In an environment so deeply shaped by its
island character with the impact of its beaches,
shoreline and the sea itself, the islands also have a
strong inland aspect, strongly influenced by its volcanic
origins and its sloped and terraced landscape, and, of
course, the climate of the tradewinds.
This land ashore ranges from semi
rainforest to dry pasture land, from farmland to
hillside, from resort and roadside landscape to tropical
In a land of nearly constant temperature
patterns), seasons here are dictated by rainfall. The
rainy season, from June to December, brings the greening
of the landscape and startling new growth, that if
unchecked would completely dominate the normal
The dry season, from January through May,
when leaves are shed and the hills turn lovely shades of
brown, is also a time when exotic tropical flowers
blossom in great profusion after being pollinated by an
array of equally exotic insects.
These dry pastures,
called the Savannah in Africa and the range in the
American Southwest, occur naturally as an ecosystem
created by low annual rainfall, with open areas made up
of grasses, low shrubs and widely interspaced trees.
derided as "scrub" land of
"underdeveloped" runts, this dry pastoral land
is actually home to interesting and picturesque flora and
fauna and beautifully adapted to these conditions, such
as cactus and century plants with special metabolic
Pipe Cactus tend to
branch near the base, sending multiple tall, light green
stems up in interesting vertical patterns. Its formidable
spines, able to puncture a sneaker, are found on the
stem's many ribs. This cactus is often home to birds,
whose nests are safe from snakes and mongoose. Organ Pipe
Cautus are found throughout the BVI in this dry habitat,
particularly Virgin Gorda.
Turk's Cap Cactus,
also called barrel cactus, do resemble small barrels
sitting right on the ground, with vertical, spine-ribbed
flutes. It's fuschia tinted fruits are eaten by birds as
well as people.
Prickley Pear Cactus,
with its characteristic flat green pads, is an abstract
artist, each successive pad (actually stem segments)
growing at right angles to the one before.
yellow flowers are followed by little goblet fruits,
again abstractly growing from its edges and turning a
deep, rich red. Good to eat, the mature fruits are peeled
of its prickles and rolled in sugar in Mexico.
The Prickley Pear
forms all kinds of interesting patterns and beautiful
specimens can be found at Prickley
Pear Island, a nature refuge with an excellent hiking trail.
well known as a house plant, is a rosette-shaped low
plant with fleshy, greenish-grey spines that grows wild
in the West Indies, particularly in thin, dry soils. It
sprouts a single flower stalk from the center that grows
up to 30" tall, with many yellow flowers.
But it is the
medicial healing properties which give aloe its renown,
being found in many burn treatments, especially sunburn.
Break a leaf in two and the green gel can be put on
wounds and insect bites as well as burns.
are found in the wild on
Anegada as well
as Guana Island.
Frangipani, a drought resistant small tree up to 15' high
(seen here in the Anegada's
"Outback"), is nature's delightful work of
abstract art with its wild branch sculptures
holding displays of long thin, mid-ribbed green leaves in
sparse, but jubilant radiating sets.
Its white blossom,
minimally elegant to the eye and waxlike to the touch
(its water-saving grace making it slow to wilt in
decorations), gives off a wonderful scent, especially at
night (see picture).
Frangipani Caterpillar, its bold yellow and black stripes warning off
predators, feeds on the leaves of its namesake tree as
well as allamandas, becoming as big as a finger and as
toxic as the sap, before emerging as a large silver-grey
hawk moth. See our "quiz"
picture (credit: Guana Island
Natural History Guide).
Hermit Crab. Familiar creatures found in shell shops far and
wide, the hermit crab is famous for living in marine
shells as an abode (see more). The hermit crab's large
left claw and pinchers fit the shell opening as a door.
The purple-clawed hermit,
often called the soldier crab, is the variety found in
the Caribbean, the most common land crab in dry areas
(see examples traversing
path to BVI's Savannah Bay beach).
Found 350 feet up and five
miles inland, the hermit crab depends upon keeping a
reservoir of water in its shell.
Shells of the whelk, a sea snail, are greatly preferred, and highly
sought after by its fellows, who happen to be
cannabalistic to boot.
The hermit crab travels
down to the sea each year, where on dry season nights,
hundreds of hermits mate in the splash zone, the females
laying eggs into the sea at low tide.
a profuse and diverse group of reptiles, include the tree
lizards, with their distinctive throat pouches, and the
ubiquitous ground lizards, often found
rustling in dry leaves. Ground lizards are often brown in
color, sometimes with stripes (some males have bright
blue stripes). Active foragers on insects, ground lizards
climb rocks but not trees; and, inside, the
gecko climbs walls and ceilings to catch
insects around lights.
A special treat is
spotting the crested anole:
"patterned in shades of brown, the males sport grand
throat fans with red borders and green centers.
