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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.

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.



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.



Weekly Photo Challenge: Ocean

We had requested rooms facing the Indian Ocean so we could watch the sunrise on our last day in Durban.

Sunrise on the Golden Mile, Durban

At eight floors up, we had a perfect, unobstructed view and spent the better part of the morning watching the sun as it climbed peacefully over the horizon.

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Jamaica: Royal Palms Nature Reserve

Just beyond the hustle and bustle of Negril‘s Hip Strip, that stretch of road that marks off the

beach and the hotels that spill out on to the famous white sands, is a secluded place known mostly to nature lovers.

The Royal Palms Nature Reserve, part of the 6,000 acre Negril Morass, is a 300 acre expanse of towering Royal Palms – the largest stand in the world – and long thatch palm.

This popular eco-tourism spot teems with about 300 species of animals, reptiles, birds and butterflies as well as over 114 species of flowers.

The boardwalk at Royal Palms

Walk the half-mile boardwalk and see up close the variety of birds that live among the mangroves – from egrets and herons to ospreys and hawks – the West Indian Whistling duck, an endangered species, and plants such as anchovy pear, wicker vine and saw grass. Some plants are endemic to the area, others have medicinal purposes.

View from the 30' observation tower

Or climb the 30 foot observation tower to get a bird’s eye view of the area.

Royal Palm Peat Lake

The black lake at Royal Palms is evidence of the extensive deposits of peat in the area.

Next time you’re in Negril, plan a day to take a leisurely stroll through Royal Palms. It’ll be a relaxing experience.

Tours can be arranged through hotels and guests houses or you can go on your own. Royal Palm Nature Reserve is just outside Negril on the Sheffield Road in Westmoreland. Open daily 9-6. Cost $15/adults; $7/children. 876-364-7404