(Featured image above is a close up of the fruit and leaves on a machineel tree)
With beautiful weather year round there are always fun outdoor activities to do in Cayman. However, there are a range of dangerous plants in the Cayman Islands to be aware of which can greatly impact your skin causing: dermatitis (skin irritation), burning, rashes or even more severe injuries.
In this article, we break down four common yet dangerous plants in the Cayman Islands and information on how to properly identify them from the Department of Environment (DOE) and what you do if your skin comes into contact with them.
After reading this article, we hope you are able to identify the dangerous plants in Cayman so you know what to avoid which helps ensure that you stay safe outside and have an enjoyable time!
Maiden Plum (Comocladia dentata):
Maiden plum (click to view image) heavily populates the island, sprouting more than other plants on open land and land where trees and bushes have recently been cut down. It is usually found as a small bush that is not normally more than 2 metres tall. Maiden plum has also been seen as a smaller plant or more rarely as a tree. It has unique traits and once aware of these it is hard to not spot it. It has glossy or waxy green leaves that are sometimes spotted, with a jagged sort of edge.
The maiden plum leaves can break a part quite easily, making it very easy for the sap from the leaves to transfer to your skin or clothing even if you gently brush past it. If you are exposed to the sap on your skin, the reaction is not instant but DOE explains: “the contact site will develop into a red welt after 24 hours, becoming increasingly inflamed and sore over the following weeks, developing into a wet, raw, open sore”.
Once you get the maiden plum sap on your skin, it is difficult to remove through rinsing water on it. It is recommended to pour some lemon or lime juice directly to the affected area on the skin for some relief.
Lady Hair (Malpighia cubensis):
Similar to Maiden Plum, Lady Hair (click to view image) is a small bush or shrub that is no more than 2 meters high. However, the Lady Hair distinguishes itself in its smaller, thin and long leaves which have what looks like fuzz or ‘hairs’ on them.
These ‘hairs’ are easily removed from the plant and can stick on to clothing and skin which can inflame, irritate and cause contact dermatitis on the skin. Duct tape and tweezers should be used as quickly as possible after contact to remove the hairs, this will help the reaction of the skin to these hairs subside quickly.
Cow itch (Mucuna pruriens):
Cow itch (Mucuna pruriens – click to view image) is a plant with long vines along with orange fuzzy purple flowers that are no longer than 10 centimetres. In the early stages of the plant’s growth it has many hairs all over it but as it matures the hairs shed. The tip of the leaf is pointy and the sides of the leaves are curved. The trend continues and like the previous two plants mentioned, the fuzzy hairs are very easy to come off of the plant, from a breeze or wind.
Once in contact with skin, it can cause painful itching. After it has been identified there has been contact, you should immediately remove the clothes near the areas of skin that was exposed and seek urgent medical attention. If medical attention cannot be immediately sought, the hairs can be removed with tweezers and hot water and soothing creams may possibly offer some remedy.
Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella):
Manchineel (Hippomane mancinella – click to view image), like Maiden Plum is a very popular shrub, maintaining the similar measurements of a 2 metre maximum height. It has curved leaves, long stems along with fruit (which is also poisonous and can be fatal if ingested) that looks similar to a green apple colour when unripe, but gradually turning yellow as it becomes riper. Every element of this plant is dangerous and any contact with it can cause extreme inflammation, blisters or burning skin.
DOE also stresses the extreme toxicity of the plant saying to take care what plants you are going under for shelter if it rains; if the water drips from a Manchineel tree onto a person’s skin, it can causing burning as the water could carry some of the sap.
If exposed to Manchineel, seek urgent medical attention right away. As an immediate measure, while waiting on medical attention, you can wash the affected area with soap and water.
In January 2023, Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) also warned about a new plot of the Brazilian Peppertree, a poisonous South American plant that had been found in Grand Cayman. For more information on this and what to do if you spot the plant, click here.
As evidenced above, there are a range of dangerous plants in the Cayman Islands to be diligent of. While you may receive a painful rash or stings from the ‘hairs’ of the plants, many symptoms can be quickly relieved with the suggestions above from DOE and also with topical creams or remedies.
Nonetheless, there are plants in which contact with them can be very serious with longer recovery times, particularly Maiden Plum and Manchineel which is possibly life threatening. Immediate medical attention should be received for those who came in contact with this.
Overall, ensuring you take time to properly identify the distinguishing elements on these plants on the DOE website or getting in touch with one of our dermatologists (their profiles can be viewed below) for a proper examination of any dermatitis is important to ensure you keep safe and enjoy the outdoors in Cayman!
To read more on dangerous plants in the Cayman Islands, visit the Department of Environment’s official website: https://doe.ky/terrestrial/dangerous-plants/.