Pillow Cotton

I couldn’t resist sharing another image from the presentation I am working on and will be giving later this month.

This is Giant Milkweed (Gossypium). The only time I saw it on the trip was when we travelled to the north end of Barbados to visit the Animal Flower Cave. The cave was a must-do item for me. When I was growing up, my mother, who is from Barbados, spoke of it fondly. What she described was an ocean-side cave filled with blooming flower animals: sea anemones. Unfortunately, the anemone population has dwindled significantly over the years. While the cave and the surrounding landscape was fantastic, and one of the highlights of the Barbados leg of our trip, what I saw was nothing like the cave as it would have been in my mother’s day.

But I digress. When I hopped off of the last of a three bus journey, the very first plant I noticed was the Giant Milkweed. How could I miss it? It looked like an overgrown version of the milkweed that grows in dry landscapes here in Toronto. The landscape at the north end of the island, and on Barbados in general, is quite dry and flat. There are a lot of dry fields. For that reason, I didn’t see this plant in Dominica, an island that is almost entirely mountainous rainforest!

I did some research and discovered that Giant Milkweed is sometimes called “pillow cotton” because the giant pods are filled with a soft and silky fibre that was once used to fill pillows. How appropriate. You see, for a good month prior to our trip I worried endlessly about the availability of a decent pillow in Dominica and wondered aloud to anyone who would listen as to how I might pack my pillow in addition to all the books and camera gear I felt necessary. This is all because I read somewhere that there was a pillow shortage in Dominica due to a fire, and that it is hard to get stuff there period, regardless. Which is true.

I know this sounds very Princess and the Pea, but I assure you that I can sleep on rocks as long as I have a good pillow. I NEED my pillow. Of course, after all of that fuss, I forgot the pillow at home and then worried about it endlessly during our 4 days in Barbados. Where could I get a pillow? When would I get a pillow and would it take me over Liat’s minuscule carry on limit?

I should have harvested some “pillow cotton” from the Giant Milkweed and made my own while I had the chance.

Amazingly, later that night — our last night in Barbados, and well after I had resigned myself to “suck it up already”– I purchased the perfect pillow from a group of ladies (the Pillow Ladies), and at the fish market of all places!

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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