"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow:

they toil not, neither do they spin.

And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory

was not arrayed like one of these."

    Jesus of Nazareth

    Matthew 6: 28-29

"The cloning of humans is on most of
the lists of things to worry about from science,
along with behavior control, genetic engineering,

transplanted heads, computer poetry,
and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers."

Lewis Thomas (1913 - 1993)

Physician, poet, etimologist


MacConnell's butterfly orchid, Psychilis macconnelliae. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.


 

Beautiful Sex

 

DIVISION MAGNOLIOPHYTA: THE FLOWERING PLANTS

 

    The magnoliophyte organisms (also known as Angiospermae) comprise the vast majority of the members of the Kingdom Viridaeplantae. These are the most adaptable and varied of all autotrophs. They can be found in every terrestrial environment that is not continually covered by snow, and have invaded freshwater and oceans as deep as the shallower parts of continental and insular platforms. A few species are even found in Antarctica but, of course, it is in the tropics where they really come into their own in terms of species.

 

    Flowering plants possibly arose during the late Jurassic Period. They are the main, most complex and widespread kind of chlorobionts in the majority of terrestrial ecosystems on Earth. Their distinguishing trait, and that which sets them apart from the pinophytes, is that their eggs are enclosed in a chamber prior to fertilization, so the spermatozoids contained in the pollen initially have to migrate to them after pollination occurs.

 

    Flowers are an elaboration a higher plant's reproductive system. They are its genitals.

 

    The beautiful colors and the fragrances (not always appealing to human noses) of many flowers evolved as means to entice, by sight and smell, those potential distributors that might become instrumental in taking the plant's pollen (containers of its sperm) to the stigma so it can eventually fertilize the eggs in the flower's ovaries. That said, many flowers need only wind in order for pollination to occur. Such are often small and inconspicuous. But flowers that are yellow, orange, red, or purple are usually pollinated by diurnal animals like birds and insects. Sometimes hordes of flies, bees, butterflies, honeycreepers, and hummingbirds can be seen feeding on plants with such flowers. Many of these animals are able to see well into the ultraviolet range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even flowers of subdued colors may appear to them much more vivid than to us.

 

Heliconia caribaea. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Red, orange, and yellow flowers like this one are often pollinated by birds and diurnal insects.

 

    On the other hand, flowers that are white or pale yellow in color most often attract nocturnal animals, like moths and bats. Many such flowers, odorless during the day, will exude strong odors during the night in order to attract their pollinators.


Irlbachia frigida. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

White and otherwise pale flowers of this kind frequently rely on nocturnal pollinators to produce fruits and seeds.

 

    Many flowering plants have evolved the capacity to develop fruits. These are covers of fleshy tissue enveloping the seed covers. It should be noted that a fruit provides no direct advantage to the plant, and it would be a total waste of energy for it to develop and sustain an otherwise useless hunk of living tissue... if it were not for its immense indirect benefits.

 

    Enter metazoans: the animals, unwitting participants come into the reproductive scenario of plants. Indeed, the only reason why a plant invests any energy at all in producing a fruit is to bribe some animal or another into taking its seeds somewhere else. Along the same line, the reason for the existence of nectar is quite similar: it is an energy-laden "reward", created at the expense of the plant and offered to the appropriate animal, in its case as an exchange for pollinating services. It is partly this evolutionary chicanery what has made flowering plants so varied and successful.



A bananaquit, (Puerto Rican race, Coereba flaveola portoricensis) feeds on the nectar of Cordia sebestena.
In this case however, the bird steals its meal without pollinating the flower by making an incision in its calix.

Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A male purple-throated carib, Eulampis jugularis, shakes off the pollen of a Heliconia, which has stuck to its plumage while it fed on the plant's nectar.

Plants make use of this and other pollinators to spread their own kind.

Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

    As the animal delights itself with the tasty fruit, it will be more likely to leave the seeds - the one thing that really matters - alone and undamaged, and with a chance to germinate later, ideally in some convenient spot away from the parent plant.

 

    In order to conserve energy, plants produce fruits with just enough volume to tempt the appropriate animal. Thus, most fruits tend to be rather small, with no extra effort invested in anything larger. The huge mangoes, watermelons, avocadoes, tomatoes, grapefruits, and soursops that we see in the grocery store are a consequence of selective breeding and hybridization controlled by man. Such large fruits do not occur in natural populations. In the wild, they would be an extravagant waste of resources.

