In an environment so deeply shaped by its island character with the impact of its beaches, shoreline and the sea itself, the islands also have a strong inland aspect, strongly influenced by its volcanic origins and its sloped and terraced landscape, and, of course, the climate of the tradewinds.
This land ashore ranges from semi rainforest to dry pasture land, from farmland to hillside, from resort and roadside landscape to tropical flower garden.
Seasons. In a land of nearly constant temperature (see weather patterns), seasons here are dictated by rainfall. The rainy season, from June to December, brings the greening of the landscape and startling new growth, that if unchecked would completely dominate the normal vegetation.
The dry season, from January through May, when leaves are shed and the hills turn lovely shades of brown, is also a time when exotic tropical flowers blossom in great profusion after being pollinated by an array of equally exotic insects.
These dry pastures, called the Savannah in Africa and the range in the American Southwest, occur naturally as an ecosystem created by low annual rainfall, with open areas made up of grasses, low shrubs and widely interspaced trees.
Misunderstood and derided as "scrub" land of "underdeveloped" runts, this dry pastoral land is actually home to interesting and picturesque flora and fauna and beautifully adapted to these conditions, such as cactus and century plants with special metabolic systems.
Turk's Cap Cactus, also called barrel cactus, do resemble small barrels sitting right on the ground, with vertical, spine-ribbed flutes. It's fuschia tinted fruits are eaten by birds as well as people.
Prickley Pear Cactus, with its characteristic flat green pads, is an abstract artist, each successive pad (actually stem segments) growing at right angles to the one before.
Pretty yellow flowers are followed by little goblet fruits, again abstractly growing from its edges and turning a deep, rich red. Good to eat, the mature fruits are peeled of its prickles and rolled in sugar in Mexico.
The Prickley Pear forms all kinds of interesting patterns and beautiful specimens can be found at Prickley Pear Island, a nature refuge with an excellent hiking trail.
Aloe, well known as a house plant, is a rosette-shaped low plant with fleshy, greenish-grey spines that grows wild in the West Indies, particularly in thin, dry soils. It sprouts a single flower stalk from the center that grows up to 30" tall, with many yellow flowers.
But it is the medicial healing properties which give aloe its renown, being found in many burn treatments, especially sunburn. Break a leaf in two and the green gel can be put on wounds and insect bites as well as burns.
Orchids, are found in the wild on Anegada as well as Guana Island (see picture).
Its white blossom, minimally elegant to the eye and waxlike to the touch (its water-saving grace making it slow to wilt in decorations), gives off a wonderful scent, especially at night (see picture).
Frangipani Caterpillar, its bold yellow and black stripes warning off predators, feeds on the leaves of its namesake tree as well as allamandas, becoming as big as a finger and as toxic as the sap, before emerging as a large silver-grey hawk moth. See our "quiz" picture (credit: Guana Island Natural History Guide).
Hermit Crab. Familiar creatures found in shell shops far and wide, the hermit crab is famous for living in marine shells as an abode (see more).
The purple-clawed hermit, often called the soldier crab, is the variety found in the Caribbean, the most common land crab in dry areas (see examples traversing path to BVI's Savannah Bay beach).
Found 350 feet up and five miles inland, the hermit crab depends upon keeping a reservoir of water in its shell.
Shells of the whelk, a sea snail, are greatly preferred, and highly sought after by its fellows, who happen to be cannabalistic to boot.
The hermit crab travels down to the sea each year, where on dry season nights, hundreds of hermits mate in the splash zone, the females laying eggs into the sea at low tide.
The hermit crab's large left claw and pinchers fit the shell opening as a door (see a boxfull of purple-clawed Caribbean hermit crabs from the BVI, pet shop crab up close, Bahamas crab in unusual home and a Philippine crab with sea anemones).
Lizards, a profuse and diverse group of reptiles, include the tree lizards, with their distinctive throat pouches, and the ubiquitous ground lizards, often found rustling in dry leaves. Ground lizards are often brown in color, sometimes with stripes (some males have bright blue stripes). Active foragers on insects, ground lizards climb rocks but not trees; and, inside, the common house grecko climbs walls and ceilings to catch insects around lights.
A special treat is spotting the crested anole. "Patterned in shades of brown, the males sport grand throat fans with red borders and green centers. They display their fans in courtship or combat rituals." A Natural History Guide to Guana Island. See a picture here.
Iguanas are large, herbivorous lizards whose decidedly prehistoric look make them popular specimens to observe. The endangered Anegada Iguana, found near Anegada's Bones Bight, has been restored to Guana Island (to The Restoration of Guana's 'Guana).
