Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Tea Banker - Pectis caymanensis

Tea Banker Pectis caymanensis

P. Ann van B. Stafford
Text published in Cayman Islands Department of Environment Newsletter FLICKER #4, December 2009.
(The pictures may differ from those in FLICKER #4.)
Tea Banker, Mint   Pectis caymanensis (Urb.) Rydb. 1916
Synonyms: Pectis cubensis of Hitchcock, 1893, not Griseb., 1866  Pectis cubensis var. caymanensis Urb.,1907

P. c.  var. caymanensis Cuba and the Cayman Islands 
P. c.  var. robusta Grand Cayman endemic
(Proctor, 1984) 
CaymANNature Flora pictures

Tea Banker, a small mat-like herb with a woody taproot, leaves with a distinctive, lovely lemony smell and little yellow flowers, has traditionally been used in Cayman to make a refreshing tea.

It was first recorded in the botanical literature of Grand Cayman in 1899 by Charles F. Millspaugh M.D. Department of Botany Curator, Field Columbian Museum, Chicago, Illinois. Millspaugh was a guest of Allison V. Armour, the Chicago meat-packing millionaire, on a West Indian cruise of the yacht ‘Utowana’; they visited the Cayman Islands during February, 1899. The chief set of Millspaugh’s specimens is in the herbarium of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Millspaugh published lists of his collection.
On February 8, 1899, the ‘Utowana’ stopped at The Creek ,‘Cayman Brae’ (Cayman Brac)  A Norther sprang up in the night, so they had to leave for  a point further west, where they anchored. They did some more collecting and then sailed on to Little Cayman, but found no safe harbour. They reached Georgetown (sic), Grand Cayman after dark on Feb. 9. The Health Officer forbade them to land as their last port (Port Antonio, Jamaica) was reported to be infected with measles.  They were, however, given permission to go ashore elsewhere as long as they kept away from any other person or dwelling. Because of the Norther, they anchored at ‘Spot Bay’ (Spotts).
Tea Banker was originally called Pectis cubensis, it had been found in Cuba. Millspaugh found it on Grand Cayman on Feb.14, 1899: ‘Fine full masses of this species were found in the sand of the roadside at Spot Bay, Grand Cayman (1279), but not seen elsewhere on the island. It is called "Flat-weed," and is used in infusion as a stomachic tonic.’ (Millspaugh, 1889)

Culturally Significant
In a two page article entitled ‘Bush Medicine’, published in the February 1973 issue of the Nor’wester magazine,  Ena Watler wrote: “It has fine green leaves, grows real close to the ground, and has tiny yellow flowers. Stick a bunch of it in boiling water and add some sugar and you’ll have a nice cup of tea to improve your appetite”.  (Watler, 1973)
Tea Banker - Pectis caymanensis, there were a lot of plants
in the sandy beach ridge yard of Capt. Carl Bush, #972 South Church St, Grand Cayman.
The house has been moved and in recent years no Tea Banker has been seen here.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Oct.30, 2002.
Critically Endangered
Tea Banker occurs in two varieties P. caymanensis var. caymanensis, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, near endemic, and P. caymanensis var. robusta, Grand Cayman endemic. Both are Critically Endangered. (Burton, 2008)

Grand Cayman cemeteries and beach ridges
In recent years it has been found growing in some beach-ridge cemeteries. Do the plants die naturally in a prolonged dry season and sprout during the rainy season? Might it be an annual? This is a challenge to monitor, because it grows amongst Zoysia grass, Donkey Weed Stylosanthes hamata and other ground covers. It may have been pulled up and used for making tea. Cemeteries are weeded and raked.  Specimens of the plants I have found from four different locations on Grand Cayman all key out to P. c. var. robusta, the Grand Cayman endemic.
 Tea Banker - typical beach ridge habitat
Photo: Ann Stafford, South Sound, Grand Cayman, Nov.8, 2008
Sister Islands
Has anybody found Tea Banker on the Brac or Little Cayman in recent years?  var. caymanesis occurs in sandy clearings or soil-filled pockets of exposed limestone.
Conservation (P.c. var. robusta)
It is difficult to transplant. Although it can be grown from seed, it seems to require salt, such as at a beach ridge habitat, and fresh water, (when rain falls after the dry season), for the seeds to germinate.
 Tea Banker - typical beach ridge habitat
Photo: Ann Stafford, South Sound, Grand Cayman, Dec.1, 2013