 

    In a manner similar to flowers of the same colors, red and orange fruits are designed to attract diurnal birds as well as reptiles like large iguanas and tortoises (and, where they are found, mammals with color vision like monkeys, lemurs, and man). These will consume the fleshy parts of the fruit and then discard or excrete the seeds far away from the parent plants, thus helping their kind in spreading into new areas.

 

Fruits of two Eugenia sp. Cambalache State Forest, northern Puerto Rico.

 

    Because a fruit only serves its true purpose when a suitable disperser lives in sympatry with it, many plants that live in regions (like the Antilles) with few or none of such such animals have "de-evolved" in their fruit-bearing capacity while their relatives in the continents have retained it. Since terrestrial sloths and many of the larger rodents are now extinct in the West Indies, many fruit-bearing plants there can now rely only on birds, bats, iguanas, and man for the dispersal of their seeds.

 

    If fruits are intended to entice animals to disperse a plant's seeds, then why would some plants produce fruits which are poisonous, to begin with? After all, a potential disperser of seeds is of no use if the plant manages to kill its unwitting cooperator before it fulfills its job.

 

    The mystery is at least partly solved by the fact that plant toxins usually affect only some animals - particularly those liable to destroy the seeds as well as the fruit - while the intended dispersers are immune to it. The case is proven in the Antilles by euphorbiacean trees like the manchineel (Hippomane mancinella) which sweet and fragrant fruits are deadly to humans and most other large mammals, who are likely to swallow the entire fruit and digest even the seeds. But other animals, like Cardiosoma land crabs and Cyclura rock iguanas, eat them with total impunity, after which they discard or defecate the seeds intact. (These animals' flesh might then become toxic to, say, humans who occasionally eat them, in a way similar to how some butterfly caterpillars ingest and incorporate into their own tissues toxins from their larval food plants, thus even as adults becoming unpalatable to birds and lizards).

 

    The use of poisons likewise occurs in many plants to protect their space and defend parts of themselves other than their seeds. Some even have actual envenomating mechanisms, like thorns, spines, and stiff hairs, like those of stinging nettles. These are designed to inject toxins into, and thus repel, their would-be predators.

 

CLASS LILIOPSIDA: THE MONOCOTYLEDONS

 

    A cotyledon is an embryonic leaf, containing, or having access to, the nourishment needed by the embryo itself. It may turn green as the seed opens and the seedling begins its photosynthetic life.

 

    As the name implies, monocots are flowering plants with only one cotyledon to each seed. They frequently have a parallel venation in their leaves, which themselves tend to be elongated and lance-like. However, some groups, like araceans (philodendrons, anthuriums, and relatives) have a reticulated venation system. The flower parts of monocots exist in multiples of three.

 

    Some members of the group, namely grasses like corn, rice, and wheat, are among the most important crops cultivated by man. Others, like bananas and their relatives, have been domesticated for their fruits, while palms are well-known trees that, with other liliopsids like lilies, irises, and orchids, are valued for their ornamental qualities.

 

    Although by far most members of this group are terrestrial, a few families include members that are truly marine. These grow on submerged, sandy or muddy soils in the shallow waters of coastal and estuarine environments, including those of the Antilles. They include the "manatee grasses" and "turtle grasses" of the genera Ruppia, Syringodium, and Thalassia.


ORDER ARECALES


    This order contains only one family, yet some of these plants are among the most ancient alive today. Antillean Acrocomia aculeata palms, for example, have been around for about 70 million years.


Family Arecaceae

 

    Palms are distributed through the entire World except the Arctic regions, and are most common and varied in the tropics. They are shrubs or vines but, most often, are un-branched trees, some of great height. They are characteristically tall and woody among the mostly herbaceous monocots. Some of the most picturesque species in the West Indies are those of the genera Roystonea (the huge royal palms of the Caribbean) and Sabal (palmettoes). (The coconut palms that are so common in Antillean beaches were introduced there from the Indo-Pacific region, and are not treated here).

 

Panicles of Antillean mountain palm, Prestoea montana.

First photograph taken at the Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

Second photograph taken at the El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
The fruits of this tree are a staple food item for the highly endangered Puerto Rican parrot, as well as for other West Indian fruit-eating birds.

 


Puerto Rican teyer palm, Coccothrinax alta. Near Charlotte Amalie, southern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

A common palm endemic to the Puerto Rican bank. The genus is widespread in the Greater Antilles.



Coccothrinax martii. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Nathan Manwaring).

 

Palm, Thrinax morrisii. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Puerto Rican royal palms, Roystonea borinquena. Mayagüez, western Puerto Rico.

Many members of this genus are huge and magnificent trees towering between 20 and 40 meters,
and are typical components of the Greater Antillean lowland humid forests and prairies.

