After The Rain

June is early in the rainy season in Barbados, but that doesn’t mean that rainfall levels are low. On the contrary, but what is different this year is that it’s still very very windy and therefore cool – yaay.

 

The last couple of days have been a bit wet, and even during the rain, the air is alive with an abundance of flying insects – termites, rain ants, rain flies, moths and a host of other unidentifiable bugs.

 

As soon as the rain eases off, out come the rain birds (also called king birds) to feast on the assortment of bugs just waiting to be caught. These birds dart around, catching their supper (or breakfast) on the fly and without stopping to swallow. And if they do perch on a fence post or branch, they seem to twitter excitedly with the smorgasbord of insects available.

 

The lizards come out to drink, the whistling frogs set up a chorus of song, the butterflies flutter to nearby flowers, and the blackbirds make an appearance checking for freshly revealed morsels. Everything comes to life. And to complete the picture, the sun peeps out to reveal a rainbow of colours on each droplet of water.

Croton

There are many different varieties of croton found in tropical climes, and Barbados is noDSCN5544 exception. As a child growing up, this was one of the most common plants to be found in any garden – easy to grow, hardy and looks fantastics. Nowadays, people tend to go for most exotic plants, but there’s still quite a lot of croton around and they are making a bit of a comeback as people appreciate the vibrant colours.

 

As you can see from the photos, the leaf shape varies, and they are not always vibrantDSCN5685 reds, oranges, golds and purples. If the location is a bit shaded, the colours will be less vibrant. Nothing is more stunning that a red-orange-gold shrub that is thick with leaves.

 

The croton plants do have tiny nondescript little pale yellow to whitish flowers too, but so small and insignificant against the backdrop of colour, that they frequently go un-noticed.

 

Propagating the croton is easy – cut off a piece, stick it some water and wait until the rootsDSCN5690 appear. The leaves will shrivel and drop off and new leaves will appear. Once the roots look strong and there is some decent foliage, plant in the ground or in a pot. Ideally, whilst the plant is in water, it should be kept outdoors in a relatively natural location.

 

 

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Allamanda

These flowering shrubs are found in abundance all over Barbados, particularly theDSCN5495 common yellow and purple variety pictured here. The pink/red specimen is much less common and harder to grow. What has also become very popular in recent years is the dwarf yellow allamanda – the flower is the same just smaller and the whole plant doesn’t grown more than about 2 feet or so in height.

 

I have the purple and the yellow growing in large pots, but they grow equally well in theDSCN5612 ground and, in fact, the purple one can be seen growing wild in various parts of the island.

 

The seed pod is clearly shown in one of the images here. Over a period of weeks, it turns brown, dries out and eventually bursts, releasing the delicate seeds for distribution by the wind. I see the purple allamanda putting out seed pods more often than the yellow, perhaps that is whey they seem to grow wild throughout the island.DSCN5678

 

The allamanda flowers have no scent and aren’t suitable for arrangements, but a couple flowers floating in a blow of water is very attractive. Humming birds, bees and other insects feed on the nectar of the allamanda flower. This is a milk plant, so one has to be careful when trimming as the milk will blister the skin.DSCN5597

Blackbirds aka Grackles (Quiscalus lugubris)

Blackbirds are to be found all over Barbados, and they move in flocks, so it would beDSCN5624 unlikely for you to see one bird by itself. They are just about 8 inches from the tip of the beak to the tail and have a varied appetite for insects, small frogs, lizards and even giant african snails. I sit on my deck and watch them moving forward like a little army, s they delicately toss aside leaves to reveal a possible delicacy sheltering underneath from the sun and waiting to become blackbird lunch.

 

What we all know about blackbirds is that they are noisy. And since there are always a lot of them together, the noise is quite noticeable. They love to nest in immortelle trees, and if a cat should venture forth in their direction or something startle them, the cacophony of sound as the birds rise from the tree as one is quite startling.

 

Blackbirds can be quite aggressive when they are nesting, and if you get too close, whether accidentally or otherwise, they will dive bomb you close enough that the wings may touch your head. I have seen them dive bomb one of my cats too, who was minding his own business and not the least bit interested in them, but was traumatised for years afterwards and ran when any bird flew too close to him.

 

I like to watch the blackbirds in flight too – their tail both rudder and brake. As they come

Blackbirds in flight

Blackbirds in flight

into land, the tail dips down hard like the flaps on a plane, and when they in full flight, the tail is more vertical and serves as a rudder. Quite fascinating to watch. And if you see what looks like slightly larger and more slender sparrows mixed in with the blackbirds, chances are those are the female blackbirds that are actually dark brown in colour and of a similar size as the males.

 

Rest assured, male and female are always busy.

Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)

DSCN5500I have one desert rose that has been growing in the same pot for years and continues to flourish. I had another one too, but had nowhere to put it so gave it to my mum, and that continues to flourish too.

The desert rose is a milk plant and thrives in dry conditions, and also seems to do well in a pot that appears to be too small for the plant. The milk will blister your skin, as I have experienced personally, so care should be taken on the rare occasions when you actually need to trim the plant, or accidentally knock off a leaf or flower.

The flowers look very pretty just floating in a shallow blow of water, but they are notDSCN5524 suitable for arrangements. Both the flower and the leaf are very similar in appearance to those of the Frangipani, but a notable difference is that the desert rose flower has little or no fragrance.

The desert rose does produce various colours of flowers, but the relatively common pink one is shown here. The unopened buds would open into bright pink flowers with  a tiny bit of white at the base of the flower.

Aphids love the desert rose, and they can be susceptible to blight also. You can clearly DSCN5502see the tiny yellow aphids in one of the photographs, aphids that keep the ladybugs well fed.

Cane Toad (Bufo marinus)

Barbados has more than it’s fair share of frogs and toads, and the cane toad is particularlyDSCN5643 common. They seem to flourish even in the driest of dry seasons, and as soon as a few drops of rain fall from the sky, they suddenly appear, seemingly from nowhere.

 

The one pictured here was not particularly large, about 5 inches from nose to tail and, surprisingly, appeared in the middle of the day and was on it’s way to a shadier location – they won’t move until they are good and ready!

 

Cane toads seem to eat just about anything. Their poop is quite generously proportioned,DSCN5641 and as it disintegrates, it’s easy to see the remains of millipedes and cockroaches and beetles, so they serve a very useful purpose in keeping insects under control, but at the same time, they poop everywhere and make quite a mess. And they burrow down into the soil or grass to avoid the heat of the day, and that includes jumping into plant pots and generally making a mess and even uprooting young plants. They can easily find their way into a pot that is 20” high.

 

If you put out food for your dogs and the frogs get there first, the dogs might go hungry – fortunately most of them learnt at an early age not to interfere with these poisonous amphibians as many a puppy has died from ingesting the toxin when “playing” with a toad.

 

I remember as children hearing the bull frogs, as we call the male toads, croaking away allDSCN5642 night long as they tried to attract a mate, a very recognisable sound, but we don’t seem to hear that so much now, or maybe there’s too much other noise at night nowadays to block it out.

 

Cane toads have been around for thousands of years and have a knack for surviving all sorts of harsh conditions, and are now considered pests in many countries. I don’t think they are going to be disappearing anytime soon.