Yellowood (Zanthoxylum flavum)
When the first settlers arrived in Bermuda they discovered trees here with a beautiful yellow coloured wood that was hard and useful for building, hence the common name of this native tree. Britton reported that by 1632 the early colonists had cut so many Yellowoods for lumber that a proclamation restricting cutting was necessary. By the 20th century the trees had been almost wiped out in Bermuda. Britton wrote in 1918 that Yellowood could be found in “rocky woodlands between Harrington Sound and Castle Harbour. Two large trees and some 15 small ones known only.”
Today Yellowood remains one of the rarest trees in Bermuda. It does not grow well when shaded by other trees, so this tree has been seriously impacted by competition from invasive species. Yellowood is threatened throughout its range. In Florida this tree (known as Yellow Wood, West Indian Satinwood or Yellowheart) is considered Endangered. In Bermuda, Yellowood trees have been planted in some nature reserves and they are currently being propagated by individuals and at native plant nurseries for sale to the public.
Yellowood grows to between 6 and 9 m (20-30 feet). It has a compound leaf, meaning that several (usually 5 -11) oval shaped ‘leaflets’ grow from a single stalk. Yellowood has very fragrant sprays of tiny yellowish white flowers in late summer, followed by green berries which split to reveal shiny black seeds in spring. The scented flowers attract bees and the fruit attract birds, particularly Chick-of-the-Village (White-eyed Vireo). Yellowood trees are either male or female, so they should be planted in groups to ensure that pollination takes place and fertile seeds are produced.
The Yellowood is listed as locally Critically Endangered on the Bermuda Protected Species Amendment Order 2016. A recovery plan for this tree was published on May 9th 2016 (Recovery Plan for the Yellowood).
Britton, N.L. 1918. Flora of Bermuda. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
Related Research: The Millennium Seed Bank Project