Dispatches from the Land of the Lost

Photo by Gayla Trail All Rights Reserved

If I had to describe Dominica’s flora with one word, I think I would choose “giant.” Or possibly “huge.”

“Lush” is a good word but I’m not sure it can convey the kind of extreme lushness I am talking about. This isn’t North American lush, this is rainforest, tons of water and heat, things just grow and never stop growing kind of lush. This is plants covering every surface that isn’t moving lush.

The reason I chose “giant” is because not only is it extremely lush, but many of the plants are super-sized. We flew into Dominica about a week ago, arriving on the east coast, and were quickly introduced to the island’s lushness and hugeness by a rapid-fire drive through the interior to the west side. The bamboo we saw along the way were the biggest bamboo I have ever seen in my life. By far! Ferns of all types and sizes, many of which I can not identify completely covered the roadside cliffs. Tree-sized ferns are so commonplace here I’m already feeling a sense of normalcy about seeing them.

Along the way, I remarked to the driver that there was so much of interest growing, I couldn’t tell where cultivation ended and wildness began. The way he put it, just about everything is wild. Here it seems to be less about coaxing things to grow, and more about taming the growth you don’t want.

Imagine the weeding!


Here I am holding up a thick bamboo stalk I found laying on the side of a path. This is not the thickest bamboo I saw. Not by a long shot.


Davin found this gigantic seedpod lying underneath a tree. I’m sorry I can’t identify the tree, but can you believe the size of that pod?


Check out the size of this tree fern frond in comparison to my size. And no, I’m not wearing a cowboy hat, it’s just the way the hat is cocked in the photo. Sadly, I lost my second best hat two days ago and have been reduced to wearing the third best backup.


This is Davin holding a bunch of bananas. They are surprisingly heavy. I have a newfound respect for banana growers. HARD WORK.

Photo by Gayla Trail All Rights Reserved

Depending on where you are, you can find giant tillandsia filling many of the trees here. You will also find several that have fallen to the ground. Every time I see one I just can’t believe it. There they are, these plants I love, just laying there on the ground like it’s no big deal.


Here’s a photo of me taking a Polaroid of the same tillandsia for scale. HUGE!


And holding a smaller plant that had also fallen to the ground.


This massive thing is the spent flower stalk. With that kind of weight, it’s no wonder the thing fell out of the tree!


And finally, a perfect tillandsia log, all ready to go. It makes me laugh to imagine the work we put into achieving this effect at home (think floral wires and constant spritzing) when you can just pick one up off the ground here.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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18 thoughts on “Dispatches from the Land of the Lost

  1. Fun! I have a coworker with a home in Latin America (Puerto Rico, not too far from you).

    She’s overwhelmed by the jungle that’s swallowing her house, every time she visits. Things we (try to) grow as houseplants in the midwestern U.S., like rubber tree, pop up all over the place like a “Jurassic Park” ancestor of a trumpet vine. I’d be in heaven, but I guess it’s not so great when you have to manage it from a landscaping perspective.

    Thanks for the sorrel recipe – it led me to a little market I’ve been walking past for years without realizing all the treasures it held.

  2. Could you bring that home? I’m going to Montreal for a couple of days. I’ll be able to compare these plants to those in the greenhouses of the Mtl Botanic.

  3. Love love love the photos Gayla! From my office in lack-of-lush-vegetation Utah, I’m living vicariously through you!

    Although I have yet to visit the area you are in, a friend of mine spent some time in Dominica. She loved it, but was not thrilled about the giant centipedes.

  4. Chigal: We noticed a lot of garden cleanup recently… which is basically hacking away at the overgrowth… and Davin asked if this was special for the season… Nope. It’s all the time.

    Barry: I wish I could bring it home!

    Linda: Oh I want to see the giant centipedes! I have seen what I think are pretty big millipedes… and yesterday we saw several land crabs… which let me tell you are awesome

  5. I went to Dominica about ten years ago. I was a teenager and it was a cruise with my dad and step-family – we were only in Dominica for a day, but it was by far my favorite of all the islands we visited. I remember being taken aback by banana trees growing so nonchalantly on the side of the road. Wish I could have spent more time there. Thank you for sharing your trip with all of us!

  6. land crabs? what the? wow… these photos and your descriptions are making my day. thanks for sharing. I think this is the best thing about travel: experiencing someplace else’s day-to-day life/stuff/plants/food… and how mind-blowing it all is for the traveler. Makes me wonder what about our respective hometowns inspires the same reaction in our own visitors.

  7. Blake: Land crabs are crazy!! Although last night someone told me what I saw are river crabs and that land crabs are red. So confusing.

    I wonder that as well. I think taking pictures helps me to keep some excitement about my everyday routines.

    Michelle: Will certainly share more when I return. I’m finding it difficult to keep up with our schedule.

  8. Maybe you could invent a new port-manteau word ‘hush’ – not only is it huge and lush but also conveys the awe-inspiring nature of them…

    And yes, why on earth do we bother with trying to replicate what is so perfectly and naturally achieved somewhere else?

  9. Growing up in Panama, I got the mistaken impression that I was a good gardener. Now that I live in Northern CA, I know the truth: Panama made it easy. What you said about trying to get things NOT to grow is the truth.

  10. What an awesome post! When I saw the 1st pic of the tillandsia the commentary in my head was pretty much what you posted after the last picture.

    Those things are so expensive around here. I wonder if those people know they have like $40 dollars just laying around on the ground under the tree.

  11. Although I am a complete insect geek (I think bark beetles are cute), I am deathly afraid of centipedes (and heck, they’re not even insects anyway!).

    Dear Gayla, if you must post a photo of the giant centipedes you encounter in Dominica, please put a warning at the beginning of the post ;)

    Strangely enough, I am quite fond of millipedes though, small or big! Look forward to your next post!

  12. Ciao Gayla,
    I have a couple of baobab seeds. Can you give me some advice? I was also wondering if any of your readers are from Rome?

  13. Wow, I’m so psyched a feature on Dominica! I just watched a program on it on PBS last weekend and I was thinking it might be at the top of my list for places to go visit soon! Thanks for sharing about it!

  14. Allison: GO! A great place for nature lovers and gardeners to visit as there is so much to see and explore. 3 weeks wasn’t nearly enough.

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