Category Archives: Life on St. John USVI

St John Virgin Islands stories, events, happenings, photos -everyday life in Love City, St. John USVI

Agaves and Aloes, Don’t Eat the Former

On July 3, the London Evening Telegraph published an article bearing the headline, “Chinese vlogger accidentally poisons herself while biting plant on live stream.”

The a popular Chinese YouTube star, who goes by her surname Zhang, was trying to dramatize the health benefits of the plant Aloe Vera. With video camera rolling live stream on YouYube, Zhang bit into what she thought was an aloe. Unfortunately for her, it wasn’t an Aloe Vera she was eating, but the leaf of an Agave Americana, what we in the Virgin Islands call century plant, which happens to be poisonous.

Agave Americana, Century Plant
Agave (Century Plant)
Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera

Zhang first says “yum” and “this is great,” but seconds later says“Oh, that tastes bitter. Really bitter” She then cut the Live Stream. She reported that her mouth went numb and her throat felt like it was on fire. She was taken to the hospital suffering from rashes and blisters and needed to have her stomach pumped, but survived the encounter.

It turns out that Zhang was not the first person to publically make the two plants. Christopher Columbus, who considered himself to be among other skills, an accomplished botanist, came across the agave on his first voyage to what he thought to be the China and the East Indies. He identified the plant as a giant aloe. With Aloe Vera being a valuable medicine in Europe in those days, Columbus thought he was on to something big. The next day he sent his men to bring back 1,000 pounds of agave americana to be brought back to Spain for the emperor.

Apparently, and luckily for Columbus, the “aloe” never made it to Spain. The manifest for cargo taken off the vessel Santa Maria, that sunk off of Hispaniola did not mention aloe. It might very well have molded in the ship’s hold and had to be thrown away. I say luckily because it would not have gone well for Columbus if the emperor ate that particular aloe.

Anyone who has ever needed to cut back or remove a century plant will testify that it can be a rather nasty and unfriendly beast. The leaves are thorny and once cut the agave emits a caustic sap that can easily blister the skin if not washed off quickly.

The sailors entrusted with the task of cutting up and bringing the “aloes” to the ship must have had a hard time of it, but not quite as tough a time as was experienced by the modern day vlogger, Zhang.

Read more about aloes and agaves at

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Cas Cay Hike

Cas Cay is located in the St. Thomas Mangrove Lagoon, in Jersey Bay. The hike takes you along the dramatic clifftops of Cas Cay with spectacular views of the Caribbean to the south and St. Thomas and the Mangrove Lagoon to the north.



Cas Cay Mangrove Lagoon

Mangrove Lagoon

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Barracuda at Maho Bay

Snorkeling at Maho Bay yesterday, I noticed this large barracuda apparently enjoying the shade under my boat. He or she, I wonder how one determines the gender of these creatures, had a good-sized fish in its mouth with the tail portion sticking out. Then a big bite, the tail went in, another bite and the fish was gone. Unfortunately, having just entered the water, my camera wasn’t ready and I didn’t get to record the event.

I did, however, get some other photos and a cool video:

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Beverhoutsberg Revisited

Valentine and I accompanied the photographer, Shaun O’Boyle, to Beverhoutsberg last Monday.

Shaun has a great collection of “off the beaten track” places – well worth a look. Check is photos out at off the beaten track” places at

The last time I visited Beverhautsberg was three years ago. To get there you can access the Battery Gut just south of the Gifft Hill lower school in the narrow gut formed by a culvert. This approximately 50-foot section had sections where overgrown catch and keep vines made it challenging to get through. If you intend do this hike, I recommend you bring clippers (which I forgot to bring) and spend a little time clearing the way.

St. John Off the Beaten Track App
St. John Off the Beaten Track App

Once down to the gut the going was easy enough. I recommend bringing a smart phone loaded with the St. John Off The Beaten Track App to help find where the trail leaves the gut on the west side that leads to the Beverhoutsberg ruins.

 See 12/21/2013 Beverhoutsberg Blog

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Cuban Frogs

After big a rain a large puddle of water forms at the boat landing in Great Cruz Bay. At first I thought about mosquitoes breeding, but after looking at it I wondered if mosquito larva could survive in that mini-pond as it was host to hundreds of Cuban treefrog tadpoles.

Cuban TreefrogTadpoles at Great Cruz BayThe Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis) is native to Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas. Here in the Virgin Islands they are considered an invasive species. They are much larger than our native frogs and have a voracious appetite eating all kinds of insects and lizards as well as consuming our own tiny native frogs. Moreover, their tadpoles compete with our native tadpoles crowding them out and eating their food.

cuban treefrog tadpole

Cuban treefrog magnified
Cuban treefrog head magnified

Another nasty fact about the Cuban treefrog that the slime on their skin is an irritants that can effect people’s noses and eyes and may even cause breathing problems.

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