Return to Cayman – On the Mastic Trail (2)

We decided we did not need to wait around and continued along.  Fortunately the National Trust left their botanist with the Kew Gardens contingent and other keen plant taxonomists and they were able to revel in their natural habitat without recourse to the main group.  Indeed we decided that they should get a lift back some other way so they did not hold the minibus up later.

So we were able to enjoy the trail at a brisker pace.  This was still a leisurely stroll which in the close humid air in the scrub was necessary.  And we did not miss the key species.

The trail is named after the mastic tree.  Mastics are a common name for families of trees across the tropical and Mediterranean type climates that produce various well known products – resins or putties that we commonly use around the house.  Cayman has two main species, the yellow mastic which can be found elsewhere and the black mastic, which is found only on Cayman itself.  Both are critically endangered – victims of their own usefulness.  Like many good trees in these dry climates, they grow very slowly, but produce thick hard wood perfect for serious furniture construction.  Unfortunately this meant that when spotted they were cut down.  Regeneration takes so long and other species can grow more vigorously and shade out the trees, hence they became scarce.  The mastic trail is one of the few places where they can be found.

The start of the trail is close to the highest point on Grand Cayman, a heady 20m above sea level.   Here the coral reef had been uplifted to form the pitted limestone geology.  We had to be careful putting our hands out to steady ourselves, the rocks that jut out here are as razor sharp as the original coral had once been.  It was incredible that any vegetation at all could get a foothold here but soil builds up in the pits, and rainfall can get trapped in the depressions and holes for long enough to be sucked up by the plants.

We descended as we walked southwards and the need for oxygen masks reduced.  We marvelled at the epiphytes dangling mid air on the branches of trees, or affixed to bare rock.  It was late morning and the wildlife was scarce, until someone observed a small snake in a rather curious curling position.  It appeared at first sight to be that it was eating itself, but then a couple of our crew got a closer look and realised this creature was consuming another even smaller snake head first, and it was coiled stiffly around the remaining body of its victim.

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It took a while to untangle what was happening here

The walk finished at the edges of the central swamp which fills the middle of the island.  It passes through the upper reaches of the swamp and the mangroves are out of water more than in, with the specially adapted roots which point skywards out of the mud to excrete excess salt from the plant.

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