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The Smelly Starfish Flower

I saw the starfish flower for the first time a few years ago in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. I didn’t know its name and everyone I showed the photo to, shook their heads. They didn’t know either. All I knew for sure was that the stems made me think it had to be from the cactus family. I also knew that I was intrigued by the shape and squiggly lines.

Open Carrion Plant
Carrion Plant

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend. As we sipped lemonade and chatted on her verandah, she stopped mid sentence, “Smell that?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“No. What?”

“There, don’t you see it?”

I looked in the direction she’d pointed, the place she insisted the odor was coming from. But all I saw was lush, green foliage. Nothing seemed out of place or able to produce the foul smell she alluded to. I didn’t see or smell anything offensive and told her so. But it didn’t seem to reassure her.

“Don’t you see that yellow flower, the one that looks like a large star?”

By now I could hear tension creeping into her voice. I felt at any moment, she’d spring from her seat to seek out the odor that was preventing her from enjoying her lemonade.

Later, as I was leaving, as if to vindicate herself, she pointed out the plant. Even though I was now closer, I still couldn’t smell it but I recognized it as the same one I had admired and had been unable to identify years earlier. When I asked, she said it was the starfish flower.

The starfish is a variety of carrion flower. These flowers produce a putrid odor, probably from the insects that pollinate them, that some say is similar to rotting flesh.  I’m not sure why I didn’t smell it. I also wondered why my friend had it in her garden if she didn’t like the smell. Maybe, I though as I walked through her gate, its beauty makes up for its smell – sometimes.


This post is linked to Travel Photo Discovery’s Travel Photo Mondays. Be sure to head over and check out other photos from around the world.

A Vibrant Bouquet Tropical Flowers

One of the best things about the tropics is the profusion of flowering plants. They spill out from gardens, line country roads and overhang private walkways, and paint my surroundings in vibrant red, yellow, purple, and white.

During the past year, I’ve written several times about the tropical flowers I’ve been reacquainted with and those I’ve been introduced to, and I’m still finding more new (to me) flowers. Here are a few:

Tropical Flowers – Queen Achmea Bromeliad

Tropical Flowers, Queen Achmea
Queen Achmea Bromeliad

If you make only one flower in your lifetime, like the Queen Achmea does, it would have to be your masterpiece. Don’t you agree that this is?

I discovered the Queen Achmea bromeliad at Ahh…Ras Natango earlier this year. Tamika, one of the owners, had posted a photo on their Facebook page. My eyes popped open when I saw it. I thought initially, that she had tied a pink ribbon on the plant. When I clicked the photo, I noticed that the ‘ribbon’ was part of the plant. I called Tamika right away and told her I wanted to see it. The beauty of this flower left me speechless. I stared at it for a long time… Although it can take a year, when the plant finally blooms, it lasts for up to two months.

Note: Bromeliads include the pineapple.

Tropical Flowers – Torch Ginger

Tropical Flowers, slightly opened Torch Ginger
Torch Ginger

The color is what drew me to this torch ginger, which grows in the backyard at my stepmother’s. I was fortunate to see this slightly opened one and then later to get a photo of one that was fully opened. The torch ginger is known by several different names and also comes in pink. They are used in floral arrangements and, in south-east Asia, used in salads.

Tropical Flowers, fully opened torch ginger
Torch ginger

Tropical Flowers – Jade

I noticed this flower at the home of family friends. She’s the gardening enthusiast. (Their entire yard is a blanket of flowers – from hibiscus to orchids – several varieties – to bromeliads and impatients and lily ponds. There are even benches that encourage you to stop and contemplate the beauty around you.  I could have done a few posts entirely from the flowers I photographed in their backyard.)

Jade, tropical flower
Jade Flower

The jade plant I’m used to is the one commonly called the money tree. It’s a succulent and has thick shiny leaves. They make great house or office plants. I had one for many years. This jade flower is used to make leis. Can you imagine the beautiful it makes?

Tropical Flowrs – Night Blooming Cereus

The night blooming cereus blooms once a year and only at night when it attracts a special moth which pollinates it. When that happens, the flower begins opening slowly around 10:00 p.m. While its blooming, it perfumes the air with a gentle fragrance. I took this photo around midnight on the night it bloomed.

Tropical flowers - night blooming cereus
Double Night Blooming Cereus

By dawn, it will be wilted. This is how it looked the next morning.

