldn’t be in here,” said Carrington. “It’s an ornamental and what should really be in here is the Macaw palm, but the birds spread this (the Macarthur) and it really dislodges what should be in its place.”
Another highly invasive species is Devil’s Ivy – that pretty, creeping plant that many choose to decorate their offices and houses.
“Things get into gullies that shouldn’t be in here and this particular family, the Anthurium family, reproduces very easily,” he said.
Carrington, who seemed to be on a first name basis with the Latin moniker of all things green, revealed the folklore attached to many of the plants – things that could be boiled; leaves that were supposed to be a panacea for certain ills; roots whose properties were supposed to give a “lift” and those that could sicken, blister and maybe even kill.
The most common tree, he said, was Candlewood – a staple of moist forests like Barbados’ gullies, while many of the other plants were from the coffee family. There was a plant that looked like eddoe, but was not.
Meanwhile, the creeper that won the award for most proliferating vine was the cat’s claw whisk.
Most of us see it on many of the abandoned mill walls across the island but ignore it. That is – until it bursts into bright yellow bloom. Then, said Carrington, it carries the moniker “Shower of Gold”.
“Whisk is an old English word for a woody vine and it flowers on the big bang principle – all of a sudden after a dry period, the rain falls and it triggers the flowers and it flowers massively for two days and then it stops,” he said.
Carrington cautioned people to be careful about what they throw over the rim of a gully.
“It’s very easy for plants to take root in the gully because it’s one of the very few places that man isn’t going in and removing plants,” he noted.