This species is also found in the Hispaniolan and Saint Croix insular banks.

 

    Palms are an important component of Neotropical ecosystems, and they are abundant in Antillean forests. Prestoea palms may even form almost pure stands on rocky, bleached soils in the highlands, an association calles "palm brake" or "montane palm forest". Together with tree ferns and Cecropia trumpet trees, they are among the first large plants to colonize areas recently devoid of vegetation cover, whether by man or by natural events like hurricanes and landslides. Others palms, like Pseudophenix, Aiphanes, and Gaussia, are most common in karstic forests. Acrocomia and others are common in lowland humid forests, while some species of Thrinax and Coccothrinax are abundant in xeric forests.

 

Palm, Pseudophoenix vinifera. Near Duverge, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Greater Antillean rain palms, Gaussia attenuata. Manati, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Puerto Rican spiny palms, Acrocomia media.

First photograph: Ponce, southern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph, Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.
  Last two photographs: Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Lesser Antillean spiny palms, Acrocomia aculeata. Near Grenville, eastern Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Puerto Rican palmetto, Sabal causiarum. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Palm, Aiphanes acanthophylla. Rio Abajo State Forest, central Puerto Rico.

 

Palm, Aiphanes vicentana. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.



Palms, Colpothrinax wrightii. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).



Palm, Copernicia baileyana. Nevis Botanical Garden. western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.



Palm, Copernicia macroglossa. Nevis Botanical Garden. western Nevis, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER ALISMATALES


    Of cosmopolitan distribution, these are mostly herbaceous plants with flowers grown in clumped inflorescences. Some attain very large sizes, while others are epiphytes.


Family Alismataceae


    These are usually perennial plants that grow in waterlogged areas. Some are called water plantains for the similarity of their leaves with those of the unrelated plantains and bananas. In the West Indies, arrowheads of the genus Sagittaria occupy freshwater swamps.



Sagittaria lancifolia. Canóvanas, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Araceae

 

    The family Araceae comprise genera like Philodendron, Dieffenbachia, and Anthurium. Some of these are terrestrial or epiphytic plants of forests' understories. Philodendron are vines that ascend up trees and boulders. Dieffenbachia are terrestrial and produce a highly irritating watery sap. Some members of Anthurium are terrestrial while other, smaller species are commonly seen among bromeliads and orchids as part of the epiphytic communities in mesic and hydric forests.

 

    Characteristically, members of this group produce tiny flowers and fruits that are borne on spikes. Many have been domesticated by man to serve as ornamentals.

 

Philodendron giganteum.

First photograph: Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.
Last two photographs: Rio Abajo State Forest, central Puerto Rico.



Philodendron consanguineum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Anthurium crenatum. Reef Bay Trail, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

A typical plant of the understory of the Antillean humid forests.

They sometimes grow on trees, so might be considered partial epiphites.

 

Anthurium crenatum is a "trash-basket" plant. Some of its roots point upward (thus called "apogeothropic")

and collect dead leaves and other organic material. These decompose and release nutrients that are then used by the plant.

Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

 

Fruits of Anthurium crenatum. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Anthurium scandens. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Anthurium cordatum. Reef Bay Trail, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Fruits of Anthurium cordatum. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 

Anthurium x selloum. Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

This is a sterile, natural hybrid between A. cordatum and A. crenatum.

Its morphology is intermediate between those of its two parent species.

 

Anthurium sp. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Dieffenbachia sp. Carite State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.

These relatives of anthuriums have a watery, strongly irritating sap that can cause a strong reaction on human skin.

 

Dieffenbachia seguine. Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

 

Inflorescence of Dieffenbachia seguine. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


ORDER ASPARAGALES


    An ancient group of plants that include the asparagus known in culinary circles. The complex contains taxa that are widely diverging at the morphological level. Most are perennial, and many grow their leaves in the form of a rossette either near the roots (as in Agave) or at the end of a woody stalk (as in yuccas). There is a great number of epiphitic species, particularly among orchids.


Family Agavaceae

 

    This family is represented in the West Indies mainly by Agave, of littoral ecosystems and other mostly xeric environments. This large genus contains about 200 species, all of them with woody stems so short that the leaves seem to sprout straight from the ground. These plants can be very large, and their leaves are often armed with fearsome spines.

 

    As the proper conditions arise, whole groups of them bloom simultaneously from spikes several meters tall, painting the landscape with yellow or orange. Once they flower, each plant dies, and since they take so long to grow to this climax, they have been called "century plants" by some Caribbean peoples.


Puerto Rican agave, Agave missionum. Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Puerto Rican agaves bloom in early summer.