Tropical Flower, Night Blooming Cereus
Wilted night blooming cereus


This week, I’m linking to Travel Photo Monday. Be sure to check them out for more photos from around the world.

The Night Blooming Cereus

I’ve been hearing about the night blooming cereus for at least three years now. As the name suggests, this plant from the flowering cactus family, blooms only at night — and only once per year. I was lucky, this time, to be visiting family when their night blooming cereus bloomed on Friday night; luckier still because I had my camera, and it put out not one but four blooms.

Night Blooming Cereus seen from the side

It’s a slow process, this unfolding of the petals, but a lot more fun than watching paint dry. The bud begins its leisurely awakening around 10 pm. But by morning, the flower has wilted. It will come alive again when the special moth it attracts pollinates it.

Two night blooming cereus
Double flower

There I was on Friday night, going out to the back yard every hour or so, camera at the ready, to see how open the flower was. And each time, I’d take a few photos. I wish I’d taken some before photos.

Anyway, I did this about three times. Each time, the flower looked as if it was open just a bit more than the last. Even though they weren’t fully open, the fragrance from the night blooming cereus bathed the backyard in the most subtle perfume that I didn’t mind going again and again. I wish I could have bottled the scent.

Almost fully opened night blooming cereus
Single cereus

The waiting was the hardest. At around midnight, I started to feel tired and decided, reluctantly, to go to sleep. I was a bit disappointed not to be able to see the full flowering of the night blooming cereus but I was happy to have seen it at all, and happier still to be able to take these photos.

Wilted Night Blooming Cereus
Wilted cereus

By morning, the flower looked spent, like someone who’d been partying all night.

Here’s a time lapse video I found on YouTube of the opening of the night blooming cereus.

This week, I’m linking this post to Travel Photo Monday and Tablescraper. Be sure to check out the other photos that are posted there.


Holywell Recreational Park

Despite still nursing a broken ankle, last weekend I accepted an invitation to brunch and a drive up into the mountains to Holywell Recreational Park (pronounced Hollywell), a 25-acre park that is part of the Blue and John Crow Mountains.

Holywell Recreational Park Entrance
Holywell Entrance
Mountains surrounding Holywell
Mist on the mountain
Grounds at Holywell
View of the grounds
Flowers and the mountains, Holywell
Flowers and mountain

Holywell is located about 3,000 feet above sea level and about an hour’s drive from Kingston. The drive takes you up mountain roads that are narrow, winding, potholed and not very well signposted, through communities like Strawberry Hill, Gordon Town, Irish Town, Craigton, Redlight, Hardwar Gap, and Newcastle. It’s a ride that’s definitely not for the faint of heart or anyone who gets carsick. The views, however, are spectacular and with temperatures about 10 degrees cooler than in Kingston, it’s the perfect summertime escape.

Lilac flower, Holywell

Holywell Recreational Park is a nature lover’s domain with several species of ferns, wild raspberries, cheeseberries, epiphytes, nasturtiums, impatients, trees such as the Blue Mahoe (the national tree), Caribbean Pine, and Milkwood, and several species of endemic birds.

Cup + Saucer flower, Holywell
Cup + Saucer flower, local name

It’s the perfect place to go to escape the hustle and bustle and heat of the city. At Holywell, you can hike any of the five trails – Blue Mahoe, Oatley Mountain, Waterfall, Shelter, and Wag Water/Dick’s Pond – that go from easy to moderately difficult and can take from 20 to 90 minutes to complete.

Hydrangea, Holywell

For those who want to stay over, Holywell Recreational Park offers three furnished cabins – the Cupressus (2 bedrooms), Hotlips (one bedroom with 2 single beds), and Mountain Yacca (studio with 2 single beds) – with all amenities, including fireplaces (it gets very cold, by Jamaican standards, in the mountains). The only drawback is that you have to book at least a month in advance.

Visitor Center, Holywell
Visitor Center

In addition, there’s a discovery zone where kids can play and learn about wildlife, camping facilities, visitor center, picnic areas, a plant nursery and a parking lot.

One of the guides showed us cheese and raspberries that grow wild in the park. The cheeseberries, as they’re known locally, are a bit sweeter than the raspberries, and the raspberries are a brighter red than what I’m used to seeing in the US.

