Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Making cake

It's Valentine's week, and I've just spent an hour pulling love vine out of the garden.

Love vine is a rampant parasite on this island and throughout the Caribbean. With hardly any chlorophyll of its own, it can't make nutrients from sunlight. It must take sustenance from more self-reliant plants. It sends out tendrils -- thick orange strings -- ten, twenty, thirty feet across the ground. When it finds a healthy plant it latches on and turns itself into a voracious tangled mass, twinning on every leaf and branch, sinking its insidious little papillae into the host and sucking the lifeblood dry.

The biologist David Campbell, who has written the book on Bahamian natural history, says of love vine: "Bahamians and people of the Greater Antilles repute it to be an aphrodisiac, a claim that is so pervasive that one hesitates to discard it as mere untutored belief."

The two bush doctors on the island, Christine Rolle and Joe Romer agree. "The love vine is used for what you call the weak spine," says Christine, using a delightful euphemism. "Some people say that the man they love has a weak spine, so they make sure to dose their man with this potion."

Joe uses euphemism too for his eggy love-vine concoction. "Like egg in the cake," he says. "You can't make a cake without the egg."