"And we praise You, my Lord,

for our Sister Earth,

who sustains us with her fruits,

and colored flowers, and herbs!"

From the Canticle of the Sun

Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone (Saint Francis of Assisi) (1181-1226)

Founder of the Order of Friars Minor

Patron saint of animals, zoos, ecologists, and environmentalists

"Cultivo la rosa blanca

en junio como en enero,

para el amigo sincero

que me brinda su mano franca.

 

Y para el cruel que me arranca

el corazón con que vivo,

cardo ni ortiga cultivo:

cultivo la rosa blanca."

La Rosa Blanca

     José Julián Martí Pérez (1853-1895)

Cuban poet and writer


"A sensitive plant in a garden grew,
and the young winds fed it with silver dew,
and it opened its fan-like leaves to the light,
and closed them beneath the kisses of night."
The Sensitive Plant
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
English Poet

Puerto Rican giant hibiscus, Thespesia grandiflora. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


 

Trees of Life

 

CLASS MAGNOLIOPSIDA: THE DICOTYLEDONS

 

    By far, most living flowering plants are dicots. Their seeds are divided into two sections (usually identical halves, like the valves of a clam's shell) with the embryo located at one end between them, and their leaves possess a net-like system of veins through which sap runs, bringing nutrients to the cells. The flower parts of dicots exist in multiples of four or five. The group is paraphyletic and, thus, are not a true natural group, from a systematic standpoint.


ORDER APIALES


    These are woody or herbaceous plants with resine conduits. Annual to perennial plants, their flowers contain both male and female organs.

Family Araliaceae

    The ivy family includes plants that range in habit from lianas to trees. In some of the Antilles the genus Dendropanax is found.



Dendropanax arboreus. Near Santa Barbara de Samana, north-eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Schefflera morototoni. Bosque del Milenio, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Umbelliferae

 

    Some members of this family have their leaves in the shape of little umbrellas (Latin umbella), hence the family's name. In the Antilles, members of Hydrocotyle are common in humid forests of the highlands.

 

Hydrocotyle hirsuta. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Coriander, Eryngium foetidum. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

This herb is commonly used as a spice in many West Indian dishes.


ORDER AQUIFOLIALES


Family Aquifoliaceae


    This family is represented in the region by small to medium-sized tree like those in the genus Ilex.



Ilex sintenisii, endemic to the Luquillo Mountain Range.
El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER ASTERALES


    This the largest order of flowering plants. Characterized by basal ovules and inferior ovaries, their most evident trait is the structure of their flowers. These are aggregated in heads with surrounding sepals. Thus the whole complex looks like a single flower when, in actuality, it contains several to many small flowers.


Family Asteraceae

 

    The largest family of flowering chlorobionts on planet Earth. Containing more than 1000 genera and 30000 species in every island bank and continent except Antarctica, it is rivaled in numbers only by orchids.

 

    Members of this Cosmopolitan group are characterized by the structure of their inflorescences. In most cases, an asteracean "flower" is actually a multitude of tiny flowers placed together in a "head" ("capitula") surrounded by whorls of petal-like bracts. Some species lack these bracts, and all one sees is the small capitula.

 

    Some asteraceans, like the sunflower and lettuce, have great economic importance as crops.


Bidens alba.

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

In this typical asteracean, the white bracts resembling petals surround a head of tiny, yellow flowers.



Bidens urbanii. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Bidens pilosa. Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

 

The flowers of Sphagneticola trilobata, surrounded by a whorl of bracts. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 


Lepidaploa borinquensis. Susua State Forest, south-westernl Puerto Rico.


Sonchus oleraceus. Mountaintop, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.
 

Asteracean flowers, species undetermined. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Pseudogynoxis chenopodiodes. Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Asteracean flowers, species undetermined. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.

 

Gundlachia corymbosa. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Emilia fosbergii. Aguas Buenas, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Seeds of Emilia fosbergii. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Pluchea odorata. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Erigeron bellioides. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This is one of the smallest of asteraceans. The flowers are about two millimeters in diameter.

 

Verbesina alata. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Wedelia lanceolata. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Wedelia fruticosa. Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Sphagneticola trilobata. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Chrysantellium americana. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.

 

Eclipta prostrata. Rio Abajo State Forest, central Puerto Rico.


Family Campanulaceae

 

    This a group of plants of temperate, subtropical, and montane tropical regions. They are represented in the Antilles by genera like Lobelia. Plants of this and related genera are dangerously poisonous if their parts of sap are ingested.

 

Puerto Rican lobelia, Lobelia portoricensis. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Lobelia assurgens. Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Lobelia rotundifolia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
 

Lobelia acuminata. Barbecue Bottom Road, north-central Jamaica.

 

Lobelia cirsifolia. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Lobelia brigittalis. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.



Lobelia
sp. Los Haitises National
Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

The highly poisonous Isotoma longiflora. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.

 

Centropogon sp. Constantine, south-central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.


Family Goodeniaceae

 

    The family is represented here by a Pantropical species belonging to a mainly Australian genus: Scaevola plumieri. This plant is principally found in littoral regions as a member of coastal forest communities.

 

Scaevola plumieri. Habit, flower and fruit.
Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER BRASSICALES


    A trait in common to most members of this family is the presence of mustard oils (glucosilonates). These substances give the peculiar flavor to some of the spices derived from several of these plants. They vary in habit from small herbs to woody trees.


Family Bataceae

 

    This is a group composed only of the genus Batis: the saltworts. Batis maritima is very common in Caribbean seashores. A halophyte, this plant thrives in salty soils near mangrove swamps and beaches. The only other species in the genus is found in the Australasian region.

 

    In some places, people add the succulent, salty leaves to salads.

 

Saltwort, Batis maritima.

First photograph: Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

Second photograph: Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Saltwort flats, composed mainly of Batis maritima. Neiba Valley, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

These plants form extensive aggregations in some regions of the West Indies.


Family Capparaceae

 

    The Pantropical family of about 800 species is represented in the region by genera like Cleome and Cynophala. Although some Old World members of this genus have been introduced into the West Indies, other species are native to the region.

 

Cynophala indica. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

A Mediterranean member of the genus, the caper (Capparis spinosa), is widely used in European-style cuisine.

 

Cynophala cynophallophora. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

 

Cynophala flexuosa. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.



Cynophala hastata. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

The beautiful spider flowers of Cleome spinosa.

Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Flower of Cleome aculeata, during anthesis. San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Hemiscoloa aculeata. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Caricaceae

 

    This small Neotropical family includes several trees used by man as food sources. Some of the genus Carica are cultivated for that purpose. Their melon-like fruits are borne near the top of their usually un-branched trunks. Alike relished by man and animals (especially frugivorous birds) the yellow-to-red flesh of its fruits has a sweet smell and taste. The juice is often used as meat tenderizer, since it contains an enzyme called "papaine" with dissolves connective tissue in animal flesh.

 

Papaya, Carica papaya. A Neotropical species, today its edible fruits are widely consumed around the World.

First photograph: slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

Second photograph, Barrenspot, central Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.


ORDER CARYOPHYLLALES


    These are plants with a varied morphology. However, many are specifically denizens of xeric areas or salty marshes and often possess succulent tissues devised to retain water in times of drought.

Family Cactaceae

 

    Cacti belong to an almost exclusively American family (only one species, shown below, is found in the Old World). By far, most species of cacti live in dry regions, like deserts, savannas, and xeric forests. Their thorns are modified stems that fulfill the purpose of deterring their predators. While some species possess leaves, it is in the upper cell layers of their trunks and branches where photosynthesis takes place.

 

Cacti, Consolea moniliformis. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Cacti are succulent plants, and the majority are adapted to arid conditions. The thorns that most species possess are actually modified leaf-stems.

Most species have lost their leaves and are covered in a waxy membrane in order to reduce evapotranspiration and, thus, the loss of precious water.

 

Cactus, Consolea rubescens. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Cacti, Cylindropuntia caribaea. Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This plant forms impenetrable tangles in xeric areas. Like similarly-shaped small cacti (see Opuntia repens, below)

it has the obnoxious trait of breaking off and clinging to clothes and skin at the slightest brush.

Often, you will not know you are carrying around a spiny branch attached to you jeans until you sit down right on it.

 

Cacti, Opuntia repens. A Puerto Rican bank endemic.
First photograph: Caja de Muerto Nature Reserve, off, southern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Mary Point, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.
 

Cactus, Opuntia rubescens. Barrenspot, central Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Cacti, Opuntia dillenii. Caja de Muerto Nature Reserve, off southern Puerto Rico.



Cactus, Opuntia triacantha. South-eastern Saba, Lesser Antilles.

 

Cacti, Pilosocereus royenii. Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

The species is mainly Lesser Antillean but reaches Puerto Rico, in the Greater Antilles.


The nocturnal flower and the fruit of Pilosocereus royenii.

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

Second photograph: Lajas, south-western Puerto Rico.



Cactus, Pilosocereus polygonus. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


 
Cactus, Stenocereus peruvianus. Lake Enriquillo National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Fruit of Hylocereus trigonus. Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 


Turk's cap cactus, Melocactus intortus. First photograph taken at Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

Second photograph taken at the Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico
Named thus for the resemblance of the flowering body to the turban of a Muslim sultan. The small flowers produce pink,

edible fruits with a flavor resembling that of strawberries.

 

Melocactus lamarei sp. Near Neiba, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Melocactus broadwallyi. Gilboa Hill, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.


