In August 1979 a massive hurricane hit the small island of Dominica, devastating just about everything in its path including homes, roads, crops, trees, and even leaving mountaintops bare.
Amazingly, in the wake of all of that destruction, the hurricane left behind a new plant, Spathoglottis plicata, an Asian ground orchid that can now be seen all over the island. It was named David’s orchid to remember the hurricane that brought it.
While we were in Barbados I wrote about trying golden apple, a fruit I had never heard of prior to the trip. Turns out that golden apple wasn’t popular in Dominica. I never saw it for sale in a market. In fact, I only saw it twice in Dominica and one of those sightings was this tree in the village of Castle Bruce that was absolutely burdened with dangling unripe fruit.
This is a cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). We use the bark as a spice in North America, but they also use the leaves in the Caribbean both to make tea and to flavor stews like you would with a bay leaf.
Picking a leaf off the tree and crumbling it in your hand releases the most wonderfully fragrant cinnamon smell. I came to love the leaves above all other parts of the plant and beyond most other spices too.
The deep ridges down the length of the leaf made the tree very easy to identify, unlike bay. I must have passed thousands of bay trees in my travels but was almost never able to distinguish it from several other tropical trees with similar shiny foliage. For that reason I rarely picked bay leaves, while I regularly stuck a cinnamon leaf into my pocket whenever I saw one.
I haven’t been back a week and I already miss it terribly.
It’s in the ginger family. It’s amazingly bright and dyed my fingers when I grated it. Despite a thorough scrubbing, I looked like a hardcore smoker for a few days afterward.