This is what happens to a basil plant when it is allowed to continue on with life well past one year. I wish I had a context shot to really show just how big and woody this plant had become. The bush came up past my hips and was so huge I didn’t even recognize it as a basil plant. I passed by it several times, and on a couple of separate occasions without giving it a second glance.
I don’t know which variety this is. The look and size of the leaves remind me of a variety called ‘Lesbos’, but the plants I have grown have never developed a purplish hue like this one. ‘Lesbos’ has a strong smell, but the leaves of this particular plant were very strong with an even deeper, spicier scent. When I asked, my host said it was medicinal and not used in cooking.
She is holding a handful of empty Polymita picta shells, a brightly colored land snail that is endemic to the mountain forests of the region. I never did see one alive but was absolutely thrilled to see so many shells in person.
Aren’t they gorgeous? They are considered to be one of the most, if not THE most beautiful snail genus in the world. I like snails in general and have a hard enough time killing them in my garden. I usually just move them to another area. Bad strategy, I know. But if they were as beautiful as these, I might have to give up altogether.
“Okay, you can have the kale.”
While in the Cuban countryside, we came upon a number of very old cemeteries that always sat right next to the ocean. I was told that one cemetery dated back to 1919. How they managed to survive the hurricanes when so many homes with much more distance from the ocean haven’t is beyond me.
This particular type of euphorbia seemed to skirt the edges of all but one of them. That one was fenced by a much tougher euphorbia. This plant looks very similar to Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and I’ve been struggling to decide if it is or isn’t since our trip. Here’s a closer shot.
My argument FOR identifying it as Poinsettia are:
- It gets very scraggly and vine-like when growing in tropical countries. Nothing like the potted plants North Americans display and then subsequently toss every holiday season.
- Let’s compare. Here’s a picture I took in Mexico years ago. This particular plant was growing in the tended garden of someone’s backyard. Plants were being watered with hoses through the duration of our stay. So the difference here is a tended plant versus a plant that is left to fend for itself.
- It was the dry season, which would account for extra straggliness.
- It was growing in sand literally just off the beach. The beach was right on the other side of the cemetery. There were some trees providing a bit of shade but many plants were fully exposed. Let me tell you, it was HOT and the sun was punishing. That’s a lot for a poinsettia to take. They prefer a bit of shade coverage.
- Look at the leaves and the little red bracts. They look right, albeit on the small side. But numbers 2, 3, and 4 could account for that.
My argument AGAINST identifying it as Poinsettia are:
- I find it shocking to believe that poinsettia could survive that degree of extreme heat, sun and drought. See #4 (above).
- There are gazillions of euphorbias in the world. I’ll admit my experience of them barely begins to cover the myriad of species out there. There is a very good chance that there is a plant very similar to poinsettia.
- I am not an authority on poinsettias. I can barely stand the plant. Although I will say that I much prefer it growing wild and straggly. The cultivated potted varieties do little for me.
What do you think? Yay or nay?
As an aside, here’s another shot of the same cemetery. It was pretty incredible. Sigh. Let’s all get on a plane right now and go to Cuba together. I hear it’s warm there.
I’m back! I’m covered in mosquito bites. Itchy. I’m sunburned. Also itchy. I’m feeling much more alive and functional than I was before I left, although my brain is also super scrambled from the complexity of this trip.
What a trip! I went in with certain expectations based on our previous trip and a certain familiarity with the area around the hotel we chose. But when we got off the plane we were informed that something was busted at our hotel and there was no water so we were being sent to a “fancy” resort 3 hours from our hotel and to a region (Guama) I knew literally nothing about. This new hotel was considered an upgrade, one we would be happy with if we could stand the idea of spending a week at a resort, but we decided right away that when you go to Cuba you have to expect the unexpected. So we just accepted that whatever happened would be what it was and we would go with it.
It turned out to be much better than I expected. I could do without the dynamics of the resort, but boy was the landscape beautiful. The buildings were situated on the side of a mountain so we were right there with stunning views and amazing plants all around. I found it difficult to reconcile the beauty of the landscape and the complexity of being where I was, in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by poverty, with the ugliness of resort life. But again, we just decided to chalk it all up to experience and soak it all in.
Anyways… the plants. Bromeliads and tillandsia everywhere! Some flowering. Palms of every kind. I hugged a lot of palms. This region, more than the area closer to Santiago was covered in the majestic Cuban Palm (Roystonea regia), the national plant of Cuba. What a gorgeous, regal plant! I’m so glad I got the chance to get up close to them this time around.
To my surprise and delight the hotel had a stunning botanical garden as well as a productive food garden. I was also able on this trip to see more agriculture and gardens. So while I missed a second chance to visit the Cactus Garden, I got a lot of unexpected and equally amazing botanical experiences in exchange.
I have lots to write about but I also have a ton to accomplish on my first day back. More soon.