Cacti, Mammillaria nivosa. Culebra Island, off eastern Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Mel Jose Rivera).

 

Cacti, Mammillaria prolifera. Ojo de Gato, south-central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Cacti, Selenicereus grandiflorus. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

Originally from Cuba and Jamaica, this species is now escaped from cultivation in many of the Antilles.

 

    The relatively few species of cacti of mesic habitats seldom have thorns, and might live as epiphytes on the large trees of humid and rain forests. Rhipsalis cacti resemble shaggy green beards as they hand from trees' branches.

 

Not all cacti are denizens of deserts and savannas. Some live in humid regions, even in rain forests.

The epiphytic cactus, Rhipsalis baccifera, hangs from the branches of trees. This is the only cactus naturally found in the Old World,

which it invaded naturally in the last few thousand years, possibly as seeds carried in the guts of migrant birds.

First two photographs: Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park, Utuado, central Puerto Rico.
Last photograph: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Family Droseraceae


    The sundews are one of the largest genera of carnovorous plants and are almost Cosmopolitan in distribution. They possess leaves with short tentacles, each tipped with a drop of mucilaginous, sticky fluid that lures tiny insects. Once one of these is trapped in the glue the leaf folds onto it and eventually digests it. The insect carcasses provide extra nutrients for these plants growing on nutrient-poor soils.

Drosera capillaris. Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.


Family Nyctaginaceae

 

    This family contains some familiar ornamentals like Bouganvillea. Native species include Pisonia, which are likewise shrubs or woody vines, often armed with thorns.

 

Pisonia aculeata. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Female flowers of the West Indian hoblolly, Pisonia subcordata. Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Boerhavia coccinea. Yauco, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Phytolaccaceae

 

    This group is characterized in the region by plants that produce long spikes or racemes or flowers and fruits, usually fleshy and blue, violet, or black in color.

 

Fruits of Phytolaca rivinoides.

Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.

 

Fruits of Rivina humilis. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Trichostigma octandrum. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Petiveria sp. Dorado, northern Puerto Rico.


Family Polygonaceae

 

    These are vines, shrubs and trees best represented in temperate regions, but many woody species are native to the tropics. Trees of the genus Coccoloba have large leaves, and bear their fruits in pendant racemes.

 

Unripe fruits of sea grape, Coccoloba uvifera. Spanish Town, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

This tree is an important component of littoral forests in the Antilles. It probably was the first plant ever seen by

the crew of Cristopher Colombus upon arriving to the coasts of the Americas.

 

Coccoloba pyrifolia. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Coccoloba microstachya. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Panicle of Coccoloba sintenisii. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Coccoloba krugii. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 


Some polygonaceans inhabit swamp and ponds.

This is Persicaria glabra. Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Puerto Rico.



Persicaria acuminata. Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER CELASTRALES


    This group exhibits simple leaves and regular flowers, and a single set of stamens in alternate positions on regards to the petals. Most species are woody in their habit.


Family Celastraceae


    Plants like the spoon tree, Cassine xylocarpa, and its Crossopetalum relatives inhabit coastal forests and xeric inland forests of the West Indies. They form part of the understory of their habitats. The fruits of many of these shrubs and trees are dangerously poisonous.

 

Cassine xylocarpum. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

 

Crossopetalum rhacoma.

First photograph: Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.



Elaeodendron xylocarpa. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER CHLORANTHALES


    These are mainly tropical, aromatic plants with opposite leaves with serrated edges. Their flowers are congregated in inflorescences and often lack petals.


Family Chloranthaceae

 

    Some aromatic bushes and trees of this family are found in the highland forests of the Antilles. In their case "aromatic" does not necessarily mean that their smells are aggreable to human noses. Species of Hedyosmum are there typical of this group.

 

Hedyosmum arborescens. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER CUCURBITALES


    Most of these plants are tropical. One of their main traits is their unisexual flowers usually with pointed petals, pollinated by wind or insects. Some plants in this group are important to man as food sources.


Family Begoniaceae

 

    Species of Begonia usually are succulent plants of humid habitats. Several varieties are cultivated as ornamentals in many parts of the World, and have been hybridized to produce plants much larger than their wild counterparts.

 

Two color morphs of Begonia decandra.
First two photographs: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Begonia oblicua. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Begonia humilis. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Begonia vicentina. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Begonia pensilis. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.



Begonia brachypoda. Isabel de Torres Nature Reserve, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Begonia sp. Port Antonio, Jamaica.



Begonia retusa. Slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.


Family Cucurbitaceae

 

    Cucumbers, melons, watermelons, pumpkins, and other edible fruits cultivated by man belong to this cosmopolitan family. West Indian species are usually inedible and, like most members of the family are tendriled vines.

 


Melothria guadalupensis.

First and third photograph: Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Dorado, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Doyerea emetocathatartica.

First photograph: Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.

Next two photographs: Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.



Psiguria trifoliata. Toa Alta, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER ERICALES


    A diverse group that grow flowers with fused sepals and sometimes also petals. The anthers are at least partially fused to the petals. Most of these plants are adapted to live in acidic, nutrient-poor soils like those found in bogs that occur in high latitudes and montane forests in the tropics.

Family Cyrillaceae

 

    The monotypic genus Cyrilla is common in the West Indies. It is found from the south-eastern Unites States to northern South America. Cyrilla racemifolia is one of the main components of Antillean montane rain forests. Interestingly, this plant is but a shrub in temperate latitudes, but grows as a tree in the tropics. The common trait of all populations is that they need waterlogged soils to thrive: flooded ground in the temperate regions (hence its common name), or rain-soaked soils in Caribbean mountains.

 

    As an interesting note, a certain swamp cyrilla in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico may be 3000 years old.

 

Swamp cyrilla, Cyrilla racemifolia. Known as "palo colorado" ("red tree") in Puerto Rico, this is a plant of very wet habitats.

A shrub typical of swamps and bogs in continental North America, it attains a far larger, tree size on the waterlogged soils of Greater Antillean

montane rain and cloud forests. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Ebenaceae

 

    This is a family of two genera found in both hemispheres. Dyospiros is Pantropical genus of about 250 species, with some entering temperate latitudes. Some forms are harvested for their wood, hard and dark in color, apt to be polished into beautiful shapes.

 

Puerto Rican ebony, Diospyros sintenisii.

Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Ericaceae

 

    The large family Ericaeae is cosmopolitan in distribution. Some members of temperate regions are food sources for humans and animals, as are huckleberries, blueberries, and cranberries. Tropical species are mostly restricted to cool montane habitats.


    Members of the small genus Gonocalyx are vines that climb up trees in cloud forests. There are 11 species in Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Dominica, Martinique, and South America. Two endemic Puerto Rican species found only in the highest reaches of the Cayey Mountain Range (Gonocalyx concolor), and the Luquillo Mountains (G. portoricensis).


Gonocalyx concolor. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Gonocalyx portoricensis. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Vaccinium racemosum.

First two photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Last photograph: Carite State Forest, east central Puerto Rico.



Lyonia stahli. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Lecythidaceae

 

    This group contains several trees with edible fruits, like the Brazil nut. In some of the Greater Antilles, the genus Grias fulfills that niche. The large oily nuts are consumed by the human population as well as several animals like parrots.


Grias cauliflora. Windsor, Jamaica, north-central Jamaica.


Family Marcgraviaceae

 

    Marcgravia vines are peculiar Neotropical plants that grow toward the light of mesic forests' canopies by adhering to trees by the means of rootlets protruding from small, flat leaves. Later, after the plants have reached a certain height, they send off horizontal branches with different, larger leaves. Their flowers are pollinated mainly by hummingbirds, and their red fruits are a staple in the diet of other birds.

 

Marcgravia plants creep up the trunks of trees.

Once they reach a certain height and light level, the send out lateral branches.

This is Marcgravia rectiflora. Sage Mountain National Park, west-central Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

 

Marcgravia sp. El Verde Biological Station, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Marcgravia rectiflora. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Marcgravia sintenisii, a Puerto Rican endemic.

Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Marcgravia umbellata.

First photograph: Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

Third photograph: Vermont Nature Reserve, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 

Marcgravia rubra. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Family Myrsinaceae

 

    West Indian members of this Tropicosmopolitan family include Ardisia trees. Their long leaves crowned with panicles of flowers and fruits are commonly seen in moist and semi-xeric forests in the Antilles.


Myrsine trinitensis. Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.



Myrsine cubana. Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.


Ardisia obovata. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.



Ardisia elliptica.
First photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.
Last two photographs: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Ardisia solanacea. Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Wallenia ilicifolia. Puerto Escondido, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Wallenia lamarkiana. The Quill National Park, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Myrcia citrifolia. Crown Mountain, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Cybianthus antillanus. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.


Family Sapotaceae

 

    West Indian species of the family include several members of Syderoxylon, common in humid and dry forests. Others, like the genus Manilkara, include the bulletwood, M. bidentata, so called for the hardness of its wood, and widespread in the Caribbean. Some species have produce edible fruits, and many have been widely used in the past for woodwork.

 

Puerto Rican bulletwood, Manilkara valenzuelana. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Manilkara pleeana. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

This is a Puerto Rican endemic.



Antillean bulletwood, Manilkara bidentata. Parque del Milenio, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Flowers of Chrysophyllum oliviforme. Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park, Utuado, central Puerto Rico.

