Flower Forest Botanical Gardens
Open Daily
8am to 4pm
Flower Forest Botanical Gardens, Barbados
Open Daily 8am to 4pm

2021: Extraordinary – 3 Extreme Climate Events and the Flower Forest

Volcanic Eruption · Lightning Storm · Hurricane

The Eruption of Soufriere, St Vincent: 9th April 2021

On the morning of April 9, 2021 I was in the Forest as usual, gardening, when I heard low rumbling in the far distance. At first I thought that it was a large truck on the road somewhere – it was a calm, less breezy day, but the rumbling continued for a long time. We had seen the pictures and reports coming out of St Vincent about its Volcano Soufriere, and the growth of its volcanic dome. We had heard that it was going to erupt imminently, and we quickly made up our minds that we were hearing a volcanic eruption. St Vincent, the closest island to Barbados is some 90 nautical miles (100 regular miles) away. To hear a noise at that distance was unprecedented for all of us in the garden.

That afternoon into the evening we looked out towards the west and the setting sun, and we saw the plume of ash moving towards Barbados from the direction of St. Vincent. Although the North East Trade winds blow constantly from East towards the West, the volcanic plume had gone miles up into the upper atmosphere and it had ridden the upper anti-trade winds (which blow in the opposite direction) and was above us.

The next day the ash started to fall as a gray, dry, powdery snow, covering everything everywhere. The following day there were more eruptions and as the next day was rainy, the drizzling rain fell with a coarse gray, sandy paste, the volcanic ash. Gutters, drains, roads and driveways became coated in a thick, slippery paste. The eruptions lasted for several days, and depending on the trade winds the plume would sometimes bring more blankets of ash, and other times it would miss us, going north or south.

The ash fall was a very uncomfortable occurrence inside ones home and out on the roads. The dust made breathing uncomfortable and sometimes painful. In the garden many soft tissued plants were burnt by the alkalinity of the dust; many leaves were scarred, and the garden did not look at all well. As the weeks progressed and the rain fell we then started to see tremendous boosted growth of pretty much all plants. The enrichment of the soil by the volcanic dust was a great help to plant life in Barbados, which suffers from limestone alkaline soil and a generally depleted topsoil.

So, in retrospect the ash fall was good for Flower Forest, but created a national emergency while it fell. Flower Forest made appeals via the social media and collected several truck loads of ash, which we presently use to enrich the organic soil mix that we apply to our plants. Many varieties that we thought only bloomed at a certain time of the year bloomed constantly during 2021, and the results are continuing into 2022.

Freak Lightning Storm: 17th June, 2021

During the wee hours of the night on June 17 I was awoken by one of my dogs. We heard low thunder to the east and we saw a few miles out over the Atlantic a plethora of flashing lights. It was not the average lightning storm. As we looked the effect was more akin to a strobe light, many flashes every second. We had never seen anything like this in our lives.

The flashing continued all the while, and the storm arrived over us about an hour later. Wind squalls were average, perhaps 30-35 knots, but the lightning was incredible. It was a beautiful and terrifying experience simultaneously (the dog thought the latter). It was reported by the Barbados Meteorological Institute that the north east of Barbados sustained 500 strikes per minute for a sustained time of 90 minutes, making a total of some 45,000 lightning strikes.

Touch down of the strikes was throughout the Flower Forest. The tallest trees were broken, losing limbs and sometimes tops.

At first I thought that this second unusual weather event was a catastrophe for Flower Forest, but seeing the amount of new light that was allowed into the garden made me later feel that it was a great planting opportunity. Again for a second time we were able to come away from an extreme weather event with a sense of opportunity.

Hurricane Elsa: 2nd July 2022

Just 2 weeks after the clean up from the lightning storm we suffered an early Hurricane Season storm. Barbados is thought to lie to far south and east to get a prevalence of storms but 2021 was the first real hurricane we received since Hurricane Janet in the 1950s. The Island’s housing has not suffered from the huge super storms like some of the other Caribbean islands, and we took this one fairly hard. Hurricane Elsa was a Category 1 storm with winds as high as 90 miles per hour. Not a major storm but powerful enough to cause some damage, it blew off house roofs and downed utility poles all over Barbados.

At the Flower Forest it appeared as if the major tree loss that we sustained was partly a result of the hurricane itself, but also a completion of structural damage that the lightning storm had started but which we did not actually see in manifestation at that time. We must have lost 6 largest sized trees of all, and several dozens smaller ones. The clean up was significant and lasted several weeks.

Again, the loss of trees and foliage was looked upon as a planting opportunity. We were able to plant out substantially all of our nursery juveniles, and this loss of foliage and infusion of flowering plants is now seen in flowers and an enhancement down the timeline.

We are hoping that 2022 and the years to come don’t present us with this many planting opportunities in such short order!

David Spieler