Focus on Flora: The gold standard

By Shannon Schmidt

14 July 2023

Plant with yellow veins
The gold vein plant can be found throughout Camana Bay, including near the corner of Market St. and Nexus Way. — Photo: Shannon Schmidt

Although we are lucky enough to have more than 300 sunny days in Cayman, many of those days are spent at school, work or anywhere else to find relief from the intense direct sun. The summer months are when most of us take a break from school and work to enjoy those wondrous days together beneath the golden sun. Some plants, such as the gold vein plant, mimic this hideaway behaviour as well.

In its native habitat of Central and South America, gold vein plant — or Sanchezia speciosa — can be found tucked in the understory of lush lowland tropical forests. Having a fair tolerance for sun, it truly appreciates having a rest from it, too, whether by means of shade in daylight hours or by receiving partial filtered light through overstory and the canopy of trees above it.

As is the case with other botanical Latin, the gold vein plant’s scientific name tells a story. The genus Sanchezia refers to Jose Sanchez, a 19th-century botanist from Spain; while the specific epithet, speciosa — meaning brilliant/beautiful/splendid — hints at its dazzling appearance.

The sensational presentation is all encompassing on this evergreen perennial shrub. Rarely topping heights beyond 10 feet, with a spread roughly two-thirds the height, the gold vein plant has it all — profoundly deep green leaves with broad variegated venation spanning down the prominent mid rib and branching off pinnately to reveal a simple yet symmetrically pleasing plant.

The variegated venation of the leaf in this case is naturally occurring, meaning it is a part of the plant’s DNA. Depending on how much light gold vein plant receives can also determine the shade of creamy white to yellow colour on the veins. This shrub’s common name is derived as such, and therefore, in some cases may also be called white vein plant.

If you can manage to peel your eyes off the striking foliage, you will be equally wowed by the splendid punch of colour in the flowers. Emerging from bright red bracts, the tubular yellow flowers attract birds, bees and other pollinators, fashioning any garden space into a haven for the wild and wonderful.

Given the location of Sanchezia speciosa’s nativity, it comes as no surprise that it prefers a well-draining and semi-rich soil composition. It will not tolerate prolonged periods of drought, but provided the soil is somewhat rich in humusy organic matter, it is able to withstand brief periods with ease. Organic matter increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and high humidity is sure to be present in most regions where these soils are found, decreasing the rate of transpiration.

In Camana Bay, the gold vein plant can be found in containers — which provide adequate soils — outside of Carnivore, where the light plays off the shape and position of the surrounding buildings and creates a sheltered private place to enjoy food and drink.

This article was published in the July/August 2023 print edition of Camana Bay Times.

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