Cuban Gardens

Cuban gardens were a new subject for me until I recently traded in our cold Canadian weather for a week of hot Cuban “winter” weather and a plant tour that reminded me of my indoor plants back home in Canada.

Cuban Resort garden

Cuban Resort garden

Not only were the blooms and foliage amazing, but the air itself is full of a scent that is indescribable. While unable to pinpoint any specific scent, upon closer examination  of Cuban gardens, I was able to identify many plants as those “tropicals”,  for sale in garden centres and greenhouses here in Ontario.

Schefflera

This four story plant is one of many Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree) plants growing around our resort and seen all over the island. Schefflera actinophylla (umbrella tree). The genus is fast growing in tropical and subtropical areas to the extent it is classified as a weed in these areas. With idea conditions here in Cuba, the actinophylla species has  long, shiny, oval green leaves that droop gracefully from a central stalk and  also produces long red tentacle blooms.

 

Schefflera flower

 

Here in Ontario Canada and other colder climates, where our cold winters prevent idea growth, we grow Schefflera arboricola (sometimes called dwarf schefflera)  which has much smaller leaves, sometimes with creamy variegation and generally doesn’t get the right conditions for blooming. Under ideal conditions it produces creamy coloured berries.

Schefflera_arboricola_

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Pelee Island Trip

Pelee Island trips can  be wonderful and defiinately an adventure as mentioned previously, when I  found poison ivy there. This noxious weed is only one among countless found on this quaint island. Certainly the entire island cannot be appreciated in one day, but I did see lovely woodlands, stunning beaches and heard many songbirds. In addition to being a calm, natural spot, I found it oddly exhilarating being at the southernmost tip of Canada.

 

Wikipedia Pelee Island Aerial

 

Pelee Island Trip

My Pelee Island trip began from Leamington Ontario, home of the Big Tomato Information booth and the largest number of greenhouses in Canada. Despite how much I enjoy Ketchup on fries, I spent no time viewing the area or its tomatoes before heading to the docks. There I boarded the Jimaan Ferry for a 1 hr. and 45 minute trip to the main dock on the island’s west side.

 

Pelee Island Ferry

The ferry sold a variety of items in their gift shop including several interesting books on Pelee as well as the standard nautical souvenirs. On the wall there was a topographical map of the surrounding area, so I got a better idea of how close we were to the U.S. and the number of islands that make up what is known as The West Lake Erie Islands.

 

These islands, regardless of their country of ownership, form what is called an Archipelago. This is the term for a chain or cluster of islands, which in this case support a Carolinian forest eco system. While I was familiar with Carolinian forests, as my cottage is in one such area, until I visited Pelee I had no idea of the range of these environs.

In fact, “Carolinian” itself is a term used to describe a life or vegetative zone in Eastern North America characterized by a predominance of deciduous trees. Over the years since the origin of this designation came in to use in 1859 by J.G. Cooper of the United States, its usage has changed. Now the term is primarily used in Canada, and referred to as Eastern Deciduous or Eastern Woodlands, in the U.S.

Carolinian Forest

The northern edge of the area encompassed is below an approximate line drawn between Toronto on Lake Ontario to Grand Bend on Lake Huron, with the southern extension in to the Carolinas. In this area are pockets of the fertile mixed wood plains, as seen on Pelee Island. The Great lakes modify the surrounding area allowing animals, birds and plant life to survive, that are seldom found in other areas of Canada.

Typical Carolinian forest; trees are a mix of Hickory, Black Walnut,Sycamore, Chestnuts, Oaks and the rarer Red Mulberry, Dwarf Hackberry, Tulip tree and Kentucky Coffee trees. Not surprisingly, Poison Ivy is one of the native vines for this area, while wildflowers, Swamp Rose Mallow, Tall Coreopsis,Wild Bergamot,wild Lupine and Yellow Lotus can also be found blowing in the meadows and wetlands.

 

Yellow Lotus

 

Pink Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique animals and reptiles are there as well. In fact the Island is home to the Gray Fox found only in one other location in Manitoba and a Blue Racer snake which is only found on Pelee. There are many more examples of wildlife unique to this area and island, many of which are now endangered species!

Unfortunately Carolinian forests are frequently near large populated areas of Ontario and then are at risk due to loss of wetlands, as cities grow. Even farmland expansion has a downside as it can destroy natural nesting and living areas. Certainly the balance of economy vs preservation of a natural eco system is quite delicate.

On Pelee Island, the farming has declined from 33 farms to less than 10 over the last twenty years as farmers’ retired and new machinery allowed larger tracts to be managed by individual farms. The population has declined as well. Around 1900 had almost 800 residents with 4 schools, 4 churches and 3 general stores. Certainly current transportation and recession issues have had an impact on the islands economy as there are only approximately 275 year round residents with one store, a post office, LCBO, bike rentals a few B&Bs and several restaurants.

As well Pelee Island Winery adds to the islands economy and provides another attraction for visitors. Fishing, boating, scenery and the annual Pheasant Hunt draw many tourists here and countless birders come each spring as migration patterns peak.

But  no Pelee Island Trip would be complete for me until I witnessed the peak …the  sandy one at the end of the island! As a gardener and lover of nature I certainly appreciated the lovely trees blowing in the wind and the birds heard high overhead but getting away was my main goal. In fact I was lookiing forward to leaving the city behind for some beach combing and a calmer atmosphere.

 

 

Beachcomber

Part of the calm I found was in the natural landscape, feeling the sand through my toes and hearing countless birds call from the shore. With the sun high overhead, beach combing was amazing as I headed to the end of Fish Point Park…to wave at the United States and the thousands of seagulls resting on the sandy finger that ends this lovely island.

 

 

Pelee Island was a joy to visit and I look forward to enjoying the Carolinian forest, friendliness of the residents and the lovely blooms of their gardens, in the near future…and of course walk the sandy shores and breath the fresh Lake Erie air!