Many locals treasure their Bermudian antiques because they are aesthetically pleasing embodiments of our cultural history. Gardeners feel similarly about planting endemic and native since these species also help to preserve our past and our identity. After all, our ancestors lived with our endemic cedars, palmetto and olivewood and for centuries depended on them for their practical uses as well as their aesthetic value.

Today, planting endemic and native is crucial since many species are rare, thanks to encroaching invasive species, pollution and widespread urbanisation. Their rarity also threatens our local birds and insects reliant upon them. The good news is caring for our “own” plants is often easier than planting introduced ones since they are better adapted to our climate (particularly wind), soil and geographic conditions and therefore need less maintenance. A few can be found in our plant nurseries. Organisations such as the Bermuda National Trust and the Bermuda Botanical Society also offer endemic and native species at their yearly plant sales.

Bermuda Palmetto (Sabal bermudana)

This endemic palm, a true Bermudian, has a place in every garden. All other palms in Bermuda have been introduced. It has grey-green leaves with a triangular yellow patch at their base. Growing up to 35 feet, it produces small yellowish-white flowers in the spring. These flowers mature into round, bright green berries, becoming black when they ripen in the autumn. Each berry, locally known as a huckleberry, contains a single large seed. The Bermuda palmetto is easily propagated by planting ripe seeds into peaty soil. Seedlings which spring up around mature trees can also be transplanted into areas sheltered from salt wind.

Tip: Unlike the Chinese fan palm, with which it is confused, the Bermuda palmetto never has thorns on the leaf stalks.

Did you know?
• Our first settlers roasted or stewed palmetto tops and made “bibby,” a kind of alcohol, out of the berries. They also ground the berries into meal for bread.
• They used palmetto fronds to thatch cabins and churches.
• By the 1700s, they made palmetto plait for creating baskets, hats, fans, rope and fish pots.

Bermuda Olivewood (Cassine laneana)

Once known as olivewood bark, this tree is also endemic and was seen in valleys and inland hillsides by our first settlers. During the twentieth century it became rare, thanks to loss of habitat. Happily, it is now making a comeback in our parks, gardens and nature reserves. It has a thick, smooth bark and glossy leaves, variegated in bright and dark greens. In late winter and spring, small, greenish-white flowers appear in clusters at the tips of branches, attracting bees and eventually becoming yellow-green fruits which ripen in the fall. Resembling olives, these fruits are a popular food for birds. The olivewood can grow up to 25 feet and is a popular nesting site for northern cardinals. Its neat, oval shape makes it an ideal ornamental tree for a more formal garden. It can be easily propagated from cuttings or from seed in the fruits, and planted in most soils. However, the seedlings grow quite slowly.

Did you know? By 1651, settlers were using olivewood bark, which contains tannin, to prepare leather for making shoes and boots. According to Louisa Hutchings, chopped bark would be soaked with water in a container called a “tarris cistern” before being used for the tanning process.

Bermuda Snowberry (Chiococca alba)

Endemic, this shrub grows from 2–6 feet, and has glossy, bright green leaves. Its beautiful yellow, bell-shaped flowers appear in summer and autumn and are an attraction for bees. Birds appreciate the round, white berries, which ripen in late winter to spring. Seed from the dried berries should be planted in moist soil.
(Photo by Alison Copeland)

Darrell’s Fleabane (Erigeron darrellianus)

The endemic Darrell’s fleabane’s white, yellow-centred flowers appear in spring and are perfect for rock gardens. They’re Bermuda’s answer to the common daisy though more rare than common. The plant can grow to 4 feet and likes sandy, rocky areas. Its small seeds are blown by the wind and can easily be planted.

Did you know?
• In 1699 John Dickinson, who became Speaker of Assembly in 1707, sent dried Darrell’s fleabane, as well as other Bermudian specimens to apothecary James Petiver (1658–1718), who had a private practice on Aldersgate Street, London (UK). In a note, Dickinson labelled it “hen hogweed” and explained, “it grows amongst bushes and flowers in February and March.” Eventually, Sir Hans Sloane bought the specimens, adding them to his collection, which is now held in the Natural History Museum in London, UK.
• Threatened by invasives and loss of habitat, Bermuda olivewood, Darrell’s fleabane, and Bermuda snowberry have all been placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species with Endangered Status.

Turkey Berry (Callicarpa americana)

Native to Bermuda and the southeastern United States, turkey berry, also known as beautyberry, American beautyberry, and French mulberry, is becoming a popular ornamental shrub. It grows up to six feet tall and is treasured for its very attractive purple berries which ripen in September and are much enjoyed by northern cardinal birds. The berries can be used in jellies and wine. Plant seeds in moist soil during spring or fall.
(Photo by Alison Copeland)

Turnera (Turnera ulmifolia)

Liking a rocky habitat, this native plant is ideal for rock gardens and can easily be propagated by cuttings. Its bright yellow flowers appear summer though fall.