During this dry season, their abundant nectar are a source of nourishment and water for hordes of insects and birds.

Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Agave intermixta. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Furcraea tuberosa. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.


Family Amaryllidaceae

 

    This is a group of plants that resemble lilies, and several members are found in xeric and mesic areas in the Antilles. Members of Hymenocallis typically produce large, spindly, white flowers. The genus exists from the southern United States to northern South America, and the West Indies.

 

Caribbean white "lily", Hymenocallis latifolia. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

These are sometimes called "spider lilies" for their long, spindly petals and stamens.


Family Hypoxidaceae

 

    These are small herbs related to lilies and irises, with bright flowers. Hypoxis are found in the understory and clearings of mesic West Indian forests. The genus is widespread in tropical and temperate regions of the World.

Hypoxis sp., (possibly H. wrightii). Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Hypoxis decumbens. Carite State forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Family Orchidaceae

 

    The flowers of God.

 

    The apex of chlorobiontic evolution, orchids comprise the second largest group of flowering plants. Distant relatives - perhaps surprisingly to some - of the asparagus, onion and garlic, these organisms number more than 25000 known species, and together form the largest monocot familiar assemblage. Only asteraceans (treated in the section on dicots) surpass them in numbers of species among living plant families.

 

    Orchids are found in every terrestrial region on Earth except Antarctica and places covered by perpetual snows. Ordinarily, they have three petals and the same number of sepals (some have lost or fused some of these parts, as a derived character) and have evolved a structure unique among plants: the "column", formed by the fusion of the style, stigmas, and stamens of their flowers. This is the main distinction of their kind, the way you could recognize an orchid anywhere in the world. The petal next to the column is often variously expanded and elaborated and is called the "lip". The total arrangment confers orchids a clearly bilateral symmetry that is shared by few other flowers.



Column of a narrow-lobed epidendrum, Epidendrum angustilobum. This structure is made from the fusion of several flower parts, and is the hallmark of all orchids.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

    Orchid flowers are segregated into two main types according to their posture. Some flowers exhibit the phenomenon of "resupination". A mature resupinate flower twists as much as 180 degrees at the pedicel of the ovary, so that the lip is at the lowermost position under the column. A non-resupinate flower does not show this trait, so its lip either appears to be above the column or as the topmost structure of vertically blooming flowers. A possible explanation for this trait is that the lips of resupinate flowers are in a physical position better suited serve as platforms where insects can rest at leisure as they seek nectar. Doing this "favor" to their customers seems to increase the chances of successful pollination for the plants.



Two endemic Puerto Rican orchids showing the presence and lack of resupination.
On the left, Epidendrum ackermani produces non-resupinate flowers. The lip (the frilly, yellow-centered petal attached to the colum) is at the topmost position on each flower. (Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico).
On the right, Epidendrum angustilobum produces resupinate flowers. The lip (the bilobed petal with a hanging spur, under the column) is in the lower position. (El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico).


    Famous for their exotic and often fey appearance, many orchids are coveted, cultivated, and hybridized by man for their beauty. However, most are actually small plants with correspondingly small flowers.
Unlike other plants in the Caribbean, which are pollinated by butterflies, bees, bats, birds and, perhaps, even lizards, most orchids in the Antillean region either depend on wind, moths, and flies to get pollen to their stigmas, or self-pollinate. This last is the case in cleistogamous species. In such species, the flowers never open and fecundation occurs inside the closed bud itself. Some species in the Greater Antilles (like a few Oncidium, shown below) have flowers that mimic the males of certain bees. It is believed that the real insects attack their "rivals" and thus help release the pollen of the flowers onto the stigmas.

 

    Although many Antillean orchids range from common to abundant, some have been decimated by uncontrolled collection from the wild. However, and as usual, habitat destruction is the gravest menace to some species.

 

    Five subfamilies of orchids are usually recognized, and three are found in the West Indies.


Subfamily Orchidoideae

 

    These mostly terrestrial plants possess a single fertile anther (they are "monandrous"). The type genus, the Old World Orchis, gives its name to the whole family. Most members of this group are terrestrial, with but a few epiphytic species. The majority of Caribbean species produce white flowers.

 

Single-rhizomed habenaria, Habenaria monorrhiza. Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.

 

Orchid, Spiranthes sp. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).



Orchid, Cyclopogon elatus. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Cyclopogon cranichoides. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.


Orchid, Cranichis tenuis. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Orchid, Cranichis galatea. Aceitillar, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy or Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 

Orchids, Cranichis muscosa. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


Orchid, Prescottia oligantha. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Orchid, Prescottia stachyodes. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.


