“The gardens at Norse Hill Estate are simply amazing, and the diversity of the tropical plants is phenomenal. Some of the specimen plants such as the vanilla orchids, the cocoa trees and the jade plants are better than what I have seen at most of the world renowned gardens I have visited over the years. Norse Hill Estate is one of the most delightful places I have ever been and the wonderful staff made our stay unforgettable.”Ruthann Spears Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati, Ohio
If Reidar Johanssen, the Norwegian shipping magnate who is largely credited with the architecture and construction of Norse Hill, his wife, Iris, was the queen of the gardens.
Through the years, she planned, plotted and managed the estate’s botanical gardens with a keen eye for the indigenous flora, along with the exotic flowering plants, ferns and trees she imported. Albert, Norse Hill’s lead gardener since 1965, built the network of exploration trails under Mrs. Johanssen’s direction. He retired in 2014.
Guests encounter shimmering peacock ferns, colorful croton, hibiscus, allamanda, jade, red and yellow ixora, plumbago and poinciana, and hundreds of orchids. Fragrant allspice (called pimento in Jamaica), almond, breadfruit, cocoa, fig and nutmeg trees share the grounds with avocado, banana, orange, papaya, pineapple and tangerine trees. Trail walkers find serene ponds and tranquil meadows framed by groves of bamboo. And the abundance of tropical flora naturally attracts a variety of rare, colorful birds and butterflies – including Jamaica’s own “Doctor Bird” hummingbird.
The gardeners are delighted to take guests on tours. Don’t be surprised if you learn the Latin, English and Jamaican names for plants and trees in this exceptional collection!
Jamaica’s Famous Doctor Bird
The Red-billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus) has been called the most spectacular hummingbird in the Caribbean, and is found only in Jamaica. Lesser known except to ornithologists and birding enthusiasts is the other member of the Doctor Bird’s genus, the Black-billed Streamertail. The two differ considerably in appearance and behavior. The Black-billed birds are found only in the extreme eastern end of Jamaica, and have mixed to form hybrids in the zone where the John Crow Mountains meet the Blue Mountain range. Visit Norse Hill with your binoculars ready and you might spot one of these rare hybrids.
Did You Know?
Jamaica boasts 43 endemic species of orchids, including 26 species of the Lepanthes genus.
The homerus swallowtail butterfly, whose wingspan can reach 6 inches, is found in only two regions in Jamaica, one being that junction of the Blue and John Crow Mountains at the Rio Grande River – close to Norse Hill. The homerus is threatened by illegal poaching, but conservationists are working to protect the butterflies’ remaining colonies.