Holywell Cheeseberries
Raspberries from Holywell

I definitely plan to return to Holywell when my ankle’s stronger and I can tackle the trail. Even though I couldn’t move around as I wanted to, I enjoyed the view of the mountains, the flowers, the refreshing air and cooler temperature.


Particulars for Holywell Recreational Park:

Entrance: $5.00 (adults) / $2 (children)

Cabins: $50 or $70, depending on cabin size

Oatley Mountain Trail Guided Tour: $5

Camping: $5 per person/night

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.

For more photos, please check out Travel Photo Discovery and Travel World Online as well.



Ahhh….Ras Natango: When Life Gives You Rocks

“When life gives you rocks,” Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden‘s Tamika Williams said, “you make a rock garden!” That’s exactly what Tamika and her husband Ian Williams did with the half acre property they bought 25 years ago. Now, it’s a beautiful garden and gallery, a prominent eco-tourism spot in the small community of Camrose, near Montego Bay, and a fine example of “community tourism” at work.

The idea behind community tourism, which was pioneered in 1978 by local tourism consultant, Diana McIntyre-Pike and Desmond Henry, a former director of tourism, is to use tourism to promote sustainable development in rural areas by bringing visitors to communities where they wouldn’t normally go so that they’d explore and enjoy local resources and talent and meet Jamaicans where they live.

I visited Ahhh….Ras Natango Gallery and Garden earlier this year and heard from Ian and Tamika how they had transformed their piece of rock into their own idea of paradise on earth and got the community of Camrose involved by employing young people, working with the local schools by teaching students art, crafts, how to tend a garden and the benefits of composting. Their story is one of courage and determination, despite the odds, to breathe life into a vision.

I wrote about the couple and their garden yesterday but I wanted to share some of the flowers and other items I saw for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Enjoy!

“Who takes a hillside and turns it into this?” Tamika Williams

Garden path leading to the gallery
Terraced walkway at Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden

When I asked Tamika what the garden had taught her, she responded without hesitation that it had shown her how to be patient and gentle, and to appreciate everyone. “You can’t appreciate the rose,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “without accepting the thorns.”

Red multi-bloom roses at Ahh....Ras Natango Gallery and Garden
Roses are red
Orchid at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden
Phalaenopsis Orchid
Flowers on the steps at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery and Garden
Flowers on the stairs
Queen Achmea Bromeliad at Ahhh...Ras Natango
Queen Achmea Bromeliad
Garden lizard at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden
Tree stump fairy villa at Ahhh....Ras Natango Garden
Fairy villa

Rock painting of three of the eighteen endemic species that can be seen at Ahhh…Ras Natango Garden and Gallery. Twenty-four species are endemic to Jamaica.

Jamaican Mango bird painting Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden
Jamaican Mango
Jamaican Woodpecker rock painting at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden
Jamaican Woodpecker
Rock painting of the Jamaican Orange Quit bird at Ahhh...Ras Natango Gallery
Orange Quit
Rock painting of a shark's head at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden
Caught between a rock
Rock painting of a lion's head at Ahhh...Ras Natango Garden
A Gentle Lion

Ahhh…Ras Natango Gallery and Garden is located in Camrose, St. James, about 20 minutes from Montego Bay. Entrance $30. A free shuttle service is available from town. Hours – 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekdays; on weekends by appointment only. 876-578-2582.

This is my submission to Travel Photo Thursday, which is organized by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Be sure to head over and check out more photos from locations around the world.



Falling for YS Falls

My YS Falls adventure begins as soon as I board the tractor-drawn jitney that would take me from the main entrance of YS Estate, a 2,000-acre, privately owned stud farm, to the falls.

Falling for YS Falls
Falling for YS Falls

It’s a leisurely 10-minute ride through lush vegetation that stretches as far as the eye can see. Pass logwood or bloodwood trees, which the estate used to export to Europe back when dyes couldn’t be made without it, poinciana and ackee trees among others, grazing Jamaica Red Poll cattle with an egret or two waiting patiently to catch its next meal, and horses roaming freely in the distance.

About halfway into the ride, part of the YS River, from which the falls derive, comes into view, its sound hardly noticeable over the put-put-put of the jitney. The water is clear and looks refreshing on this day that is being baked slowly by the sun.