Terrestrial orchid, Microchilus hirtellus. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 

Plantain microchilus, Microchilus plantagineus. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Subfamily Epidendroideae

 

    This subfamily of orchids is larger than all the others combined. It contains more than 15000 species in hundreds of genera. The group is difficult to classify, but generally possesses the following traits: they are monandrous (possess one fertile anther); their leaves are distichous or arranged in a spiral; they have hard, waxy pollinia; and the ovary has a single locus.

 

    By far, most species are epiphytic, and are especially common in tropical forests around the World. Epidendroids conform to the stereotypical "orchid" that comes to the minds of most peoples.

 

    The largest orchid genus (and one of the largest genera on Earth) is the one that gives the entire subfamily its name. They are "the ones that live on trees": Epidendrum. These American orchids are especially common in montane regions of the Neotropics. Collectively known as "star orchids" or "epidendrums", the appearance of their flowers vary from tiny, greenish, and unimpressive to some that are large and showy. A related genus, Cattleya, is widely cultivated for their beautiful, enormous, and sometimes otherworldly flowers.

 


Ackerman's epidendrum, Epidendrum ackermani. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Umbelled epidendrum, Epidendrum difforme. Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Boricuan epidendrum, Epidendrum boricuarum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Wright's epidendrum, Epidendrum wrightii. Near Pie Pol, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 


Antillean epidendrum, Epidendrum antillanum. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 


Brown epidendrum, Epidendrum anceps.
First two photographs: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

Third photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Narrow-lobed epidendrum, Epidendrum angustilobum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Night epidendrum, Epidendrum nocturnum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Fringed star orchids, Epidendrum ciliare. Slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.



Epidendrum miserrimum. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.
This tiny species is one of the smallest of its genus. The flowers are about 3 millimeters in length.


Branched epidendrum, Epidendrum ramosum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Rigid epidendrum, Epidendrum rigidum. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.



Some Antillean orchids are very rare or confined to small geographical areas. This is Epidendrum boricuomutelianum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
The flowers open only slightly (they are semi-cleistogamous). In the third photograph the flower has been slightly pried apart to reveal its inner anatomy.


    Many other genera of epidendroid orchids are found in the West Indian region. Some of them follow.

 

High oncidium, Oncidium altissimum. Ciales, central Puerto Rico. This species ranges throughout the Lesser Antilles, north to Puerto Rico.

The flowers of this species mimic the males of certain bees, which attack the perceived "intruders" and thus release pollen unto the stigma.

 

Orchid, possibly Oncidium sp. Near Bani, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).



Orchid, probably Oncidium sp. Pico Diego de Ocampo Nature Reserve, north-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Orchid, possibly Oncidium sp. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Variegated tolumnia, Tolumnia variegata.
First two photographs: Florida, central Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Cambalache State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.

The species is a Greater Antillean endemic.



Variegated tolumnia, Tolumnia variegata. Padre Nuestro Nature Reserve, eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Haitian tolumnia, Tolumnia haitiense. Etang Saumatre, south-eastern Haiti, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).



Orchid, Tolumnia guianensis. Parque Nacional del Este, eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Beautiful tolumnia, Tolumnia pulchella. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.

 


Cockle-shell orchids, Prosthechea cochleata.
First photograph: Port Antonio, north-eastern Jamaica.

Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Turks and Caicos encyclia, Encyclia caicensis. Big Ambergris Cay, The Bahamas.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).

 

Slim isochilus, Isochilus linearis. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Orchid, Stelis repens. El Cortico, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominica Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Scarlet maxillarias, Ornithidium coccineum.
First photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Next two photographs: Syndicate, north-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 


Salle's ghost orchids, Dendrophylax sallei. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(First photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez. Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

 


Orchid, Dendrophylax ariza-juliae. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Fragrant trichopilia, Trichopilia fragrans. El Cortico, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Spheroid jacquiniella, Jacquiniella globosa. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Shiny blue-green dichaea, Dichaea glauca. Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Bristly dichaea, Dichaea histricina. Habit, flower, and fruit.
First and last photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Point-covered dichaea, Dichaea muricata. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 


  Pale-flowered polystachya, Polystachya concreta. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Leafy polystachya, Polystachya foliosa. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Heneken's bee orchid, Hispaniella henekenii. Villa Elisa, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Orchid, Antillanorchis sp. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 


The diminutive, 3 millimeter-long flowers and fruits of the orchid Lepanthes veleziana can hardly be noticed by the casual observer.

An epiphytic herb, the plant itself is very small and inconspicuous, being about the length of a human finger.

