Many residents of the Virgin Islands might not be able to distinguish the seasons of the year on the islands. As we know, there are four seasons — spring, summer, fall, and winter — each with its own temperature, light, and weather patterns that repeat yearly. Seasons come about as the Earth, tilted on its axis, orbits the sun, which influences all living and non-living organisms on the planet.
In the Northern Hemisphere, winter generally begins in December, because the number of daylight hours are the fewest of the year. The summer begins in June, which has the most daylight of any time of the year. Whereas spring and fall, or autumn, begin days with equal amounts of light and darkness. Spring falls in March and autumn in September. However, Northern Hemisphere seasonal changes are opposite to the Southern Hemisphere. For example, winter begins in June in Australia and Argentina, while summer in that region of the world begins in December.
Here in the Virgin Islands, we are close to the equator, which means only subtle changes occur in the seasons — but they do occur. We have almost the same amount of daylight and darkness throughout the year. However, as we get closer to the end of the year, the daylight gets shorter. As we would say locally, “it getting darker quickly.” Our summer days are longer, while our winter months’ nights are cooler. However, our seasons are divided by rain — or the lack of it. It is this phenomenon of wet and dry seasons on a small tropical ocean island that determines all living organisms.
A few weeks ago, we got some rain showers. Traditionally, at the end of April and the beginning of May we have a small wet season. This is our spring season. Our summer and winter seasons are marked by dry spells and rain. This year, our winter was dry until a shower of rain in early May. The old folks of these islands used to say whenever it rained on New Year’s Day, that it would be a dry year. On the island of St. Croix, the flowers are blooming. It is springtime. As I do my regular walk at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge at least three or four times a week, my walking paths now are blooming with spring flowers.
It is not just the wildlife refuge at Sandy Point where trees are blooming with a variety of flowers, but all over the island where trees, shrubs and vines welcome the spring rain. The island is green again. Just a drop of water from heaven made a difference to living things on our small island in an open ocean environment. Believe me, we humans also are glad for the rain, especially when it falls on our house top, making a melodious song.
The Pink Cedar (Tabebuia heterophylla), one of our native trees, dominates the landscape of the forests, hillsides, roadsides, and coastal environments of St. Croix during springtime with its masses of pink trumpet-shaped flowers. This shrub tree grows about 60 feet in height, depending on the growing conditions. The flowers are trumpet-shaped with pale pink, purple, or almost white throats. It is a beautiful flower. This tree grows from the coastal environment to the mountaintops and dry forest areas of the Virgin Islands.
One of the popular species of woody vine flowering plant growing at Sandy Point refuge is the Leatherleaf (Stigmapphyllon periplocifolium).
This woody vine lights up the Sandy Point coastal dry forest. In the genus of this plant vine, there are about 100 species, which are found throughout the warm parts of the Americas. It has bright yellow cluster flowers, mostly blooming in the spring, but it will respond to rainfall. This plant grows from sea level, reaching a length of 50 feet, to the mountaintops of our beautiful Virgin Islands. The Leatherleaf is a hardy plant vine suited for covering rocky areas or even fences with a carpet of green, is drought tolerant and yields periodic outbursts of yellow flowers.
The Silver Trumpet (Tabebuia caraiba), native to South America, is a beautiful landscape tree on the island of St. Croix. This non-native species blooms with brilliant yellow flowers, signaling the arrival of springtime on St. Croix. It is a deciduous tree in the winter months, although during dry winters it often retains its leaves until it is about to bloom for the spring season. The bright yellow flowers last for about three to five weeks, when the tree quickly returns to its sliver-trumpet color leaves. The tree grows to 20 or 30 feet high, and is a perfect tree for a botanical garden setting.
Wild sage (Lantana involucrate) has about 150 species in its genus and is found in tropical America, Africa, and few species in Asia. The species in the Virgin Islands is found throughout the West Indies. This herbaceous shrub grows about 6 or 10 feet tall, with slender twigs and aromatic leaves. Its flowers are clustered and pink to purple and it responds quickly to rainfall, especially after a dry spell. Other species grow in the Virgin Islands, like red sage (Lantana camara). Golden Shower (Cassia fistula) and Crepe Myrtle ( Lagerstroemia speciose) are other flowering trees during the springtime.
King Solomon was a lover of nature and wrote in chapter 3:1 of his book Ecclesiastes, “For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven …”
Spring is the time of fulfilment, when our islands bloom with flowers and when humming bees feed on spring nectar to ensure they have enough energy to travel throughout the Virgin Islands.
Believe me, spring has an enormous influence on vegetation growth and animals, as well as the human psyche.
— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands historical, cultural and environmental preservation, and he leads the St. Croix Hiking Association’s hikes focused on those topics.