 

The edible fruit of Chrysophyllum cainito. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Pouteria multiflora. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Micropholis guyanensis. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Micropholis garciinifolia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Theophrastaceae

 

    This Neotropical group is represented in the West Indias by genera like Jacquinia. They are found mostly in karstic areas and exposed cliffs in littoral forests.

 

Jacquinia umbellata. Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER FABALES


    This group of dycotiledons possess stipulate compound leaves, 10 or more stamens. Their dry fruits (legumes) open along two sutures to release the seeds.


Family Fabaceae

 

    The legumes form a large and varied family of plants with about 17000 species described to date. They can be herbs, shrubs, lianas, or trees, and are characterized mainly by the kind of fruit they produce. When mature, this is usually a dry, elongated capsule containing from one to many seeds. Some genera, like Phaseolus, (kidney beans and their relatives) and Cajanus (pigeon beans) are important crop plants worldwide.

 

    The family is divided into three subfamilies, mainly distinguished among themselves by the structure of their flowers.

 

Subfamily Caesalpinioideae

 

    The flowers of this subfamily are zygomorphic. This means that the flowers are bilaterally symmetrical, and in such way can be divided into halves only along one plane.

 

Chamaecrista glandulosa. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 

Hymenaea courbaril, tree and its fruits (a very large, woody legume). Caguas, east-central Puerto Rico.

Although this individual is young and small, this can become one of the largest native trees in the West Indies.

 

Bauhinia sp. Mount Hartman National Park, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Bauhinia divaricata. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.



Senna hirsuta. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.



Senna bicapsularis. Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Subfamily Mimosoideae

 

    This subfamily is characterized by their actinomorphic flowers. This means that the flowers are radially symmetrical, like a star, in such a way that they can be dissected along any vertical plane passing through their centers to form two identical halves.

 

    Some species in this group are peculiar for being sensitive to mechanical disturbance. When touched, their leaves will immediately close along the central stem.

 

    The intricacies of this unusual phenomenon, quite rare in the plant world, are very different from those of the movements of animals, which are based on the bioelectrical mechanics of muscles (which no plant has). In the case of sensitive plants, like those of the genus Mimosa, the movement of the leaves are caused by touch-induced variations of water pressure inside the plant's tissues. The water pressure drops suddenly (similar to the way an air-filled balloon deflates) lessening the turgidity of the leaves' stems, and this causes them to fold upon themselves.

 

    The sudden movements of members of unrelated families, like some "carnivorous" plants, are due to a similar process.

 

Acacia retusa. Mount Hartman National Park, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Sensitive plant (one of several species). This is Mimosa pudica. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.



Mimosa casta. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Neptunia plena. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Pithecellobium unguis-cati.

First two photographs: Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

Third photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Flowers of Inga vera. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Legumes of Inga laurina. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Mimosoidean flower, species undetermined. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Subfamily Papilionoideae

 

    In this subfamily the petals are fused together. The adaxial (superior-posterior) exterior of the lateral petals (wings) forms with the two anterior-inferior petals (keel) a strongly zygomorphic corolla. The result is that many of this flowers look remarkably like orchids.

 

    This is the group that contains those species with the greatest economic importance to man: the beans and peas so widely cultivated around the World.

 

    They vary from humble, hardly noticeable herbs and vines like Tephrosia, to huge trees like the elegant Pterocarpus.

 

Cannavalia rosea. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 


Wist vine flower, Centrosema virginianum.
First photograph: Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

A common legume throughout the Neotropics.

 

Flowers of Crotalaria verrucosa. San Juan, north-eastern Puerto.

The generic name ("rattler") derives from the sound made by the seeds when one moves the mature seed pods.

 

Crotalaria lotiflora. Susua State orest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

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

 

Legume flower, Desmodium adscendens.

Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.

 

Desmodium axillare. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 


Neorudolphia volubilis.

First photograph: Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

Second and last photographs: El Yunque Rain Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Barranquitas, central Puerto Rico.
This is a monotypic genus endemic to the island.

 

Papilionoidean flowers, species undeterminhed. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Pedro Genaro Rodriguez).

 

Erythrina corallodendron. Barbecue Bottom Road. north-central Jamaica.

 

Poitea paucifolia. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Poitea punicea.
First photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Sabana Grande, south-western Puerto Rico.

Third photograh: Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Poitea florida. Arecibo, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Pterocarpus officinalis trees produce masses of yellow inflorescences, each flower lasting but one day.

In spring and summer, where many are found together, the ground seems to be covered in yellow snow as the delicate flowers rain down in the afternoons.

In some areas, Pterocarpus form an unique sort of tropical lowland flooded forest with a low plant-species richness but of a peculiar structure.

These areas are important refuges for a number of North American migrant birds, as well as for waterfowl of several kinds, especially native and migrant ducks.

Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

In contrast with the frail beauty of other species in this subfamily this interesting, if obnoxious, plant is

Mucuna urens. The coarse hairs covering the seed pods can cause a nasty rash.

Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.



Mucuna pruriens. Piñones, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Tephrosia cinerea. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Vigna luteola. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Vigna vexillata. Forth Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Dalbergia ecastaphylla. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Galactia striata. Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Clitoria laurifolia. Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Galactia dubia. Mata de Platano Field Station, Arecibo, northern Puerto Rico.



Lonchocarpus pentaphyllus. Grande Anse, north-eastern Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.


Family Polygalaceae

 

    A Pantropical family of which the genus Polygala is typical. With more than 500 species on both hemispheres, these range from small annual herbs to trees. Several species are endemic to the Antilles.

 


Flower of the Puerto Rican endemic, Phlebotaenia cowellii.

Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Polygala paniculata, a small herb of clearings in mesic forests.

Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


ORDER GENTIANALES


    This order is characterized by opposite leaves and the frequent occurent of alkaloids in their tissues. These compounds are often poisonous and even deadly to many animals. In fact, many insect species that feed on the sequester these chemicals, incorporating them into their own tissues and making themselves unpalatabable to predators.


Family Apocynaceae

 

    Many of these plants possess deadly toxins. However, they are notorious for being the larval food plant of a number of insects. Particularly, some sphynxid moths' caterpillars incorporate the plants' alkaloids to their own tissues, thus becoming toxic themselves.

 

    Several species of Plumeria are found in the Caribbean. They usually have large, colorful flowers with a sweet fragrance.

 

Plumeria alba. Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.



Plumeria stenopetala. Parque Nacional del Este, eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Pentalinon luteum.
First photograph: Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.
Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Forsteronia portoricensis. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Apocynacean flower, species undetermined. Jaragua National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Thevetia peruviana. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Family Asclepiadaceae

 

    Milkweeds and many of their relations produce a toxic white latex that has earned them their common names. Asclepias curassavica is common in the Antilles, and is known to be the main food source for the (also toxic) butterflies of the genus Danaus (the monarch and its relatives).

 

    Several members of the family develop their seeds in dry pods. The seeds often have fluffy tufts of hair that allow them to be dispersed by the wind.

 


Scarlet milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.



Another morph of Asclepias curassavica. Southern Saint Christopher, Lesser Antilles.

 

Opened seed pod of Asclepias curassavica. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

Several species of plants in diverse families produce seeds with long, fluffy hairs that help them to disperse by wind action.

 

White milkweed, Asclepias nivea. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 


Matelea maritima.

First photograph: The Quill National Park, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

Unlike the previous species, this is a woody vine.

 

Metastelma parviflorum. Caja de Muerto Nature Reserve, off southern Puerto Rico.

 

Metastelma sp. Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.


Family Gentianaceae

 

    These are frequently shrubs and small herbs with a bitter sap. Many of the species have elongated, tubular or campanulate flowers.

    The Neotropical genus Lisianthius comprises about 50 species from southern Mexico to northern South America and the Antilles. Their delicate, elongated flowers can be seen in the understory of humid forests and in Spanish-speaking countries have earned them the name of "campanillas" ("tiny bells"). Some people use them to make tea.

 

Lisianthius laxiflorus. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

The species is endemic to this island.

 

Lisianthius longifolius. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Lisianthius capitatus. Barbecue Bottom Road, north-central Jamaica.



Lisianthius umbellatus. Barbecue Bottom, north central Jamaica.

 

Irlbachia alata. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

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

 

Ghost plant, Voyria aphylla. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

This tiny but fascinating plant is a saprophyte, obtaining its nourishment from decaying organic matter, and having no chlorophyll.

Its only parts visible above ground are its flowers. The epithet "aphylla" means, indeed, "without leaves".


Family Rubiaceae

 

    The best-known rubiaceans are certain Old World bushes from which humans have elaborated the most popular drink on Earth, after water: coffee. This is an infusion of the grounded seeds of Coffea arabica and a few related species. Most members of the family produce fruits in the form of berries, often brightly colored.

 

    This group is very well represented in the Antilles. In the West Indies, plants of the genera Psychotria and Gonzalagunia produce red, blue, or purple fruits sought after by some birds and other animals. Other species, like Hillia vines, are frequently found growing among ferns and grasses in forest clearings, or climbing up trees in forest gaps.

 

    In all, the family has a plethora of genera and species in the Antilles.


Gonzalagunia spicata.

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

Second photograph: Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Fruits of Psychotria brownei. Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.


Fruits of Psychotria berteroana. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


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



Psychotria brachiata. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Flower and fruits of Psychotria urbaniana.

