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By Shannon Schmidt

A tale of triumph — how a team saved Camana Bay's iconic sausage trees

Man and woman stand by tree
Dart Landscape Designer, Jessica Barefoot, left, and Landscape Design and Horticulture Senior Manager Whit Connors played key roles on the team that helped rescue 28 sausage trees toppled as Tropical Storm Grace hit the Cayman Islands in 2021.

More than two years after Tropical Storm Grace uprooted and badly damaged 28 of Camana Bay's Kigelia africana — commonly known as sausage trees — the iconic trees are not only still alive, but they're also thriving.

In the days following the storm — with wind gusts strong enough to snap at least one tree from the base of its trunk — it was a race for Camana Bay's landscaping and horticulture teams to save the fallen trees. Now, we can see the fruits of our labour continuing to grow and reflect on what was an emotional time.

Horticulture is a fascinating and rewarding field. I don’t think many people understand the relationships we develop with the landscapes we design, install and maintain.

“Where I grew up in the northwest lowveld of South Africa, Kigelia africana are native to special places – game reserves, savannah grasslands and rocky outcrops," Dart Senior Manager - Nursery & Landscape Services Francois Sevenster said. "My emotional ties are deep. When I first saw the damage to this specific area, the initial response was horror and dread from the destruction. This later morphed to a macabre awe at the power of the winds.”

The team sprang into action in its cleanup and recovery efforts as soon as the storm passed and we understood the extent of the damage.

"When assessing a large storm event as a team, we have an agreed-upon set of action plans used to respond and recover in the most efficient way possible," said Dart Senior Manager - Landscape Design and Horticulture Whit Connors.

The plan includes analysing the extent of the damage and prioritising care and recovery efforts based on the sensitivity of species and the amount of root ball that has been exposed. It's a time-consuming process as the recovery workers need to use extra caution with the trees, as they are stressed, so they do not incur further damage.

Roughly 20 people worked throughout the day for nearly three weeks just to try and save the toppled sausage trees in the cinema parking lot.

“The urgency of the situation was the main anxiety for me, personally,” Sevenster said.

Today, that anxiety has morphed into one of hope and inspiration. All 28 of the sausage trees were successfully recovered and survived. Some were replanted in the parking lot while others were transplanted and replanted in other areas of Camana Bay and nearby properties.

"We are surprised with plants all the time," Connors said. "There are so many factors that can affect a plant here in Cayman — wind, too much rain, too little rain, pests, disease and nutrient deficiencies. The deciding factor in most of our trials is the soil mix, though. If you do not get this right, then the plant is doomed from the start. Trying to mimic the natural soil conditions to where the plant is native to is very important.”

By all accounts, the trees are doing very well.

“The trees in the Parkway are growing vigorously and abundantly," Sevenster said. "I check on the trees in the Parkway and Camana Bay several times per week. I am very grateful that the transplants went well, and the trees are flourishing; thus it has been a rewarding experience instead of anxious responsibility.”

This tale of a transplant had a happy ending because of the expertise, motivation, determination and teamwork displayed by the staff.

“Many people have emotional ties to specific trees they grew up with or around," Dart Landscape Designer Jessica Barefoot said. "I knew when I walked into that cinema parking lot after the storm, I had made the right decision in my career choice caring for plants."

All three mentioned their colleagues within Dart who also assisted in making this a triumphant outcome. Without talented people and a desire to turn devastation into rejuvenation, this would not have been possible. The relationship with the landscape and the trees lasts indefinitely for most, and though they may never get a verbal thank you, a tree that is thriving is a thank you just the same.

While out and about in Camana Bay, see if you can figure out which four Kigelia africana were placed back in their original homes in the cinema car park.

Shannon Schmidt is an Operations and Horticulture Services Manager for Dart.

This article was originally featured in the February 2024 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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