Falling for YS Falls
Wading Pool

As we come to a stop, I take in the view: a wading pool ringed by ginger lilies and lounge chairs is to my left, a gift shop and cafe on my right, and dead ahead, the bottom of the falls — the rest disappearing into the verdant foliage. A huge logwood tree with a platform catch my eye and as I look up, someone lets out a big woohoo as they take off flying 50 feet above the canopy of trees.

Falling for YS Falls
One of the seven falls
Falling for YS Falls
The Falls

At approximately 120 meters, YS Falls has seven waterfalls that form several natural pools that invite you to take a dip or, for the more adventurous, a jump.

Falling for YS Falls
The Falls
Falling for YS Falls
Jumping in

There have been changes to the grounds since the last time I visited YS. Walkways now lead from the base of the falls to the top, a zip line canopy tour has been added and there’s tubing for the less adventurous. Several guides are on hand at each pool and accompany tubers and zip liners. Only swimmers are allowed to enter the water.

For the little ones, there are play areas far away from the water, and a few benches placed strategically around the grounds entice you to sit and enjoy nature’s bounty. Or grab a seat on the porch of the gift shop and watch as bird feeders call colorful hummingbirds to take a sip.

YS Estate is also a working stud farm that has produced several thoroughbred champions for Caymanas Park, the local racetrack.

Respect for the Environment

The Browne family, who own the estate and the falls, which are nestled in the foothills of the Cockpit Country, has taken great care in maintaining the natural environment. According to their site, when the falls opened in 1992, Simon Browne wanted to limit the number of visitors to 25 a day but that had to be revised as interest grew. Still, he’s said to monitor the numbers. (Groups are limited to 25.) In keeping with their drive to be environmentally aware, all toilets are eco-friendly.

My friend who joined me for the visit announced that she was in love with YS Falls, that because of the lushness of the surroundings, she preferred it to Dunn’s River Falls. True, YS feels more in harmony with the environment than Dunn’s River though I believe each has its own charm.

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Before you go:

YS Falls is located 50 miles from Montego Bay and Negril. Tours can be arranged through your hotel or guest house.
Admission: Adults $15/Children $7.50
Canopy Tour: Adults $42/Children $20
Tubing: $6 (20 minutes)
Hours: Tuesday to Sundays 9:30 – 4:00 p.m. Closed on Mondays and local holidays
Telephone: 876-997-6360

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

It’s hard to miss the poui tree with its brilliant yellow (or pink) flowers. It appears in full bloom, as if by magic one day, then a few days later, its flowers carpet the ground.

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree
Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

I don’t remember poui trees in the Jamaica of my childhood and had not noticed them on any of my many visits back. But sitting on the porch one morning a few months ago, a bright yellow tree in my neighbor’s backyard caught my eye. Then a day or so later, I watched as pieces of yellow fluttered silently to the ground, in ones or twos, like flakes of snow. By evening, the branches of the poui tree stood bare and forlorn; its flowers clustered so closely together, it looked as if the tree had on a bright yellow skirt.

I was disappointed and mystified. What happened? I wondered. How could such beautiful flowers not stay around longer for me to enjoy?

Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree
Travel Photo Thursday: Jamaican Poui Tree

Sometime later, out of the blue, a riot of yellow appeared again in the backyard. This time, I snapped away happily and decided to watch, not sure whether the flowers would return and, if they did, how long they would take.

Two Fridays passed and the limbs were still brown. About a week later, I noticed flecks of yellow and the following morning, the poui tree was once again in full bloom. Sadly, these delicate flowers were no match for the torrential rain that came mid-morning. When the clouds cleared and the sun returned, not a speck of yellow was left.

But the poui tree was not to be beaten. Within a day or two, there was the unmistakable yellow calling out to me. I smiled. The world was right again.

Tabebuia, photo from Wikipedia
Tabebuia, photo from Wikipedia

Some Poui Facts:

Scientific Name: Tabebuia Serratifolia (Yellow), Tabebuia Rosea (Pink)

Common Names: Poui, Trumpet Tree, Pau d’Arco, Ipê

Location: Can be found from Southern Florida to Northern Mexico and South America. Also found in the Caribbean, notably in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad & Tobago.

Size: According to the species, the poui tree can grow up to 150 feet, with a base 4-7 feet in diameter. The flowers are about 1-4″ and grow in dense clusters. Flowering season runs from January to May.