First and third photographs: Barranquitas, central Puerto Rico.
Second and last photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Dod's orchid, Lepanthes dodiana. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Orchid, Apoda sp. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).


Krug's butterfly orchids, Psychilis krugii. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico. Another Puerto Rican endemic.

The entire genus Psychilis is endemic to the Antilles, and includes some of the most beautiful orchids in the region.

 

Dod's butterfly orchid, Psychilis dodii. Peravia, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).


Macconnell's butterfly orchids, Psychilis macconnelliae. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.


Ruben's butterfly orchid, Psychilis rubeniana. Los Haitises National Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).



Correll's butterfly orchid, Psychilis correllii. Gilboa Hill, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 


Dominican broughtonia, Broughtonia dominguensis. Parque Nacional del Este, eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Blood-red broughtonias, Broughtonia sanguinea.
First photograph: Portland Ridge, south central Jamaica. (Courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).
Second photograph: Negril, western Jamaica.

 


Pleurothallis compressicaulis. Masiff de la Hotte, south-western Haiti, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).



Pleurothallis ruscifolia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Alfredo Colon Archilla).


Barrington's ida, Ida barringtoniae. Masiff de la Hotte, south-western Haiti, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).



Orchid, Domingoa haematochila. Pico Diego de Ocampo Nature Reserve, north-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Delicate violet ionopsis, Ionopsis utricularioides. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

Satyrium-like ionopsis, Ionopsis satyrioides. Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Natural hybrid of Ionopsis satyrioides x utricularioudes. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.


Eckman's quisqueya, Quisqueya ekmanii. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Holdridge's quisqueya, Quisqueya holdrigei. Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).



Campylocentrum fasciola. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.
This curious orchid has no leaves. Photosynthesis occurs in its roots, from the midst of which sprout the small flowers and fruits.



Campylocentrum micranthum. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.
This species, unlike the one above, possesses normal leaves.

 

    Not all epidendroids are epiphytes. A good number of them are terrestrial in both mesic and xeric habitats. Examples of such species are shown below.


Wide bletia, Bletia patula. Florida, central Puerto Rico.
A terrestrial species often found growing among grasses and ferns in mesic areas of the Antilles.

 

The white morph of Bletia patula. Los Haitises National Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Eladio M. Fernandez).

 

Flowery bletia, Bletia florida. Barbecue Bottom Road, north-central Jamaica.



Flower and fruits of spotted oeceoclades, Oeceoclades maculata.

First photograph: Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Last two photographs: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
This is an African species believed to have colonized the New World recently by natural trans-Atlantic dispersal.
 

 

Mountain dilomilis, Dilomilis montana. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

The genus Dilomilis is a Greater Antillean endemic.



Masson's malaxis, Malaxis massonii. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Orchid, Eulophia alta. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Subfamily Vanilloideae

 

    This group contains several genera distributed throughout the World's tropics. In the Antilles the most commonly seen members are those of the genus Vanilla. The seed pods of some of these produce the sweet substance and fragrance that is known from a variety of ice creams and other deserts.


ORDER COMMELINALES


    This order includes very few families with varied morphologies united in a monophyletic clade by mainly genetic and chemical characters, as well as shared traits in the structure of their seeds.


Family Commelinaceae

 

    The plants included in this group are mainly succulent herbs of forests' understories. Some are planted as ornamentals in many areas.

 

Commelina erecta, a herb distributed throughout the tropical and warm-temperate Americas, as well as in the African tropics.

The third petal of this flower is transparent-whitish and vestigial.

San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Tradescantia zanonia. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER DIOSCOREALES


    Distantly related to orchids and lilies, members of this order possess flowers with glandular hairs (sometimes minute) and their vascular bundles are ring-like. Their stygma is very short.


Family Burmanniaceae


    All species in this taxon are very derived, either mycotrophic or myco-heterotrophic organisms. That is to say: they obtain their nutrients by" stealing" them from fungi, or by actually even living as parasites of fungi. Many species have gone so far in this sort of relationship as to loose chlorophyll and depend completely on their hosts for their survival. Examples of these are the tiny herbs of the genus Gymnosiphon. They look like thin, even filamentous, plants sprouting from the floor of rainforests.



Gymnosiphon niveus. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Apteria aphylla. Sole species in its genus, it inhabits much of the Neotropics.
El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

ORDER PANDANALES


    An ancient group with minute embrios in their seeds. Some species, like those of the type genus Pandanus, are economically important for man.