First photograph: Syndicate, north-central Dominica, Lesser Antlles.

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


Chiococca alba. Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
 

Lasianthus lanceolatus. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Notopleura guadalupensis.

First photograph: Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

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

Fruits of Notopleura uliginosa. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Cubanola domingensis. The genus is shared by Cuba and Hispaniola.
First photograph: Parque Nacional del Este, eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Second photograph: National Botanical Garden, Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Hillia parasitica.
First and third photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

In spite of its epithet, this organism is not a parasite.

 

Rondeletia inermis.
First photograph: Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.


Hamelia axillaris. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Hamelia patens. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Diodia serrulata. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Spermacoce assurgens. Bonne Resolution. central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Palicourea croce. Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.



Palicourea croceoides. Parque del Milenio, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Palicourea pulchra. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.

 

Mitracarpus portoricensis. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Mitracarpus polycladus. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

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

Second photograph: Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Coccocypselum herbaceum. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Ernodea littoralis. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Erithalis odorifera. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.



Erithalis fruticosa. Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.



Guettarda scabra.
First photograph: The Quill National Park, Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Guettarda elliptica. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Guettarda pungens. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.


ORDER LAMIALES


    All the families in this group have the petals of their flowers fused into a tube. They usually have four stamens and ovaries composed of a pair of fused carpels. The oily substances produced by some species are used as spices or as bases for perfumes. They give some species like organos and mints their characteristic smells.

   

Family Acanthaceae

 

    This is a family that includes several genera of plants with tubular flowers designed to be pollinated by hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths, all of which can reach the nectar with their long bills or proboscii.

 

Drejerella jamaicensis. Barbecue Botton, north-central Jamaica.
Tubular flowers like these are often pollinated by hummingbirds, which can probe them with their long beaks and tongues.

 

Justicia carthaginensis.

Near Great Pond, southern Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Justicia adhotoda. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.



Justicia sp. Cambalache State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.



The minuscule flower of Justicia martinsoniana. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Ruellia coccinea.

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

Second photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Ruellia tuberosa. Pinones State Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Ruellia elegans. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Ruellia brittoniana. Mayaguez, western Puerto Rico.

 

Oplonia spinosa. Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.

A common shrub or small tree of karstic and serpentien forests in several Caribbean islands.



Oplonia microphilla. Gorda Peak National Park, central Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Siphonoglossa sessilis. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Odontonema nitidum. Grant Etang National Park, Central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Geophila repens. Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Bignonaceae

 

    These are shrubs and trees with usually tubular or trumpet-shaped flowers, characterized in the Antilles by trees like Crescentia calabashes and Tabebuia "cedars".

 

    Although not edible, calabashes figured in pre-Columbian West Indian cultures as freshwater vessels used during long journeys among islands. They are also dried out and used as percussion musical instruments to this day.

 


Fruit of a calabash tree, Crescentia cujete. Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park, Utuado, central Puerto Rico.
These trees bear their flowers and fruits whose flowers and fruits straight from its trunk and branches.
The Taino and Carib Amerindians of the Antilles used the hollowed-out  fruits as water reservoirs when traveling.

 

Puerto Rican calabash, Crescentia portoricensis. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

This is a rare and endangered species of the mesic forests of the island.

 

Crescentia sp. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Calabash, Crescentia linearifolia. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

    Other members of these family are the Tabebuia trees and shrubs that are common in the Neotropics. Several species are endemic to the Antilles and some bloom spectacularly during certain seasons. Their red, pink, or yellow flowers cover the ground around them after they fall off.

 


Flowers of Tabebuia karsoana.

First photograph: Juana Díaz, southern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.


Tabebuia haemantha.

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

Second photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

White cedar flowers, Tabebuia heterophylla.

First photograph: Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Parque Central, San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Third photograph: Bahia Ballena Nature Reserve, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Tabebuia sp. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Tabebuia rigida. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Endemic to the cloud forests of the Luquillo Mountain Range in that island.

 

    Finally, some of these plants are vines, like Distictis and Schlegelia common in xeric and mesic forests, respectively.

 

Distictis lactiflora.
First photograph: Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico. These flowers show incisions caused by birds in order to rob theor otherwise unreachable nectar.

The large flowers of this plant are similar to those of the related Dolichandra vines.

 

Another bignonacean vine: Schlegelia brachyantha.

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

Last photograph: Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Dolichandra unguis-cati. Mount Sage, west-central Tortola, British Virgin Islands.


Family Boraginaceae

 

    This group is Cosmopolitan in distribution. Some of the Antillean species like, those of Bourreria, produce small, delicate flowers common along trails in humid and dry forests. The bright orange or red flowers of some Cordia trees are avidly fed upon by some Antillean hummingbirds.

 

Flowers and fruit of pigeon berry, Bourreria succulenta. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Bourreria dominguensis. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Bourreria virgata. Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.
 

Hound's tooth, Cynoglossum sp.

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

 

Cordia dentata. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Flowers of the trumpet tree, Cordia sebestena. Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Cordia polycephala. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Cordia lima. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Heliotropium angiospermum. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Tournefortia gnaphalodes. Guanahacabibes Peninsula, western Cuba.
(Photographs courtesy of Mr. Nathan Manwaring).


Family Gesneriaceae


    Gesneria, produce beautiful, if short-lived, flowers. Columnea shrubs are similar in appearance, and several species are epiphytes.

 

Gesneria cuneifolia.

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

Second photograph, Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 

Gesneria pedunculosa.
First two photographs: Sabana Grande, south-western Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Gesneria ventricosa.
First photograph: Ravin Poisson, central Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: summit of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.



Gesneria viridiflora. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Gesneria pauciflora. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.

 

Gesneria sp. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Alloplectus pubescens. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Crantzia cristata, flowers and fruits.

First photograph: Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

Second photograph: near Morne Anglais, southern Dominica.

Last photograph: Morne Trois Pitons National Park, central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.



Besleria lutea. Slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

 

Rhytidophyllum auriculatum.
First two photographs: Barbecue Bottom Road. north-central Jamaica.
Last photograph: Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.



Rhytidophyllum tomentosum. Isabel de Torres Nature Reserve, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

Nautilocalyx melittifolius. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Nautilocalyx sp. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 

Columnea scandens.

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

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

 

Columnea jamaicensis. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 

Columnea ambigua, flower, leaves, and fruit.

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

Last two photographs: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Purple gloxinia, Gloxinia perennis. Port Antonio, north-eastern Jamaica.


Family Labiatae

 

    Hyptis, Salvia, and related plants are small herbs of road banks and forest clearings. Their inflorescences take take the form of small, roundish heads of small flowers. The flowers of Salvia, some resembling small hibiscus, can be seen mostly in mesic areas on lower mountains. The genus is Pantropical and also found in the warm-temperate regions of both hemispheres. There are more than 500 species in the Americas alone.

 

Salvia coccinea. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.



Salvia occidentalis. Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser antilles.

 

Scutellaria purpurascens. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Lentibulariaceae

 

    Several tiny bladderworts of the genus Utricularia grow in sandy or swampy regions of the West Indies, and have bladder-like appendages modified to trap small animals that are later digested with enzymes secreted by the plant. In the rain forests of the Antilles, however, some species have adapted to an epiphytic existence. These are also predators, but their small bladders are adapted to trap the minute fauna that inhabits the soaking wet trunks and mosses of cloud forests.

 

    Utricularia is the largest genus of carnivorous plants. Their bladders are among the most complex and evolved structures found among chlorobionts. Prey brushing against minute trigger hairs cause the bladder to suck in its door and the surrounding water, then closing the door again and trapping the small animal, all within thousands of a second.



Aquatic species of bladderworts, like this Utricularia obtusa, often resemble small filamentous algae.
Toa Baja, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Bladderwort, Utricularia alpina. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

This epiphytic species clings to branches in cloud forests. The third photograph shows the small whitish bladders

(far smaller than the two large, obvious bulbs) which with the plant traps small invertebrates.



Puerto Rican bladderwort, Utricularia gibba. Tortuguero Nature Reserve. northern Puerto Rico.

 

    Butterworts are a group of rather unspecialized carnivorous plants which leaves secrete enzymes and other substances capable of trapping and digesting small insects like mosquitoes and gnats.  Some species of Pinguicula, including those in the West Indies, are epiphytes on trees and shrubs, and indeed look like small bromeliads, an unrelated group of mainly epiphytic plants found in many forests of the Americas.

 

Hispaniolan butterwort, Pinguicula casabitoana. Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve, central Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

This plant is endemic to a small area in Hispaniola, and is considered endangered due to disturbance within its small range.

(Second photograph courtesy of Mr. Miguel Angel Landestoy).

Family Plantaginaceae

 

    This Pantropical group is composed mostly of low-lying herbs that produce vertical inflorecences like spikes.

 

Plantago lanceolata. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.



Licorice weed, Scoparia dulcis. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Schrophulariaceae

 

    This group of mainly temperate regions of the World includes several aquatic or parasitic species. The great majority are small herbs, but a few are trees or lianas.

 

Mecardonia procumbens. Rio Abajo State Forest, central Puerto Rico.


Family Verbenaceae

 

    The group includes several West Indian representatives of the genus Lantana. These relatives of oregano (with the same odor in their leaves) are common mainly in xeric forests and in clearings of otherwise mesic areas.

 


Lantana sp. Central Mountain Range, Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Lantana sp. Near Cabral, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 


Lantana camara.
First two photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Third photograph: Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.


