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Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Garden, Grand Cayman

This is one of the best attractions on Grand Cayman, both economically and educationally. The garden consists of several attractions: the Woodland Trail, the Heritage Garden, the Floral Colour Garden. Each offers distinct experiences: one emphasizes Cayman flora and fauna in a natural setting, the other showcases tropical plants from around the globe in a beautiful garden setting.

Located about 25 minutes from George Town, the park comprises 65 acres filled with native trees, plants, and wild orchids, as well as birds, reptiles, and butterflies. The Visitors Centre, Heritage Garden and Floral Colour Garden were the latest addition to the gardens and now blooms in full glory. The two-story Visitors Centre, built in traditional Caymanian style, includes displays on natural history and botanical art, and small flower shows. Behind the center, a waterfall leads to a snack bar that serves sandwiches, patties, ice cream and juices.

Visit the Heritage Garden for a look at Cayman history. Originally a Caymanian house from the East End, this home has been restored and filled with donated furniture. The three-room structure was once a family home where nine children were raised; today the yard is filled with the plants and fruit trees that a Caymanian family would have grown earlier this century. A cistern collects valuable rainwater and a separated kitchen keeps the heat of the stove (a fire hazard) from the house.

Alongside the home, gardens contain cassava, sugarcane, plantains, bananas, and sweet potatoes. In small open areas in the lowland forest fruit trees grow in pockets of soil among the ironshore much as they would have generations ago. Medicinal plants commonly grown around a Caymanian house such as aloe vera are found here as well.

The Garden of Flowering Plants is the most traditional botanical garden area here, with 2 1/2 acres of floral gardens arranged by color. Pink, purple, orange, silver, and a whole rainbow of tones blossom with color and fragrance year-round. Up high on a site that overlooks the gardens and a small pond that features six-foot Victoria water lilies, a tea house has been constructed.

The Woodland Trail, just under a mile long, is a must-see for anyone interested in Cayman plants. Budget at least half an hour for the walk, but much longer if possible so you'll have the opportunity to read the informative exhibits, stop and listen for the call of a Cayman parrot in the trees, and have time to look for turtles in the swampy undergrowth.

The trail winds through several types of environments. One of the wettest is a buttonwood swamp, filled with its namesake, one of the few trees that can live with its roots continually submerged. The swamp provides humidity for bromeliads and orchids. On the other end of the spectrum, a cactus exhibit illustrates the drier regions of the Cayman Islands, and it's home to large century plants (agave) and cacti. One habitat is similar to that found on Little Cayman and includes flora that grow on the tiny Sister Island.

Watch the shadowy undergrowth and you may spot one of Grand Cayman's shyest residents, the agouti. Other wildlife include the hickatee, a turtle found in the freshwater and brackish ponds of the Cayman Islands and Cuba. The Grand Cayman blue iguana or the Cayman anole lizard with a blue throat pouch are also seen.

Location: Frank Sound Road, East End

Website: www.botanic-park.ky


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