Family Cyclanthaceae

    This Neotropical group is composed of rather small plants which take the form of shrubs or lianas. The leaves of some genera resemble those of palms. Their pollination often occurs with the help of beetles and similar insects.



Asplundia rigida.
First two photographs: Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.
Last two photographs: Morne Trois Pitons National Park, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

Asplundia insignis. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER POALES


    Perhaps dating  back to the Cretaceous, this group contains  a wide array of plants that animals as well as mankind use in a miriad ways. Their seeds are often starchy and the flowers that produce them are usually encased in bracts and are pollinated by wind.

Family Bromeliaceae

 

    Bromeliads - the best known of which is Ananas comosus, the pineapple - comprise a family that is exclusively American, save for a lone West African species. Like many orchids, the majority of species are epiphytes, and are most common in tropical latitudes. They can be phenomenally abundant in Antillean montane forests.

 

    Many species accumulate water at the bases of their whorls of leaves and thus serve as breeding areas for many sorts of animals, including mosquitoes, crabs, and frogs.

 

Bromeliads, Vriesia macrostachia. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

Bromeliads like these act as water reservoirs high up on trees, since rain accumulates and is stored at the base of their leaves.
Many arboreal organisms, like insects, spiders, and tree frogs, make them their home and breeding grounds.
Birds and anoles will drink from the water held in them, especially during the dry seasons.

Bromeliad, Werauhia sintenisii, growing on fallen tree trunk.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Depending on the amount of available light this species may have red leaves, and traps the Sun's energy with the use of carotenoid pigments, instead of chlorophyll.


Bromeliad, possibly Werauhia sintenisii. Slopes pf the Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 


Bromeliad, Tillandsia utriculata. The Quill National Park, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bromeliad, Tillandsia fendleri. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.

 

Bromeliad, Tillandsia polystachia.

First photograph: Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Barbecue Bottom Road, Jamaica.

 

Bromeliad, Tillandsia setacea. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Bromeliads, Tillandsia juncea. Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Bromeliad, Tillandsia recurvata. Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

The seeds of Tillandsia recurvata have tufts of hair that help them fly in the slightest breeze.

That way they colonize new areas, even crossing ocean expanses from one island to another.

Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Some species of Tillandsia bromeliads hang from tree branches in a way resembling "beards".

This is probably Tillandsia usneoides, photographed at Rabo de Gato, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Bromeliads, possibly Tillandsia sp. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 


Not all bromeliads are epiphytes. Some, like Bromelia pinguin, grow on the ground on xeric forests.

The sweet-sour, yellow fruits of this species are edible, and the plant might have been spread

through cultivation since pre-Columbian times, by Amerindians tribes.
Reef Bay Trail, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Guzmania sp. Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

 


Panicle and flower of Guzmania berteroana. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Guzmania lingulata. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Bromeliad, Guzmania monostachia. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 

Bromeliads, Guzmania plumieri.
First photograph: Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Nevis Peak, central Nevis, Lesser Antilles.


Bromeliad, Catopsis floribunda. Sage Mountain National Park, Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Notice how the seedlings germinate even before the seeds have fallen from their capsules.

 

Terrestrial bromeliads, species undetermined. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bromeliad inflorescence, Aechmea paniculigera. Barbecue Bottom Road, Jamaica.

 

Bromeliads, Aechmea lingulata. Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Bromeliad, Aechmea lingulata, showing rain water accumulated in the central rosette of leaves.

Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Flowers of Aechmea lingulata. Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Bromeliad, Pitcairnia angustifolia. Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Bromeliad, Pitcairnia bifrons. Nevis Peak, central Nevis, Lesser Antilles.



Bromeliad, Pitcairnia sp. The Quill National Park, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Bromeliad inflorescence, Hohenbergia sp. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Some bromeliads can be enormous. This three meter-wide Hogenbergia antillana is a Puerto Rican endemic.

First photograph: Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Bromeliad, Hohenbergia portoricensis. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Family Cyperaceae

 

    Sedges superficially resemble grasses. They are aquatic or terrestrial and produce agglomerated inflorescences. Several species of Cyperus are common in Antillean wetlands and cloud forests, and some species are quite large and used as ornamentals around man-made ponds.

 

Cyperus elegans. El Rosario, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Cyperus odoratus. Las Limas Private Nature Reserve, Guayama, south-eastern Puerto Rico.



Cyperus giganteus. Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

    Belonging to the same family as Cyperus, some sedges of the genus Scleria are called "razor grasses". The name derives from their long leaves bordered by minute but sharp serrations. These truly obnoxious plants border the sides of trails in many areas, and are the bane of hikers who have to walk through them in short pants.

 

Razor grass, Scleria scindens.