Botanical description
Proctor, George R.  FLORA of the Cayman Islands, 1984, and second edition (in press):
Matlike perennial herb, subwoody at the base and with a woody taproot, the stems often pinkish; leaves oblong-linear or very narrowly lanceolate, 4-12 mm long, minutely scabrid toward the apex and sharply mucronate, and with 4-6 pairs of long cilia near the base. Peduncles mostly 5-10 mm long; ligules yellow, more or less longitudinally nerved. Achenes dark brown, minutely striate.
Occurs in two varieties which can be distinguished as follows:
Pectis caymanensis var. caymanensis   Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac and Cuba
Stems glabrous, seldom more than 12cm long; phyllaries ciliolate, c. 3mm long; ligules c. 3mm long;
achenes 2 - 2.5mm long, strigose with reddish hairs.
Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac and Cuba.
Occurs in sandy clearings or soil-filled pockets of exposed limestone. Frequently used to make a pleasantly aromatic tea.
Pectis caymanensis var. robusta  Proctor in Sloanea 1:4 1977
Stems sparingly hispidulous in lines, up to 25cm long or more; phyllaries glabrous, c.6mm long; ligules c. 5 mm long; achene 3 – 3.2mm long, glabrous or minutely white-strigillose toward the base.
Grand Cayman endemic. Found growing in gravelly sand near the sea.
This variety is generally larger and coarser in appearance than var. caymanensis.

Isotype of Pectis caymanensis var. robusta Proctor 

Pectis caymanensis var. robusta Proctor 
Critically Endangered, culturally significant Grand Cayman endemic,
small, aromatic mat-forming herb, South Sound sandy beach ridge,
virtual herbarium image, scanned at 600%.
 P. Ann van B. Stafford, June 6, 2006.

Pectis caymanensis var. robusta Proctor 
Critically Endangered Grand Cayman endemic,
small, aromatic mat-forming herb, South Sound sandy beach ridge,
scanned virtual herbarium image, P. Ann van B. Stafford, Dec.1, 2006.
Cayman Endemics images

Tea Banker - Pectis caymanensis - little clumps growing amongst the Zoysia grass,
Bodden Town Cemetery beach ridge.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Feb.19, 2010

Tea Banker - Pectis caymanensis - little clumps growing amongst the Zoysia grass,
Old Man Bay Cemetery beach ridge.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Feb.13, 2010

Please report observations to Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

Burton, F.J.  Threatened Plants of the Cayman Islands The Red List 2008 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Millspaugh, Charles F.   Antillean Cruise of the Yacht Utowana  Dec. 1898 – Mar. 1899, Field Museum of Natural    History, Chicago  Accessed Nov.11, 2009
Proctor, George R.  Flora of the Cayman Islands 1984 and second edition (in press) Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Watler, Ena  Bush Medicine,  Nor’wester magazine, Feb. 1973 Cayman Islands National Archive

Plantae Utowanae. Plants collected in Bermuda, Porto Rico, St. Thomas, Culebras, Santo Domingo, Jamaica, Cuba, the Caymans, Cozumel, Yucatan and the Alacran shoals. Dec. 1898 to Mar. 1899. The Antillean cruise of the yacht Utowana. Mr. Allison V. Armour, owner and master (1900)

Cayman Islands Department of Environment Tea Banker - Pectis caymanensis Species Action Plan


Suggestion for CONSERVATION of this delightful, culturally significant little wild flower that grows on sandy beach ridges: gather some seeds and sow them in Miss Lassie’s sand yard and beach. Next year, when the rains come, some may sprout! Tea Banker grew well in Capt. Carl Bush’s sand yard 400 yards further east, next to Sand Cay Apartments.
Miss Lassie's House (Gladwyn K. Bush), with the shutters she painted,
cistern and sand yard, at the junction of South Sound Road and Walkers Road.
Photo: Ann Stafford, Jan. 2013

Miss Lassie's House beach, Sound Sound, Grand Cayman.
Photo: Ann Stafford Jan. 2013

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