Lantana urticifolia. Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Citharexylum caudatum. Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

This small tree is found in the cloud forests of the Greater Antilles.



Citharexylum spinosum. Northern shore of Saint Croix.


Stachytarpheta jamaicensis. Mountain Top, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Stachytarpheta mutabilis. Near Kingloss, north-central Jamaica.

 

Clerodendrum aculeatum. Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Cornutia pyramidata. Grande Anse, north-eastern Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.



Bouchea sp. Parque Nacional del Este, south-eastern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


ORDER LAURALES


    This order is closely related to the rather primitive Magnoliales. In comparison to those, they possess more inferior ovaries. Many species produce aromatic oils used in spices and medicines and some, like avocadoes, are important crops.


Family Lauraceae

 

    This family contains some trees with edible fruits like the avocado, Persea americana. The forests of the Antilles contain numerous species of the related genera Ocotea and Nectandra.

 

Nectandra coriacea. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

Several species of these relatives of avocadoes are common in the Antilles.



Nectandra patens. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.

 

Fruit of Licaria parvifolia. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 


Ocotea leucoxylon. First photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Some lauraceans are parasites of other plants. This is Cassytha filiformis.

Sandy Point National Wildlife Refure, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.


ORDER MAGNONIALES


    These have frequently been considered the most primitive among living flowering plants. However, some species have highly derived morphological traits. Of all dicotyledons, magnoliales are the ones most closely related to monocots. Some tropical species are highly regarded for their fruits.


Family Annonaceae

 

    Some tropical trees bear their flowers and fruits on their trunks and branches instead of growing them in terminal inflorescences. This spatial arrangement makes it easier for the flowers to be pollinated, and for the fruits to be eaten (and the seeds dispersed) by flying animals.

 

    One family of plants with some members that show this characteristic is Annonaceae, which includes the soursop and other Neotropical trees of the genus Annona. Several species of the genus produce edible fruits sought after by both animals and humans alike.

 


Fruit of wild soursop, Annona montana. El Rosario, south-western Puerto Rico.
Several members of this genus from tropical America are cultivated for their sweet, edible fruits.

 

Common soursop, Annona muricata. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Annona reticulata. Cabrits National Park, north-western Dominica, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER MALPIGHIALES

    One of the largest groups of flowering plants, this taxon is extremely varied at the morphological level. However, molecular studies seem to point to the fact that they indeed comprise a monophyletic assemblage.

Family Clusiaceae

 

    These trees or shrubs produce a yellowish, sticky sap, and possess coriaceous leaves. The rose-apples and related species, of the genus Clusia are shrubs or trees  found in humid and montane forests of the Antilles and tropical continental America. Some of the 150 species are stranglers. Their large, leathery leaves are so long-lived and resilient that in the past people used to write on them and use them like postcards.

 


Rose apples, Clusia rosea, habit, flower and fruit.
First photograph: Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.
  Next two photographs: Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
Last photograph: Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.



Clusia major. Soufriere, south-western Sain Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

 

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

 

Flower of Clusia clusioides. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Leaves and flowers of Clusia gundlachii, a Puerto Rican bank endemic.
First and third photographs: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
The flowers of this species are unique among those in its genus, and seem to be the result of the fusion of several floral parts.

 

Garcinia portoricensis. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Combretaceae

 

    This family includes some trees common in coastal areas of the West Indies, like the Conocarpus and Laguncularia "mangroves". Not being true mangroves, they nonetheless are adapted to saline soils. Other species are large trees of humid and rain forests.

 

    The huge tabular roots of Buchevania are a common sight in the montane forests of several islands. Other species, like Bucida buceras, are more common in xeric to sub-mesic regions. Strangely, the bark of Bucida trees is frequently covered in epiphytes, while that of other tree species nearby is not.

 

Buchevania capitata. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Panicle of Bucida buceras, a common tree of the dryer regions of the Antilles.

Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Chrysobalanaceae

 

    The genus Chrysobalanus is peculiar in having a disjunct distribution spanning the New and Old Worlds. C. icaco is widely distributed in the neotropical region, and is found as well in western Africa.

 

    The somewhat astringent fruits are edible, as are the nut-like seeds.

 

Flowers and fruit of the coco-plum, Chrysobalanus icaco.

First photograph: Sage Mountain National Park, west-central Tortola, British Virgin Islands.

Second photograph: Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.
Third photograph: Piñones, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



The Puerto Rican endemic, Hirtella rugosa. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Erythroxylaceae

 

    This family includes one of the most famous - or infamous - plants on Earth: the South American coca shrub, Erythroxylon coca, from which the narcotic cocaine is derived. West Indian members of the genus do not produce high quantities of the alkaloid which gives rise to the drug. Thus, they are not attractive to the illegal drug market.

 

West Indian coca shrub, Erythroxylum brevipes. Cabo Rojo State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Erythroxylum aerolatum. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Euphorbiaceae

 

    These are herbs, shrubs, or trees many of which produce a milky, sticky latex. In some species, this substance produces a severe dermatitis if it comes in contact with the skin, and the leaves and fruits of a few are deadly poisonous, if ingested.

 

Euphorbia heterophylla. Florida, central Puerto Rico.


Euphorbia cyathophora. Cambalache State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.


Mountain dog, Acidoton urens. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

The stiff and whitish hair of this Jamaican endemic produce an immediate burning, creepy sensation upon contact with skin. Really unpleasant.
(Photographs courtesy of Dr. Susan Koenig).

 

Chamaesyce articulata. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Male flowers, male flower, female flower, and mature fruit of sandbox tree, Hura crepitans. Near Creque Dam, north-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

This is a highly poisonous tree common in humid forests throughout the Caribbean.

The fruits dry out as they mature, and eventually explode (hence the specific epithet, "crepitans") thus dispersing the seeds

Fierce thorns cover the tree trunk and main branches.

 

Croton flavens.
First photograph: northern Saba, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Croton humilis. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Acalypha portoricensis. Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

The "leaves" of Phyllanthus epiphyllanthus are actually modified stems adapted to carry out photosynthesis.

The flowers sprout directly from the stems.

Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Although euphorbiaceans are frequently poisonous, some species do have edible fruits.

These are grosellas, Phyllanthus acidus. Cruz Bay, western Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Phyllanthus niruri. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

Unlike the previous species, which is a tree, this and the next species are tiny herbs.

 

Drypetes silicifolia. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Stinging vine, Tragia volubilis. This species produces a burning sensation upon contact with skin.

Cambalache State Forest, northern-Puerto Rico.

 

Sapium laurocerasus.
First photograph: Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Jatropha gossypifolia. Mount Hartman National Park, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 


The leaves and fruit of what may easily be the deadliest plant of the entire Antillean islands: the manchineel, Hippomane mancinella.

Its sweet-smelling and -tasting fruits are extremely poisonous and, indeed, all parts of the tree contain a caustic sap capable of causing a severe dermatitis

on a person who as much as seeks shelter under it during a rainstorm. Even the smoke from its burning wood can irritate the eyes, nose, and mouth of a

human who is exposed to it if only briefly. Its Caribbean vernacular name in several languages, "death apple", is far from being a bluff.

First photograph: Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Grande Anse, north-eastern Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.


Omphalea triandra. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.


Family Malpighiaceae

 

    This pantropical family is represented in the West Indies by plants like those of the Neotropical genus Stigmaphyllon. These are woody lianas with brightly colored flowers and winged fruits. Their many stems entwine around one another, forming strong, rope-like structures.


Malpighia coccigera. Maricao State forest, western Puerto Rico.


The flower and the delicious, sweet-sour fruits of the acerola cherry, Malpighia emarginata.

First photograph: Gilboa Hill, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.
Second photograph: Mount Hartman Bay, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.


Stigmaphyllon emarginatum. Near Marigot, north-western Saint Martin.


 
Heteropteris purpurea
. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


Byrsonima spicata. Millet Nature Reserve, central Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

Byrsonima lucida. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Byrsonima crassifolia. Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Ochnaceae

 

    This family in Pantropical, and so is the genus that best represents it in the Caribbean region: Ouratea. These are large shrubs with colorful, showy flowers, and strangely shaped fruits. Uncommon in coastal forests, the masses of flowers can be seen from afar.

 

Ouratea littoralis.
First two photographs: Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.
Last photograph: Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.


Sauvagesia erecta. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Passifloraceae

 

    Passion fruit plants and their relatives are a group of vines distributed mainly in tropical America and Africa. The genus Passiflora typifies the family in the West Indies. These climbing plants cling to other vegetation by ways of tendrils. The sap is poisonous, but the fruits of several species are sweet and edible. In some species the flowers can be small to almost minute. However, some of the largest flowers in the genus may be spectacular and colorful elaborations that in some species look almost like sessile animals. In fact passion plants are increasingly favored by some horticulturists who now consider them among their most prized possessions.

Passion flower fruit, Passiflora sp. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Passiflora foetida. Forth Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

A "hairier" variety of Passiflora foetida, flower and fruit. Grande Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

The tiny flower of Passiflora multiflora. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.


Passiflora sp. San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

While passionflowers have not been awarded the same honors as orchids, some of them can be truly spectacular in their colors and designs.

 

Passiflora sexflora. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.


Passiflora rubra. Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Passiflora tulae, flower and fruit. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.
This plant produces one of the most elaborate and beautiful flowers in the Puerto Rican insular bank.


