Leucaena invasions - Barbados

CABI has published the first ‘Guide to the Naturalized and Invasive Plants of the Caribbean’ which includes aquatics, climbers, grasses, herbs, shrubs, succulents, and trees that threaten biodiversity, livelihoods and economic development.

The 384-page guide, by Dr Arne Witt, CABI’s Invasives Coordinator, South, details 100 of the more than 880 naturalized and invasive alien plant species that have been recorded in the Caribbean – providing information on key characteristics to assist in identification. It is supported by ca 5,000 colour images, and information on origin, uses, impacts (gleaned from the international literature), and management options.

The introduction provides detailed guidance on best management practices while the appendices provide summary information (growth form, origin, and uses) on the more than 880 species recorded in the region, while others provide detailed information on biological control agents, and herbicides that could be used for their control.

The publication is an output from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded project, “Preventing the COSTS of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in Barbados and the OECS” which is implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by CABI, in partnership with the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to bridge a knowledge gap regarding the presence, distribution, impacts and possible management interventions for most invasive alien plant species in the Caribbean.

Focus on 100 species

Detailed descriptions of some of the most widespread and abundant species in the Caribbean are provided including wild tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala), coral creeper (Antigonon leptopus) casuarina (Casuarina equisetifolia), buffalo grass (Megathyrsus maximus), castor-oil plant (Ricinus communis), tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata), broad-leaved paperbark tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia), Indian almond (Terminalia catappa), and water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes).

Other problematic species include lebbeck tree (Albizia lebbeck), jungle rice (Echinochloa colona), Indian goosegrass (Eleusine indica), air plant (Bryophllum pinnatum), mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria hyacinthoides); para grass (Urochloa mutica), white siris (Albizia procera), giant sensitive plant (Mimosa pigra), and creeping foxglove (Asystasia gangetica).

Water hyacinth, for instance, and other water weeds can dramatically increase water losses, impacting on a host of other sectors. In southern Benin, West Africa, an invasion of water hyacinth was found to have reduced the annual income of 200,000 people by about US$ 35 million per annum.

Global biodiversity hotspot


Jamaica’s rainforests contain 48 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. The country has some 406 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles according to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (Credit: Pixabay).

Dr Witt said that once established in their new environments, these invasive species proliferate – posing detrimental effects on biodiversity, livelihoods, and economic development.

He added that the detrimental effects of IAS are poised to intensify further with increased global trade, travel, transport and the “looming specter of climate change.”

Invaluable resource

Dr Susan Gardner, Director, Ecosystems Division, UNEP, said, “We hope this field guide is an invaluable resource that will contribute significantly to the management of invasive alien plants in the Caribbean.

“By equipping ourselves with knowledge and taking decisive action, we can advance the achievement of our Sustainable Development Goals while preserve the natural heritage of this biodiverse region for future generations.”

Dr Witt and Dr Gardner stress that the guide will assist countries in acting toward fulfilling their obligations under international agreements and treaties such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

Antigonon and bananas in Grenada

Antigonon leptopus – also known as coral vine or queen’s wreath and bananas in Grenada (Credit: CABI).

Additional information

Main image: Wild tamarind (Leucaena leucocephala) is a fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing tree/shrub that is aggressively invasive in sub-tropical and other tropical locations (Credit: CABI).

Book reference


Witt, A. (2023) Guide to the Naturalized and Invasive Plants of the Caribbean. CABI, Wallingford, UK, vi + 384 pp.

Find out more and access the book from the CABI Digital Library here.

About the author

Arne Witt is currently the Regional (Africa and Asia) Coordinator for Invasive species for CABI, based in Wilderness (George), South Africa. He has been an International Project Coordinator and/or Technical Advisor for a number of regional and national UNEP-GEF IAS Projects in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and the Middle East. In these roles he has worked with countries in developing policies, building capacity, creating awareness, and developing and implementing best management
practices, including biological control. He continues to develop and implement IAS projects in these regions.

Arne has a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. He has Master of Science degrees in Entomology (Stellenbosch University) and Conservation Biology (University of Cape Town). He has published a number of journal articles, and authored or co-authored book chapters and books on the identification and management of invasive alien species.

CABI’s work on invasive alien species in the Caribbean

In July 2023, Dr Daniel Elger, CABI’s CEO, and Dr Qiaoqiao Zhang, Memberships Director, have completed a two-week visit to the Caribbean, taking in three of CABI’s 48 Member Countries, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, to strengthen strategic partnerships with stakeholders in the region.

Accompanied by Mr Naitram (Bob) Ramnanan, CABI’s Regional Representative for the Caribbean, they met with a number of organizations to discuss work in partnership to safeguard food security and biodiversity in these three countries and the wider Caribbean region.

The CABI delegation had productive dialogue with Ministries of Agriculture (MoAs) and other key stakeholders including, the Caribbean Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI) and the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund.

CABI Member Countries and other institutions were canvassed for support to create a Caribbean Invasive Alien Species Trust Fund (CIASTF).

It is hoped that the CIASTF will independently mobilize, blend, and oversee the collection and allocation of financial resources and build the capacity needed to facilitate a strategic focus on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) management in the region, providing long-term funding for a longer-term problem.

Read more in the news story ‘CABI visit to Caribbean strengthens strategic partnerships to help safeguard food security and biodiversity.’