Bearded Fig Tree, Barbados Pocket Guide

History of Barbados' Name

In 1536, en route to Brazil, Pedro a Campos a Portugese sea captain came across  the island and gave it the name ‘Os Barbados’. This was due in part to the fascination he and his Portuguese sailors had with the long hanging, aerial roots of the Bearded Fig Tree - A Shortleaf Fig (Ficus Citrifolia) which in their minds resembled a long, thick beard. Based on the prevalence of these trees, the island was named after these ‘the bearded’ which in Portuguese is ‘Os Barbados’. It is believed in certain areas that Barbados may have been used during these early years as an excile post for Brazilian Jews and that the Portuguese held it for eighty-four years until they abandoned the island to continue exploring Brazil. The Portuguese known for their great marine accomplishments had colonies in Brazil, Uruguay and French Guyana at the time.

Bearded Fig Tree_2, Barbados Pocket GuideThe Bearded Fig Tree's proper name is a Ficus Citrifolia and it is also known as the shortleaf fig, giant Bearded Fig or wild banyan tree. it is a species of banyan that is found in South Florida (where it can be seen in some of the older neighborhoods of South Florida), Central America, northern South American to paraguay and of course in the Caribbean. The tree typically grows to over 50 feet and may cover a wide area due to their ability to drop arial roots from branches and spread out horizontally as they grow. The tree has a broad top, is light grey in appearance and has a milky sap with dark green leaves. The tree does bear a small fruit which may be eaten raw and is sweet. The tree because of its ability to grow by spreading out its roots typically strangles another plants in its immediate vicinity as it grows. The tree does not tolerate flooding by salty or brackish water, nor does it tolerate salt spray. It has been used around the world as a source for chewing gum. Its milky sap, called latex, is extracted and treated in order to make the gum. The tree does have some medicinal use. It is recorded that the indigenous people in Panama used the bark to treat wounds. Because of its sweet fruit it is a favorite of birds and bats. very interestingly, the Bearded Fig tree can only be pollinated by a specific wasp called the Pagascapus assuetis.

Bearded Fig Tree_3, Barbados Pocket GuideThere is also another point of view that reference was not to any trees on the island but rather to actual bearded men who may have been earlier Afrikan explorers, or their offspring through unions with the Amerindian indians who were the early inhabitants of the islands.


Although the Portuguese were the first ones to discover the island, it was never settled until 1625 when Captain Henry Powell landed on the islands shores with a party of 80 settlers and ten African slaves. By then maps of the new world already had barbados identified on them. In Many early maps of the island the spelling is different than what we use today with the letters BARBADOES being used.


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