Passiflora murucuja. National Botanical Garden, Santo Domingo, southern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Passiflora subpeltata. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos.
(Photograph courtesy of Mr. Joseph Burgess).


Passiflora suberosa. Mountaintop, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.



Passiflora laurifolia. Toa Alta, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Salicaceae

 

    Trees of the genus Xylosma, like the entire family they belong to, are found mainly in continents of the southern hemisphere. Some of these trees possess bunches of thorns on their trunks that which climbing herbivorous animals from accessing the leaves higher up.

 

The leaves and thorns of Xylosma buxifolium.

First photograph: Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Cambalache State Forest, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Casearia sylvestris. Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Homalium racemosum. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.



Samyda dodecandra. Gilboa Hill, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.


Family Rhizophoraceae

 

    The family of the true mangroves. In the West Indies it is represented by the red mangrove. Being found in littoral areas, their seeds travel far and wide, and several species of the family have spread vastly through coastal areas of the World.

 

Toward the sea, beyond the littoral forests, are the mangrove swamps of the Caribbean islands.

These are the fruits of the red mangrove, Rhizophora mangle. They fall point-first on the muddy or

sandy substrate, and then germinate, thus spreading the extent of the forest seaward.

 

Cassipourea guianensis. Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.


Family Turneraceae

 

    Turnera shrubs and trees are native to the Neotropics. Their flowers somewhat resemble those of some malvaceans, like Hibiscus

 

Turnera ulmifolia. Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Turnera diffusa. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER MALVALES


    The several families of this cosmopolitan groups vary in their habit from tiny herbs to huge trees. They are placed together on the basis of genetic-molecular similarities. Recently, some families have been fused into the single family Malvaceae.


Family Malvaceae

 

    This shrubs and trees greatly epitomize the concept of tropical flowers, for many people. These frequently are large, showy, and colorful. Some of the best known members of the family are the diverse species of hibiscus, as well as cotton. Genera like Hibiscus, Pavonia, Urena, and Thespesia adorn Antillean forests with the bright colors of their inflorescences. Some species of Thespesia and Hibiscus, small shrubs in other regions, are large trees endemic to these islands.

 

Pavonia spinifex. Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Pavonia fruticosa. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Malvastrum coromandelianum. Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas.

 


Puerto Rican hibuscus, flower and fruits, Thespesia grandiflora.

First photograph: San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
This giant hibiscus is endemic to the lowland humid forests of that island, but has been spread through cultivation.

Its flowers are among the largest in the Caribbean islands.

 


Sea hibiscus, Thespesia populnea. A Tropicosmopolitan tree of coastal areas.
First photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: San Juan north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Urena lobata. Guilarte State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

Urena sinuata. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

 

Hibiscus pernambucensis. A species widespread in the Neotropics.

First photograph: Caguas, east-central Puerto Rico.

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

 

 

Hibiscus phoeniceus, red and white morphs. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 


Wild cotton, Gossypium barbadense.
First photograph: Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.
One of the many plants common in Antillean xeric forests.
Perhaps of South American origin, it is not known for certain if this species invaded the West
Indies through natural means, or if it was brought here by South American Indians migrating north and west

through the islands, from the continent. Since times immemorial, they have used these fibers to manufacture textiles.

 

The diminutive Sida repens. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.



Triumfeta lappula. Slopes of The Quill, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 


Malvacean flowers, species undetermined. Mount Hartman National Park, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Melochia tomentosa. Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.

 

Melochia villosa. Yauco, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Melochia sp. Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Helicteres jamaicensis. Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

Corchorus hirsutus. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Corchorus hirtus. Florida, central Puerto Rico.


    The balsa-wood group is represented in the West Indies by trees like the kapok, Ceiba pentandra. This is a large tree with buttress roots that help it withstand its own weight, especially during hurricanes. Young kapoks have their trunks covered in large thorns that fall off at the plant matures.

 

    On regards to volume, some Antillean Ceiba are among the most massive terrestrial organisms in the region and may be a few thousand years old. Sadly, many of these giants were cut down long ago for their wood.

 

The enormous buttress roots of a kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra.

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



The gigantic kapok trees begin life as minuscule seeds that develop inside pods filled with fluffy fibers.
Upon maturing, the pods open and release the seeds, which fly long distances to colonize new areas away from the parent tree.


Kapok tree, Ceiba latifolia. Cabrits National Park, north-western Dominica, Lesser Antilles.



Ceiba sp. The Quill National Park, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

Family Muntingiaceae

    The monotypic genus Muntingia is the sole representative of this family in the Caribbean islands. Muntingia calabura has been introduced into many areas due to its edible fruit, but it originates in the Neotropics. The tiny seeds are dispersed by birds, bats, and people after they eat the sweet fruits.


Muntingia calabura. Cartagena Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER MYRTALES


    This order is mainly tropical although a few families are mostly found in temperate regions. They opposite, simple leaves, compound pistils and a large number of stamens.


Family Lythraceae

 

    Cuphea are herbs or shrubs with elongated, funnel- or tube-like flowers. The 200 or so species are all American, mostly found in the Neotropics.

 

Cuphea ignea. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Cuphea micrantha. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Melastomataceae

 

    This family includes the Neotropical genera Miconia and Tetrazygia. Their small flowers are produced in panicles growing from the sides of the branches or terminally, at their apexes. Some species of Miconia have made unpleasant news after they invaded areas where they are not native, like the Hawaiian islands.

 

Miconia sp., possibly M. pyramidale. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Flowers of Miconia racemosa. Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Berries of Miconia racemosa. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Miconia sintenisii. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Melastome flower, species undetermined. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 


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

 

Tetrazygia elaeagnoides. Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Tetrazygia crotonifolia. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.



Tetrazygia urbanii. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Clidemia cymosa. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Clidemia hirta. First photograph: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Clidemia erythropogon. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.


Leandra krugii. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

An endemic to the highland rain and serpentine forests of central and western regions of the island.



Conostegia balbisiana. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica

 

Melastome flowers, species undetermined.

Near Pie Pol, Bahoruco Mountains, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Arthrostema fragile. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.

 


Tibouchina cistoides. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.

 

Mecranium latifolium. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Charianthus alpinus. Nevis Peak, central Nevis, Lesser Antilles.



Charianthus purpureus. Mount Scenery, central Saba Lesser Antilles.



Blakea trinervia. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.


Family Myrtaceae

 

    Guavas and relatives belong to this group. A number of endemic species, particularly of the genus Eugenia, are found in the Antilles and the circum-Caribbean region. One or another species is common in xeric and humid forests.

 

Eugenia woodburyana, an endangered small tree endemic to Puerto Rico. Yauco, south-western Puerto Rico.

(Photograph courtesy of Dr. José Salguero).


Eugenia pseudopsidium. Cambalache State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Eugenia borinquensis, endemic to the cloud forests of the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Eugenia biflora. Bosque del Milenio, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Eugenia monticola. Fort Buchanan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Eugenia procera. Mountaintop, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Flower and fruits of the guava tree, Psidium guajava. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.

The genus is endemic to the Neotropics, and this particular species is widely cultivated for its edible fruits.

 

Another species of guava, Psidium amplexicaule. Gorda Peak National Park, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Guavaberry, Myrciaria floribunda. Charlotte Amalie, southern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

The juices on this fruit are mixed with rum to make a very nice drink.


Family Onagraceae

 

    This group contains members of the genus Fuchsia. Popular garden plants, some species are native to the West Indies. Their brightly-colored flowers draw the attention of those visiting some highland forests in the West Indies.

 


Fuchsia pringsheimii. Bahoruco National Park, south-western Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Ludwigia octovalvis. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This species is widespread throughout the world's tropics.


ORDER NYNPHEALES


    An ancient but poorly defined group, these are among the most primitive spermatophytes. Many are aquatic plants, either submerged or emergent. Some produce spectacular flowers.


Family Nympheaceae

 

    Water lilies are plants adapted to live in ponds, lakes, and slow rivers. Their roots and stems are found under water while their leaves and flowers are located at and above the water's surface. Several species of this family can be found in West Indian ponds and lakes, and some have beautiful, and sometimes fragrant, flowers.

 

Water lily, Nymphaea coerulea. Beef Island, off eastern Tortola, British Virgin Islands.


ORDER OXALIDALES


    Members of this order are heterogeneus in their morphology, and contain some economically important timber trees and fruit trees. Some herbaceous species are widely cultivated as ornamentals, especially some members of the genus Oxalis, which is cosmopolitan in distribution. Others are gigantic trees found in tropical forests.


Family Eleocarpaceae

 

    This family is widespread in the tropics of Asia, Australia and as far a New Zealand. However, in the Americas it has a strangely disjunct distribution in western South America and the West Indies. Some members of the group are gigantic trees of the Antillean rain forests. Their buttress roots can be several times higher than a man, and form natural mazes covered in epiphytes.


The enormous buttress roots of Sloanea caribaea. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

The rotten hollow in the photograph on the left is tall and wide enough for a grown man to walk through it.

 

Bole of Sloanea dentata. Northern Forest Reserve, Dominica, Lesser Antilles.


Family Oxalidaceae

 

    Shamrocks live throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the World. Their leaves are trifoliate (divided into three leaflets).


Shamrock, Oxalis latifolia. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Shamrock, Oxalis corniculata. Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.


Shamrock, Oxalis barrelieri. Grand Etang National Park, central Grenada, Lesser Antilles.