They display their fans in courtship or combat
rituals." A Natural History Guide to Guana Island.
are large, herbivorous lizards whose decidedly
prehistoric look make them popular specimens to observe.
The endangered Anegada Iguana, found near Anegada's Bones
Bight, has been restored to Guana Island (to The Restoration of
To Mount Sage National Park.
Here you will see interesting species such as
the Fig Tree, Philodendron or Elephant Ear Vine, "Air Plants"
such as Bromelaids, the Hermit
Crab and the Bo Peep Tree Frog.
character evident from the chickens, goats and cattle
seen and heard in many places, many freely roaming and
some, like chickens, crowing at times to unwelcome ears,
island farming is practiced on an intimate and
interesting scale for the most part, supplying the local
markets with a variety of goods that are interwoven with
traditional culture and available to visitors in many
forms, such as pig roasts, and from many sources,
especially tropical fruits and other produce, such as
"ground provisions." See Meet
they call them, familiar root crops such as yams and
sweet potatoes, as well as the exotic Dasheen
and Tannia, confused in nomenclature but
related members of the Jack in the Pulpit
aroid family identified by their spear-shaped leaves
sometimes elephant-ear size. Propagated down to us from
ancient origins by planting cut-up chunks with buds
("cultivars"), these plants are a major
"starch" food staple worldwide, In the
islands, they are grown in moist hillside terraces, like
at the entrance to Sage
Mountain National Park. The Dasheen leaf (a popular
variety has a large purple spot on it) is used to make callaloo.
Surprisingly, the majestic pineapple comes from a low
plant, a member of the bromelaid, or "air
plant" family. The fruit itself is derived from a
hundred or so compacted flowers. Letting it ripen on the
stalk to a lovely yellow or golden hue increases the
The towering banana tree, with its beautifully ornate
leaves, does indeed live up to its reputation. However,
its "trunk" is actually the aggregate of its
tightly wrapped leaf stems, each originating from the
base, a piece of planted stem or a "shoot" from
the original plant--which dies after a magnificent nine
month effort to produce its prodigious flower and
resulting fruit-- a "bunch" of bananas,
consisting of 5-20 "hands," each with 2-20
Not bad for an
Heavy feeders in
moist, fertile soils requiring a lot of light, bananas
are also shallow rooted, and are often staked against the
wind, and are, of course, easily uprooted in hurricanes.
Thought to be blown in from Africa by hurricanes, cattle
egrets were first reported in the Caribbean in 1936, but
now they are its most common heron. About 20" tall,
snowy-white heron loves grasshoppers, lizards and
other small insects. As indicated by their name, they are
found wherever cattle are pastured, often seen sitting on
a cow's back.
To Garden Landscapes
A cay is a small island,
although the name can be attached to those of
considerable size such as Frenchman's Cay.
On the other extreme,
Rock is a tiny island, little more than a
"rock," at the far reaches of the North Sound
on the way to the reef-strewn Eustatia Sound.
is a true cay near Trellis Bay,
home of a Pusser's Landing and everyone's favorite.
Cay is a tiny tropical isle consisting
mainly of its beaches.
North Coast is a succession of scenic
ridges and peaks interspersed with white sand beaches and
rocky shores amid coastal fishing villages like Carrot Bay
and the craggy
Steele Point at the entrance to Soper's Hole.
Harbour at Jost Van Dyke has a minature
shore settlement bounded by its charming
"bypass" road and beach "Main
In the mountainous terrain
of the islands, valleys are somewhat incongruously found
up on a hillside or even high on the mountain. Ghut
is the island term for gully or stream valley (to Vertical Ghuts/Life on Ridge Road).
on Virgin Gorda's Beach Coast appears as a valley from
above, but as hillside terraces from below.
Cane Garden Bay is the
downhill destination of its terrain from mountain valleys
from far above.
Ridge follows its mountaineous spine along
Ridge Road as a series of ridges intercut with peaks and
headlands, high pastures and mountain valleys. See Life
on Ridge Road.
Sage is the highest point on Tortola and a
national park and semi-rainforest.
Hill, on Treasure Island, is reputed to be a
pirate look-out from times past.
in the North Sound, is a village that stretches up the
mountainside on Virgin Gorda.
actually a coral atoll and is only 28' feet above sea
level, unlike the rest of the BVI, which is of volcanic
origin, and mostly mountainous.
offers a virtual trip through the main island of the BVI.
is a wildlife sanctuary coupled with a
resort on the site of an historic Quaker sugar
plantation. To The
Restoration of Guana's 'Guana.
St. John, of
the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, is predominately a
Tour by Island takes you through the BVI
Bay/Marina Cay leads out to a sea of
British Virgin Islands as a whole is a
The BVI National
Parks Trust preserves the natural and marine
Read the fascinating story about The
Return of the Flamingos to Anegada.