St. Barths Online

Terrestrial flora of St. Barts

One of the characteristics of tropical flora is the diversity of species.

Despite its small surface area, its dry tropical climate, the periods of dryness which can extend into drought, its arid and volcanic soil, even St. Barts adheres to this general rule.

A study on the natural vegetation of the island conducted in 1994 yielded an inventory of hundreds of wild species, confirming the richness and diversity of the local flora.

Environmental factors (topography, soil composition, wind and salt air) determine the distribution of the wild indigenous species as well as those species that were naturalized and have adapted to local climatic conditions and aridity (xerothrypes plants).

The topography of the island is very diverse. The floral landscape varies according to where you are: by the seashore, around the ponds, on the rocky hills, in the valleys or on the limestone rock formations. The succulent plants and cacti are present throughout the island. There are no luxurious tropical forests in St. Barts, but rather wooded areas with a forest-like profile.

Hurricanes, although they bring their share of catastrophe and have a devastating effect on the landscape, facilitate the dissemination of seeds. The turnover in vegetation is very rapid, certain species can disappear while others spring up or proliferate.

It is probable that St. Barthelemy's vegetation was not studied before the island's Swedish occuption in 1784. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that many species considered native to the West Indies were actually imported by the island's first European colonists. The coconut palm tree is a perfect example. A native of the Pacific islands it was the English, with commercial sights in mind, who were responsible for introducing this palm tree to the West Indies.

The opening of a desalinization plant a few years ago has markedly contributed to the presence of many decorative or ornamental tropical plants and has given rise to the tropical gardens and landscapes that surround many island homes.


Night-Blooming Cereus (Cephalocereus Peruvianus)


This cactus often grows in thick clumps of leafless ribbed stems, in vertical columns which may attain a height of 13-20 feet. It originates from Peru. The stems are covered in small yellowish spines. It bears large white blooms. They open late afternoon and wilt before sun-rise. It will withstand a dry atmosphere, sun or shade, and grows on various soils.
Flowering: from February to July.
Propagation: from cuttings or seeds.


Lobster Claw (Heliconia Rostrata)


In the Caribbean there are numerous species and varieties of "wild banana" plants. They are herbs of varying size, which can attain a height of 16 feet. The shape of the very large leaves varies according to the species. They grow in damp areas, on rich soil and in semi-shady places. The small flowers are hidden inside large, highly-colored overlapping bracts (mainly red, yellow and green).
Flowering: variable according to the species, almost all year round.
Propagation: by splitting up the clumps. Generally pruning is recommended after flowering.
Common species: Heliconia Caribaea; Heliconia Psittacorum; Heliconia Bihai.


Slipper Plant (Pedilanthus Tithymaloides)


This shrub comes from tropical America and grows to an average height of 3 - 4 feet. It has a distinctive straight green stem. the color, shape and thickness of the leaves vary according to the variety and the location of the plant. The small, beautiful red flowers form clusters at the tip. They have no scent and are persistent. This plant is characteristic of the aridrocky areas, near the sandy or chalky dry, coastal regions. The milky sap of the plant is used to treat warts. The plant hasother medicinal properties.
Flowering: all year round.
Propagation: from seeds or cuttings.



Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum Officinale)

Other name: TREE OF LIFE

This small tree originates from the Caribbean and is characteristic of xerophilous regions. Becouse of the quality of its wood, much appreciated for ship-building, it has been overcommercialized. It is a species that needs protcting. Its smell, paired leaves are very green and smooth. The small, abundant flowers are blue to crimson in color, becoming paler and with time.
Flowering: generally twice a year, from March to May and September to November. All parts of the plant possess medicinal properties.
Propagation: the seeds (about 1/2 inch in size) germinate easily but soon lose their germinative capacity (under 5 weeks).


Golden Shower Tree (Cassia Fistula)


The origin of this tree is uncertain, but it probably came from Asia and was naturalized throughout the Caribbean. It is a small deciduous tree with shaggy leaves, dark green and shiny on the upper side, a lighter shade on the under side. The loose clusters of bright yellow flowers can grow to a length of 18 inches.
Flowering: from January to June.
Propagation: by seeds and cuttings. The flat seeds are contained in a pod.


Royal Poinciana (Delonix Regia)


This ornamental tree originates from Madagascar, and is very common under the tropics. General characteristics include: roots that spread along the surface of the ground, a twisted trunk, branches that spread horizontally and feathery foliage. The terminal sprays of flowers are very abundant, and bright red to orange in color. The flat, black, hanging pods are about 12 - 16 inches long, and stay on the tree for a very long times.
Flowering: from May to September.
Propagation: is from seeds. During a certain period of the year the tree is leafless.



Oncidium Urophyllum


The species is indigenous to St. Barts. It is rarely found on rocks, but is rather epiphytous and grows preferably on small trees in dry, rocky places. The leaves are sparse, and cluster at the base of a long, spindly stem. The small flowers are bright yellow with brownish spots on the petals and base of the lip, and form large branched sprays.
Flowering: in April, May, and June.
Propagation: by dividing the clumps or young plantlets that devop from the knots on the stem.


Epidendrum Ciliare


This plant originates from tropical America, and likes dry, rocky places. It grows on rocks, and it found most frequently on the north-east faces of the hills. It is epiphytous too, and perfectly adapted to our climate. The fat rhizome sends out a long, spindly stem or pseudo-bulb, with 3-4 knots, bearing a few thick, tough leaves (2-3). The terminal inflorescence takes the shape of a wide spray of pale green flowers with a white lip.
Flowering: place all year round, but is especially abundant from October to January.
Propagation: by dividing the clumps.


Moth Orchid Phalaenopsis


Several species belong to this genus, all originating from the Far east, and from which numerous hybrids have been derived. They are epiphytous or lithophytous plants which produce large white or mauve blooms, in simple sprays or spikes that are very long-lasting. They are particularly elegant. The hybrids are various colors: pink, yellow...They require moisture and heat but need shade from direct sunlight.
Flowering: Almost continuouly if the temperature is maintained at 75-95 °F (24-35 °C).
Propagation: by separating the young plantlets formed on the knots of the floral stems, or separating the shoots.

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