 

Oxalis sp. Eggleston, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER PIPERALES


    This order contains three families, one of which is of economic importance to man as producers of spices. Their flowers are either large and showy or, more comonly, minute and borne in fleshy spikes. Most species are tropical in their distibution.


Family Piperaceae

 

    Members of this family are represented in the Antilles by, among others, species of Piper and Peperomia. Piper are terrestrial shrubs, vines or trees, while species of Peperomia are terrestrial, epiphytic, or epilithic herbs. One Old World species is used widely as a spicy condiment, namely the seeds of Piper nigrum: pepper.


    These plants bear their minute flowers and seeds in erect or hanging spikes. Several species of bats feed on these, and the spatial arrangements of the spikes allow for easy detachment by the flying mammals, which then help spread the seeds by defecating them in flight over the forests.

 

Piper aduncum and similar species bear fruits shaped as spikes, which are a favored food item of many fruit-eating bats.
Central Mountain Range of the Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.

 

Piper glabrum. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, south-central Dominica, Lesser Antilles.

 

Piper amalago. Carolina, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Fruits of Piper blattarum. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Peperomia magniifolia. Sage Mountain National Park, west-central Tortola, British Virgin Islands.



Peperomia wheeleri. Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.


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



Peperomia hernandifolia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Peperomia rotundifolia. Juncos, east-central Puerto Rico.

 

The minuscule Peperomia emarginella, with leaves only a few millimeters across. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Peperomia sp. Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.



Peperomia pellucida. San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.
This small plant is used by local people to make make a sort of bittersweet tea.



Peperomia sp. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Peperomia glabella. The Quill National Park, northern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.


Lepianthes peltata.
First photograph: Rio Abajo State Forest, northern Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.


ORDER RANUNCULALES

    This group's traits include an almost exclusively herbaceous habit, numerous stamens to their flowers and the presence two or more sepals. The poppies are a well know family within the order, and one of them, Papaver somniferum., is the source for the powerful narcotic known as "opium".


Family Papaveraceae

 

    The poppies. Several species of Argemone are native the the Antilles. Although they possess attractive flowers, their thorny leaves and buds deter many from dealing with these plants. Argemone shrubs are commonly observed in generaly open and even xeric areas in the Greater Antilles.

 

Poppy, Argemone mexicana. Sheffield, western Jamaica.


ORDER ROSALES


    Many members of this group produce large and beautiful flowers that are pollinated by insects. Wind-pollinated species have proportionally small flowers. They range in size from shrups to very large forest trees and some species like figs are breadfruits are consumed by man, besides myriad other animals.


Family Moraceae

 

    Figs and relatives are lianas, shrubs and trees, some of which are stranglers, growing on other trees after their seeds are deposited there by bats or birds, and eventually smothering the host with their roots. The genus Ficus alone has more than 800 species distributed mainly in the tropical regions of the world. Several species are important crops for man, since their fruits are edible.

 

Buttress roots of white fig, Ficus citrifolia. Some of the older roots form secondary trunks.

Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

 

Roots of strangler fig, Ficus sp. enveloping its host tree, which they will eventually suffocate to death.
Vermont Nature Reserve, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.



Ficus trigonata. Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.



The trunks of a Ceiba sp. and a Ficus sp. join in the rain forest. The Quill National Park, norther Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.

 

Fruits of Ficus sp. Mount Soufriere, northern Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.


Family Rhamnaceae

 

    This Cosmopolitan family of about 900 species, especially common in the tropics and subtropics, is represented in the West Indies by shrubs and trees of the genus Colubrina. Ever since Amerindians inhabited the Antilles a bittersweet, slightly alcoholic drink called "maubi" or "mabi" has been concocted from the roots of these trees.

 

Maubi, Colubrina arborescens.

First two photographs: Guajataca, north-western Puerto Rico.

Last photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Colubrina elliptica. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Rosaceae

 

    This family contains some of the best known ornamental plants in the world: roses. Most members of the family inhabit temperate regions of the World, like pears, almonds, apricots, cherries, and prunes, and also include the raspberries, which belong to the very large genus Rubus. These can also be found in cool montane forests of the Antilles. Several species produce edible fruits sought after by people and animals alike.

 

Rubus ellipticus. Blue Mountains, east-central Jamaica.


Family Ulmaceae


    This is the group which contains elms and their relatives. They are native to both tropical and temperate regions of the World. In the West Indies, species of Celtis take the form of woody vines and small trees. Interestingl, they serve as host plants for a mostly Antillean genus of snout butterflies, Lybithea.



Celtis trinervia. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Urticaceae

 

    Stinging nettles and allies are plants that defend themselves from predators by chemical means. Their irritating hairs produce a painful sting on the skin of animals, including man, that enter in contact with them.

 

Stinging nettle, Urera baccifera, female. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

Urera is a pantropical genus of 15 or so species of shrubs or small trees. The stinging

pain produced by their stout urticating hairs can be just as painful as that of a wasp.

 

Pilea parietaria. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Pilea obtusifolia.

First photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.

 

Pilea margarettae. Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

The tiny Pilea microphylla. San Juan, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

This is a Pantropical herb of humid lowlands.

 

Pilea semidentata. Guilarte State Forest, west-central Puerto Rico.


    Trumpet trees are American plants distributed mainly in the Neotropics. They have branches divided in septa filled with spongy pith. Fast growing plants, they are among the first pioneers to invade new areas like landslides and clearings created by fire and storms. The Antillean trumpet tree, Cecropia schreberiana, is a West Indian endemic commonly seen in montane humid and rain forests in all the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Until recently considered conspecific with C. peltata of the continental Neotropics, its huge leaves have silvery undersides and a coarse, sandpaper-like feel to the touch.

 

The Antillean trumpet tree  (Cecropia schreberiana) is a pioneer species that quickly

colonizes gaps  created by natural or man-made disturbances in tropical forests.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

The flower and fruit stalks of Crecropia schreberiana are positioned in a way that makes it easy for bats and birds that feed on them.

El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER SANTALALES


    This order contains autotrophous species among its most primitive taxa, but many of the more evolved groups tend towards parasitism of other plants. In these cases, the phenomenon is accompanied by a simplification of their ovules.


Family Loranthaceae

 

    Mistletoes are hemi-parasitic plants that grow on trees and shrubs. They are frequently dispersed by birds that eat the fruits and later regurgitate the seeds on their perches. In the Caribbean kingbirds and mockingbirds are among the main dispersers of these plants.

 

Lesser Antillean mistletoe, Dendropemon caribaeus. Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.



Dendropemon bicolor. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.


Family Viscaceae

 

    This family contains hemi-parasitic plants superficially similar to the mistletoes which, like them, parasitize shrubs and trees, living on them and inserting their roots into their tissues to extract nutrients from their hosts. Thus, these also are among the "vampires" of the plant world. In the West Indies fringillid finches of the genus Euphonia are among the main dispersers of these plants.


Dendrophthora flagelliformis. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Dendrophthora serpyllifolia. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Dendrophthora opuntioides. Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, east-central Jamaica.



Phoradendron quadrangulare. Camp Santiago, Salinas, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


ORDER SAPINDALES

    Most of these are woody plants which flowers possess many petals. Some are highly toxic to humans due to substances in their resinous sap, while others are widely cultivated for their fruits. The sap of some species is strongly aromatic and one of them has been used in religious ceremonies by many cultures since antiquity: frankincense.


Family Anacardiaceae

 

    This family of shrubs and trees is a pantropical group of nearly 600 species. One of the best known is Mangifera indica: the mango tree, from south-eastern Asia. A few West Indian members of the family bear edible fruits or seeds (the cashew, Anacardium occidentale, is one of them) but many also produce a poisonous sap or latex, capable of causing severe skin reactions in some people.

 

    Cashews produce poisonous seeds that dissuade many animals from eating, and thus destroying, them. However, they still entice animals to disperse their seeds by producing a "pseudo-fruit". As the seeds mature, their stems become red, fleshy, and edible. It is not a true fruit, since the seeds remain on its outside. However, the result is the same: an animal will tear the sweet-tasting structure, with its dangling seed, consume it, and then drop the seed in some suitable place for it to develop into a new plant. Of course, humans often defeat the plant by roasting the nuts in order to destroy the toxins and make them edible, as well.

 

Poison ash, Comocladia dodonaea. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico..

This relative of the mango can cause severe dermatitis in people who come in contact with the poisonous thorns on its leaves.

 

Another species of poison ash, Comocladia glabra.

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


Fruits of Comocladia glabra.

Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 


Pseudo-fruit and seedpod of Anacardium occidentale. Anse Ger, south-western Saint Lucia, Lesser Antilles.

This is the well-known cashew. Like many members of its family this plant is dangerously toxic.

The seeds need to be roasted before they become edible.

 

The edible fruits of Spondias mombin, eaten by both animals and humans in the Caribbean.

Kingstown, south-western Saint Vincent, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Lesser Antilles.


Family Burseraceae

 

    The frankincense family is represented in the West Indies by Bursera simaruba, a tree of xeric areas which reddish bark is shed in thin layers. This has earned it the local name name of "tourist tree", reminiscing the way unwary visitors to the Caribbean spend too much under the sun, paying the consequences later as their skins peel off.

