General Description / Cultural Significance
The bay leaf, or Pimenta racemosa, is commonly called the Bwa Denn tree in the Commonwealth of Dominica. This plant is both culturally and economically important to Dominicans. There are several varieties of bay leaf tree found on the island, and the leaves’ pungent smell varies slightly with each variety. Some are likened to citronella, and others to anise. When the leaves are hand-crushed, it is possible to experience these different smells. When left on their own, bay leaf trees can easily reach 80 feet in height. However, those cultivated for oil production are kept at a much lower height for ease of harvesting. On the government website, they state that the bay tree as a crop seems to be climate-resilient and that even after Hurricane Maria of September 2017, they were able to harvest for bay oil production on the island. The people of Dominica now consider the bay tree to be one of the most versatile and prized local natural resources.
Bay oil is extracted from leaves and twigs of the tree through the distillation process. The oil is refined and sold as famous soothing “Bay Rum” which is thought to ease cramps, reduce body temperature, and can be used as aftershave. The oil is used in perfume as well.
The bay leaves are a primary spice used in local cuisine, to season meat such as pork and turtle, potatoes, stews, and sauces. They can also flavor hot chocolate drinks and are used to create a tasty beverage served with ice. The wood of the tree is dense and good for use as firewood and charcoal.
Climate Change/Conservation Status
Sea level rise and extreme weather threaten the island of Dominica. The majority of Dominica’s population lives in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to extreme weather such as hurricanes and storms, and to sea level rise. Because of these immediate, urgent threats, Dominica has invested money to reduce population vulnerability. They have been creating policy to provide long-term protection and stability, including monitoring systems and infrastructure development.
Sea level rise on the coast is not only affecting habitats for species and homes for people, but increased temperatures are as well. They are affecting agriculture, which is vital to the country’s economy. Crops such as banana are highly sensitive to precipitation levels, which are not consistent because of climate change effects.
Bwa Denn Tree
Flores, K., & Quinlan, M., 2014. Ethnomedicine of menstruation in rural Dominica, West Indies. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 153(3), pp.624-634. DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2014.03.015
Gross, M., 2018. After Maria’s Devastation, Can Dominica Be a Destination Again?. The New York Times. [website]
Permanent Mission of Commonwealth of Dominica to the United Nations. This statement can be found on the World Sensorium original website.
Superville, S., 2019. Dominica, hurricane strong. Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. [website]
UNDP, 2019. Dominica. United Nations Development Programme. [website]
USAID, 2018. Climate Risk Profile: Eastern and Southern Caribbean. US Agency for International Development. [website]