Named so because the serrated edges of its leaves can easily cut the skin of an unwary person.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Seeds of razor grass, Scleria latifolia. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Fiurena umbellata. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Carex polystachia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Mountain spike-brush, Eleocharis montana.

First photograph: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Poaceae

 

    Grasses are relative newcomers in the evolutionary history of plants, and arose during the Tertiary Period. Most of the 9000 known species are the small plants known from prairies and the understories and gaps in forests. Some, however, are very large and woody, as are the giant bamboos (Bambusa) of Asia. (Several small relatives of these last are found in the West Indies). Very few species have beautiful inflorescences or are even attractive, but they still are among the most important of chlorobionts.

 

    The seemingly humble grasses are immensely valuable plants on a planetary scale, since their arrival in the geologic history of Earth allowed for the evolution of another great group of organisms, namely ungulates: the hoofed mammals (modern sheep, goats, antelopes, and cows) which are essential components of many ecosystems and are at the center of many of mankind's economic enterprises.

 

    More directly influential on man's affairs, some grasses are of paramount importance ever since humans learned to domesticate plants, which in turn allowed them to cease being nomads and to settle in cities, instead. The powerful Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Babylonian, Roman, and Macedonian empires of the Old World existed mainly because of their ability to consistently raise crops of wheat, barley, and oats: all of them grasses. Further to the east, the great Oriental civilizations that developed in what are today China and Southeast Asia owed their existence to another plant that today surpasses every other in terms of total harvested and consumed mass, and which is a grass that grows on swampy areas: rice. And in the New World, the impressive military and cultural empires of the Inca, Toltec, Maya, and Mexica (these last are those erroneously known as "Aztecs") owed much of their power to the domestication of an American grass: maize. Not only do the products of these plants still occupy a center at modern man's dinner table, but those of another genus of grasses have also been cultivated to sweeten his life: Sacharum - the sugarcanes.

 

Dwarf bamboo, Arthrostylidium sarmentosum. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.



Lasciasis divaricata. Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.


Grass, Chloris barbata. Charlotte Amalie, Southern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Grass, Pennisetum purpureum. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Grass, Gynerium sagittatum. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Family Typhaceae

 

    Members of Typha are known as "cattails", and grow on swampy areas. They produce long spikes of closely packed flowers, indeed resembling the tail of the domestic feline. Typha is indeed the only genus of the family (making this last monotypic). Several of these plants have edible parts, and as such they are used by humans in certain parts of the World.

 

Typha domingensis. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico. 


ORDER ZINGIBERALES


    Perennial herbs with rhizomes. Some species, like bananas and members of the genus Heliconia, possess false trunks comprised of the aggregation of the leaves' stems. These "trunks" however, are never woody in spite of the palm-like appearance of the plants.


Family Heliconiaceae

 

        Common both in lowland and highland humid and rain forests of the Antilles (and of much of the Neotropics) are plants of the genus Heliconia. Relatives of the banana (family Musaceae) these plants produce showy flower bracts usually in some tone of yellow, orange, or red. Some species are known as "lobster claws", for the shape of their inflorescences.

 

    These are some of the most picturesque plants in Antillean rain forests, and many varieties have been cultivated and hybridized with ornamental purposes. Some species, like Heliconia caribaea and H. bihai, have developed a number of morphs varying in color and shape depending on the island, and even within regions in the same island. Eventually, some of this may turn out to be full species.

 

Plants of the genus Heliconia are widespread in the Neotropics. This is Heliconia caribaea.

First photograph: Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Third photograph: Near Kingston, south-eastern Jamaica.

Last photograph: Ciales, central Puerto Rico.

 

Heliconia sp. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 


Heliconia bihai.

First photograph: Central highlands of Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

Second photograph: Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.

 


Natural hybrid of Heliconia bihai x Heliconia caribaea.. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.

 

Natural hybrid of Heliconia bihai x Heliconia caribaea.

Las Limas Private Nature Reserve, Guayama, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Marantaceae

 

    The arrowroot family is here represented by genera like Calathea. Similar to Heliconia plants, the underside of the leaves of some species are covered in a waxy substance used in some places to prepare polishers.

 

The cigar plant, Calathea lutea, is distributed through Central and South America, and the Antilles.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Zingiberaceae

 

    This is the group that includes crops like ginger and similar species. Many are small- to medium-sized herbs of forests understories, superficially similar to heliconias. Some produce masses of beautiful bulbous flowers.


Renealmia jamaicensis. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Renealmia pyramidalis. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Lesser Antilles.



Renealmia occidentalis. Guajataca State Forest. north-western Puerto Rico.