 

    Another Antillean species of this group is the "tabonuco" or "gommier", belonging to the monotypic genus Dacryodes of the Lesser Antilles and northwards to Puerto Rico. Its flammable resin was used by Amerindian tribes to coat torches. Because of the very pungent, "chemical" smell of their gum these organisms are called "turpentine trees", in some islands. Dacryodes excelsa is one of the tallest and most massive trees in the Caribbean, and is one of the main components of the rain forests where it lives.

 

The bark of Bursera simaruba peels away in thin layers as the organism grows.

Eastern Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Fruits of Bursera simaruba.

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

 

The massive tree trunks of Dacryodes excelsa become highways at night, when frogs, insects, centipedes, and other rain forests organisms commute to and from

the canopy. These magnificent giants of more than 30 meters in height and with trunks sometimes reaching 3 meters in diameter, are found in the Lesser Antilles

from Grenada north to Montserrat, and then reappears in Puerto Rico. Their aromatic, flammable sap has earned them the English name of "turpentine trees",

a name shared in some islands with another member of its same family, Bursera simaruba (above ).

Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.


Family Meliaceae

 

    This family includes trees with some of the most valuable woods: the mahoganies of the genus Swietenia. Other genera, like Guarea, are common in mesic Antillean forests.

 

West Indian mahogany, Swietenia mahagoni.
First photograph: Mountaintop, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

Second photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Fruits of Guarea guidonia. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Family Rutaceae

 

    This family contains several trees with edible fruits, like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and qumquats. New World members of the group include trees of the genus Zanthoxylum. Some taxa are very limited in distribution and are thus endangered by development and other human-made disturbances. Several species are armed with spines to deter herbivore animals.

 

The thorny trunk of Zanthoxylum caribaeum. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Zanthoxylum flavum. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Zanthoxylum thomasianum. Isabela, north-western Puerto Rico.

This Puerto Rican bank endemic is critically endangered, known only from

a few scattered population seriously threatened by urban development.

 

The Puerto Rican endemic, Ravenia urbanii. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



The Jamaican endemic, Staphelia glabrescens. Barbecue Bottom, north-central Jamaica.


Family Sapindaceae

 

    West Indian representatives of this Pantropical family include the genus Cupania. The name of the family makes allusion to the soapy consistence of the sap of some species.

 

Cupania americana. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Dodonea viscosa. Anegada, British Virgin Islands.

 

Fruits of Paullinia pinnata. Fort Buchanan, Guaynabo, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Thouinia striata. Sierra Bermeja, south-western Puerto Rico.


ORDER SOLANALES


    These are plants with sympetalous flowers. This means that the petals are fused together into a funnel-like structure, giving the flower the approximate shape of a trumpet. Their ovaries are superior and they possess alternate leaves. The group contains species that vary in habit from herbs, to lianas, to trees. Some species are economically important  to mankind.


Family Convolvulaceae

 

    This Cosmopolitan family is a group of twinning vines (sometimes shrubs or trees) usually producing a milky sap. They are represented in the West Indies by various genera. The most commonly seen of these might be the members of the genus Ipomoea. Many of these plants, and those of related genera (Convolvulus, Evolvulus, Jacquemontia, Merremia, etc.) produce spectacular but delicate and ephemeral flowers that bloom in the early morning (sometimes at night) and progressively wither during the day. This characteristic has earned them the name by which they are commonly known: "morning glories". Several species have been domesticated and hybridized, and are found in gardens around the World.

 

Blue morning glory, Ipomoea indica. Windsor, north-central Jamaica.

Some members of this genus are valued as garden plants for their large, beautiful flowers.

As their common name implies, the flowers live for only one day. By the evening of the

same day they bloom, they wilt to nothing under the strong tropical sunlight.



Morning glory, Ipomoea hederifolia. Camp Santiago, south-eastern Puerto Rico.


Morning glory, Ipomoea triloba. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.



Morning glory, Ipomoea repanda.
First photograph: Carite State Forest, east-central Puerto Rico.
  Last two photographs: El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.


Steudel's morning glory, Ipomoea steudelii.

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

Second photograph: Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Morning glory, Ipomoea imperati. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.



Saint Eustatius morning glory, Ipomoea sphenophylla. Gilboa Hill, southern Saint Eustatius, Lesser Antilles.



Morning glory, Xenostegia tridentata. Tortuguero Nature Reserve, northern Puerto Rico.


Morning glory, Merremia quinquefolia. Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Morning glory, Merremia umbellata. Arecibo, northern Puerto Rico.


Morning glory, Merremia dissecta. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.



Morning glory, Merremia tuberosa. Near Creque Dam, north-western Saint Croix.

 

Jacquemontia solanifolia. Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, south-western Saint Croix, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Jacquemontia pentanthos. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Convolvulus nodiflorus. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Cuscutaceae

 

    This is a family of parasitic plants. Unusual in lacking chlorophyll, these vegetal vampires derive their nutrients by absorbing on the sap of other plants. Several species of Cuscuta are found in the Antilles, especially in xeric areas. Their flowers are inconspicuous and resemble tiny buds.

 

Cuscuta americana.

First two photographs: Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Family Solanaceae

 

    Tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, and their kin are found throughout the world, but the family is especially species-rich in the Americas. The fruits (a sort of berry) of several species are consumed by humans and animals alike. And, although not cultivated in order to be eaten, some plants of another solanacean genus are very important for mankind's economy (some say for good, some for ill): Nicotiana - the tobacco shrubs.

 

    Although many members of the family are herbs, a number of them reach a tree's size.

 

Tomatoes, Solanum polygamum.

First photograph: Bordeaux Mountain, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

Last two photographs: Guana Island, British Virgin Islands.

 

Tomato, Solanum lancifolium. Caneel Trail, Virgin Islands National Park, Saint John, United States Virgin Islands.

 

Tomato, Solanum americanum.

First photograph from Bonne Resolution, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

Second photograph from Yauco, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Tomato, Solanum elaegnoides. Ensenada, south-western Puerto Rico.

 

Tomato, Solanum racemosum. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.



Tomato, Solanum erianthum.
First photograph: Toro Negro State Forest, central Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.



Solanum sp. South-eastern Saba, Lesser Antilles.



Solanum torvum. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.



Physalis cordata. Los Haitises National Park, northern Dominican Republic, Hispaniola.



Physalis angulata. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Lesser Antillean pepper, Capsicum frutescens.
First photograph: Florida, central Puerto Rico.

Second photograph: Mountaintop, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.


Brunfelsia densifolia. Maricao State Forest, western Puerto Rico.

 

Brunfelsia lactea. El Yunque National Forest, north-eastern Puerto Rico.

 

Cestrum macrophyllum. Florida, central Puerto Rico.

 

Cestrum diurnum. Ciales, central Puerto Rico.

 

Cestrum laurifolium.

First photograph: Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.
Susua State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Goetzea elegans.
First photograph: flower. Quebradillas, north-western Puerto Rico.
Second photograph: fruit. Guajataca State Forest, north-western Puerto Rico.

 


Acnistus arborescens. Slopes of Mount Scenery, central Saba, Lesser Antilles.

 

Datura inoxia. Grand Anse, south-western Grenada, Lesser Antilles.



Chalice vine, Solandra grandiflora. Oualie Bay, Nevis, Lesser Antilles.


ORDER VITALES


    An order of unclear affinities, it seems to have no close living relatives. Some members are important crops. The largest flower in the world is produced by a parasitic member of this order: Rafflesia arnoldii.


Family Vitaceae

 

    This family include one of the most economically important plants on Earth: the grape vine, Vitis vinifera, from which wine is obtained through the fermentation of its fruit's juices. Although most members of the genus live in the temperate regions of the World, there are a few tropical species.

 

    There are several other genera belonging to this family in the West Indies. Most produce the same basic kind of berry as Vitis vines do, though they are usually not edible.

 

Caribbean grape vine, Vitis tiliifolia. Camuy Caverns Park, Camuy, north-western Puerto Rico.

 

Cissus erosa. First two photographs: Utuado, central Puerto Rico.

Last photograph: Maricao State Forest, Western Puerto Rico.



Cissus verticillata. Crown Mountain, central Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.


ORDER ZYGOPHYLLALES


    This order consists of only two families. One is composed of semiparasitic herbs, while the other contains fully autotrophic herbs, bushes and trees mostly found in arid regions, some possessing particularly hard woods.


Family Krameriaceae

 

    This family contains only one genus, Krameria. The plants superficially resemble some spiny poppies. It is mostly restricted to neotropical America.

 

Krameria ixine. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.


Family Zygophyllaceae

 

    A pantropical family of dry regions, it contains in the Antilles the genus Guaiacum. The six species, all from tropical America, possess some of the hardest woods among trees. This trait makes highly desirable by woodworkers and, indeed, large and old trees are rare, most having been harvested for their wood, which is used for carving.

 

Flowers and fruits of lignumvitae, Guaiacum officinale. Guanica State Forest, south-western Puerto Rico.

The sap of this tree was used by the Aruac Amerindians as a cure for syphilis, and was later

used by Europeans (who got infected due to their less than virtuous behavior) for the same purpose.

Perhaps that is the origin of its common name, actually a composite Latin term meaning the "wood of life".

The lignumvitae has one of the hardest of woods, excellent for polishing into beautiful shapes.

For that reason, this slow-growing tree is rather scarce today, surviving in numbers only in

the most inaccessible or protected areas of West Indian deserts and xeric forests.

 

Kallstroemia maxima. Yauco, south-western Puerto Rico.