Uses: Because of its durability — it lasts 25 years — and ability to resist insects and termites, the wood of the poui tree is commonly used for decks, furniture and other outdoor projects. Since the 1960s, the New York City Parks Department has used the wood to maintain its boardwalks, including the one at Coney Island.

This is my submission to this week’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday series. Be sure to check out other photo and story entries on their website.



Wildflowers of Jamaica: Spanish Needle

I’ve become fascinated by the variety of flowers, including wildflowers, that grow in Jamaica. When I asked about this one and heard that it was the Spanish Needle, I thought of a poem I learned years ago in school.

Spanish Needle
Spanish Needle

The poem, The Spanish Needle, was written by Jamaican poet, Claude McKay, who certainly thought a lot of the lowly wildflower. McKay was born in 1889 and moved to the U.S. in 1912, where he became a seminal figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Besides poetry, he also wrote the novels Home to Harlem, Banjo and Banana Bottom, short stories and autobiographical books.

This is what he had to say about The Spanish Needle

Lovely dainty Spanish needle

With your yellow flower and white,

Dew bedecked and softly sleeping,

Do you think of me to-night?


Shadowed by the spreading mango,

Nodding o’er the rippling stream,

Tell me, dear plant of my childhood,

Do you of the exile dream?


Do you see me by the brook’s side

Catching crayfish ‘neath the stone,

As you did the day you whispered:

Leave the harmless dears alone?


Do you see me in the meadow

Coming from the woodland spring

With a bamboo on my shoulder

And a pail slung from a string?


Do you see me all expectant

Lying in an orange grove,

While the swee-swees sing above me,

Waiting for my elf-eyed love?


Lovely dainty Spanish needle,

Source to me of sweet delight,

In your far-off sunny southland

Do you dream of me to-night? 

I was also surprised to learn (but really, I shouldn’t have been) that the medicinal qualities found in the roots, leaves and seeds of the Spanish Needle can be used to treat a variety of illnesses including malaria, headaches and arthritis. It is used widely in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Surrounded by Beauty

Each morning I wake up, a new flower has bloomed or a fruit tree has put out blossoms. The colors are bold, the combinations delightfully unexpected. Take a look and see what I mean.

Name unknown

At first, this did not appear to be a flowering plant. The leaves alone were beautiful enough. I was surprised when I noticed that a bud had appeared and even more surprised when I saw the color. I never would have expected lilac. Unfortunately, I have no idea what its name is but I’ll be asking around.


I wouldn’t have expected to see holly in Jamaica since I associate it with colder climates and the carol, The Holly and the Ivy / When they a both full grown / Of all the trees that are in the woods /The holly wears the crown.

Pink Hibiscus
Pink Hibicus

Red rather was more popular when I was younger than pink. But there’s more gradation of color on the pink than on the red.

Pink Lusitania

Most flowers are known by their local rather than their botanical names. Either way, I just love these red and pink Lusitania. That yellow in the middle was totally unexpected.

Red Lusitania
Rice & Peas
Rice & Peas

We used to have a Rice & Peas plant when I was younger but the flowers were much smaller and pink and burgundy in color. And it really looked like the dish, Rice & Peas (red kidney beans), a Sunday staple. I wish I knew the botanical name.

I’d forgotten how proud Jamaican women are about their gardens and how zealously they tend them. I remember my grandmother, wherever she went, if there was a flower she didn’t have that she loved, she’d ask for a “cutting.” Usually, no one refuses – it’s the way things are. Whole conversations would start and continue over flowers, how to grow and care for them, what pests to watch out for, etc.

Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s green thumb but I love flowers and love even more to be surrounded by so much beauty.



Goodbye, Irene

I woke up to glorious sunshine this morning. All that’s left of Irene, the latest hurricane to hit the east coast of the U.S., is the damage and the cleanup.

For a storm that massive that was predicted to pass over the New York area on Saturday evening as a Category 1 hurricane, we were very fortunate that Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached us. As a result, we had far less damage that what was anticipated.

There have been flooding, mostly in flood-prone areas, trees uprooted trees, power lines brought down and cut off electricity in some areas. There has also been some loss of life but thankfully, not as many as could have occurred if the storm had remained as strong as was forecasted.

Continue reading “Goodbye, Irene”