To Mount Sage National Park.
Its rural character evident from the chickens, goats and cattle seen and heard in many places, many freely roaming and some, like chickens, crowing at times to unwelcome ears, island farming is practiced on an intimate and interesting scale for the most part, supplying the local markets with a variety of goods that are interwoven with traditional culture and available to visitors in many forms, such as pig roasts, and from many sources, especially tropical fruits and other produce, such as "ground provisions." See Meet BVI Farmers.
"Ground provisions," they call them, familiar root crops such as yams and sweet potatoes, as well as the exotic Dasheen and Tannia, confused in nomenclature but related members of the Jack in the Pulpit aroid family identified by their spear-shaped leaves sometimes elephant-ear size. Propagated down to us from ancient origins by planting cut-up chunks with buds ("cultivars"), these plants are a major "starch" food staple worldwide, In the islands, they are grown in moist hillside terraces, like at the entrance to Sage Mountain National Park. The Dasheen leaf (a popular variety has a large purple spot on it) is used to make callaloo.
Pineapple. Surprisingly, the majestic pineapple comes from a low plant, a member of the bromelaid, or "air plant" family. The fruit itself is derived from a hundred or so compacted flowers. Letting it ripen on the stalk to a lovely yellow or golden hue increases the flavor.
Banana. The towering banana tree, with its beautifully ornate leaves, does indeed live up to its reputation. However, its "trunk" is actually the aggregate of its tightly wrapped leaf stems, each originating from the base, a piece of planted stem or a "shoot" from the original plant--which dies after a magnificent nine month effort to produce its prodigious flower and resulting fruit-- a "bunch" of bananas, consisting of 5-20 "hands," each with 2-20 fruits.
Not bad for an annual!
Heavy feeders in moist, fertile soils requiring a lot of light, bananas are also shallow rooted, and are often staked against the wind, and are, of course, easily uprooted in hurricanes.
Cattle Egrets. Thought to be blown in from Africa by hurricanes, cattle egrets were first reported in the Caribbean in 1936, but now they are its most common heron. About 20" tall, this small snowy-white heron loves grasshoppers, lizards and other small insects. As indicated by their name, they are found wherever cattle are pastured, often seen sitting on a cow's back.
To Garden Landscapes
A cay is a small island, although the name can be attached to those of considerable size such as Frenchman's Cay.
On the other extreme, exotic Saba Rock is a tiny island, little more than a "rock," at the far reaches of the North Sound on the way to the reef-strewn Eustatia Sound.
Marina Cay is a true cay near Trellis Bay, home of a Pusser's Landing and everyone's favorite.
Sandy Cay is a tiny tropical isle consisting mainly of its beaches.
Tortola's North Coast is a succession of scenic ridges and peaks interspersed with white sand beaches and rocky shores amid coastal fishing villages like Carrot Bay and the craggy Steele Point at the entrance to Soper's Hole.
Great Harbour at Jost Van Dyke has a minature shore settlement bounded by its charming "bypass" road and beach "Main Street."
In the mountainous terrain of the islands, valleys are somewhat incongruously found up on a hillside or even high on the mountain. Ghut is the island term for gully or stream valley (to Vertical Ghuts/Life on Ridge Road).
Mahoe Bay on Virgin Gorda's Beach Coast appears as a valley from above, but as hillside terraces from below.
Cane Garden Bay is the downhill destination of its terrain from mountain valleys from far above.
Ridges & Peaks
Tortola's Central Ridge follows its mountaineous spine along Ridge Road as a series of ridges intercut with peaks and headlands, high pastures and mountain valleys. See Life on Ridge Road.
Mount Sage is the highest point on Tortola and a national park and semi-rainforest.
Spy Glass Hill, on Treasure Island, is reputed to be a pirate look-out from times past.
Gun Creek, in the North Sound, is a village that stretches up the mountainside on Virgin Gorda.
Anegada is actually a coral atoll and is only 28' feet above sea level, unlike the rest of the BVI, which is of volcanic origin, and mostly mountainous.
Tortola Tour offers a virtual trip through the main island of the BVI.
Guana Island is a wildlife sanctuary coupled with a resort on the site of an historic Quaker sugar plantation. To The Restoration of Guana's 'Guana.
St. John, of the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, is predominately a national park.
Tour by Island takes you through the BVI
Trellis Bay/Marina Cay leads out to a sea of islands.
The British Virgin Islands as a whole is a tropical archipelago.
The BVI National Parks Trust preserves the natural and marine environment--join today!. Read the fascinating story about The Return of the Flamingos to Anegada.