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Gibney's St. John Plant Guide of Value to All Islands

July 18, 2004 – A St. John resident has written "A Field Guide to Native Trees & Plants of East End, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands," but it's not for St. John alone. Residents of all four islands who frequent the drier portions of their particular Virgin will meet botanical friends.
Eleanor Gibney certainly knows her flora, and obviously has been very observant for a long time. Her text includes many facts and observations about each plant, generally including salt, wind and drought tolerance; medicinal, economic and landscape uses; propagation methods; growth rate; and conservation status. When she describes frangipani, she also describes its favorite caterpillar; when she comments on ironwood, she notes that its Belize name of "axmaster" is appropriate to the difficulty of felling one; she quotes a botanical writer of the 1920s as suggesting engaged couples set their wedding date when they're sure a particular white-flowering tree will be in bloom. She also has a native candidate to replace ginger thomas as the V.I. national tree.
The 86 pages on quality paper are crammed with colored photographs by Doug White, including a photo of a full-size specimen and a close-up of leaves and/or flowers. A drawing of a leaf or a branch is included as well; many persons find a drawing more helpful to identify plants.
A review of the book from Dockside Bookshop follows:
Through fortuitous accidents of geography and history, the island of St. John contains some of the most diverse remaining tropical dry forest in the Caribbean.
Of the 748 native or naturalized plant species growing "wile" on St. John, 643 are indigenous to the island, naturally occurring before the arrival of people.
The far end of St. John, east of Haulover Bay, is historically and geographically a very separate place with a unique history. East End's prevailing dryness and windiness never allowed large-scale or commercial agriculture as it was practiced in the moister sections of the island. As a result, East End, along with the driest parts of the south shore, retains a remarkable diversity of native plants in several different habitats.
Quoting from the publication: "This book is a guide to some of the more distinctive native plants seen on the East End and in other arid parts of the Virgin Islands. We have not attempted to include all of the several hundred species found on the East End, only the most representative and interesting. We hope that this book will help preserve worthy plants in their habitats, encourage local propagation of the more useful and attractive, and help anyone so inclined to become greatly more connected to their surroundings — and enjoy them much more as a result."
The book is published by the Center for the Environment Inc. at Hansen Bay, East End, St. John. It's available at the Dockside Bookshop for $25.

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