Puerto Rico is Spanish for “rich port,” and it’s a fitting name for this beautiful island with beautiful weather, people, history, and trees! That’s right; many incredible trees are native to Puerto Rico, from the easily recognizable palm to wild guavas.
Let’s take a closer look at amazing Puerto Rican trees.
Where Is Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico lies 1600 kilometers southeast of Florida, USA. It’s a Caribbean Island in the northeast Caribbean Sea, between the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico consists of the main island, whose capital is San Juan, plus other smaller islands, including Vieques, Mona, and Caja de Muertos.
Around 3,200 people live in Puerto Rico, and its environment is an astonishing mix of mountains, large coastal expanses, and rainforests. The climate is hot all year round, with temperatures ranging between 30 to 19 degrees Celcius (82.4-66.9 F).
In April and November, the rainy season drenches this hot island, leading to an abundance of incredible trees in the mountains, rainforests, coasts, and mangroves.
What Exactly is a Tree?
A question posed by small children, but an intelligent one that people still struggle to answer!
The term “tree” is not a plant genus but an umbrella term for plants that have developed a trunk and branches. There are trees in the majority of plant families.
9 Incredible Native Puerto Rico Trees
Puerto Rico has 631 native tree species, and 20% are endemic to the islands, so we can’t list them all, but here are some of its most incredible trees.
1. Acrocomia media
Native to Puerto Rico is the eponymous Acrocomia media, better known as the corozos palm.
It has an evergreen top-heavy crown of pinnate leaves on a straight brown trunk that reaches 26 to 33 feet tall. Its trunk remains slim, generally between eight to 11 inches wide, which never looks enough to support the bushy waving crown.
Each spectacular frond sags a little at the tip, making the whole branch gently nod. These palms are lovely because they provide shade. The fronds are used to make hats, mats, and roof thatches. The large flowering inflorescence is turned into household brooms.
In the summer season, large clusters of chicken egg-sized nuts appear. They’re edible and taste like the coconuts we know and love.
2. Crescentia portoricensis
Crescentia portoricensis is Puerto Rico’s higuero de sierra. It’s a six feet tall tree or shrub in the Bignoniaceae family that’s endemic to Puerto Rico.
Higuero de sierra is an evergreen plant with new perennial growth each year. Its long, slightly oval foliage is deep glossy green, and in summer, it produces a white bellflower in the center of a leaf group. The flower matures into an inch-long green fruit eaten by birds and mammals.
This incredible tree grows in the southwestern rainforests on stream banks or in moist soil, using other trees to support its thin limbs. Due to deforestation, it’s identified as endangered.
3. Ilex cassine
Even if you’ve never been to Puerto Rico, you might recognize this tree because it’s native to the southeastern coast of North America, Mexico, the Bahamas, and Cuba.
There are three varieties of Ilex cassine, but the Puerto Rican native is Ilex cassine var. cassine. It’s a 10-13 feet tall shrub or tree with small dark evergreen leaves with spines. It has four white-petalled flowers that mature into bright red berries we associate with most holly trees. Birds love these berries and strip them off as temperatures fall.
It used to grow natively near the coast up to 30 feet high, but it is now found across Puerto Rico due to cultivation.
4. Juglans jamaicensis
The West Indian walnut tree is not native to Jamaica despite its name. It’s actually native to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.
This is a large tree that can reach a whopping 82 feet tall. It has lance-shaped green leaves and white flower inflorescences with dangling catkins that can reach four inches. These catkins attract lots of insects and pollinators, which in turn, help fertilize the tree. As a result, small drupe fruits containing an edible walnut appear soon after.
The West Indian walnut tree is threatened by habitat loss and is rare in the wild. Experts think the population was decimated when forests were cleared for coffee plantations. It’s now a protected species.
5. Licania rigida
This incredible tree is endemic to Puerto Rico and Brazil, where it grows in rivers and stream flood plains, often highlighting the margins of a water overspill. It’s better known as oiticica in the Chrysobalanaceae genus and is sometimes used for furniture making, but its real value is in the oil extracted from its nuts.
It can reach 39 feet tall and spread across the same distance! It’s a many-trunked and branched tree that uses others to support its sometimes slender branches. Large evergreen leaves alternately spread along its twisting branch structure to form a dense structure, and tiny yellow flowers emerge in spikes before maturing into nuts.
6. Hippomane mancinella
The manchineel tree is a type of spurge in the Euphorbiaceae family and is sometimes called the beach apple due to its small rounded fruits and habit of growing near tropical coasts or swamps.
Beach apple is a cute name, but the Spanish common name is manzanilla de la Muerte which translates as the little apple of death. This is because of the milky toxic sap in its bark, leaves, and fruit that cause painful blisters. It’s classified as one of the world’s most dangerous trees.
This tree can reach 49 feet and has attractive gray-red bark. Its leaves are glossy, and the flowers are tiny greenish-yellow and attract various pollinators. It’s an incredible and beautiful tree, but refrain from touching it!
7. Sabal causiarum
Sabal causiarum is better known as the Puerto Rico palmetto or hat palm. It’s native to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and the British Virgin Islands, where its fronds are used to make sun hats for sun protection.
This palm is typically palm-shaped. It has a solitary gray-brown trunk that reaches 33 feet and a crown of 20-30 green fan-shaped fronds. Its flower inflorescences arch higher and reach further out than the crown, bearing large amounts of rounded black fruits.
This fan palm is one of many in Puerto Rico, but it’s identifiable by its massive trunk that can reach four feet in diameter!
It likes well-drained soil and generally grows in coastal areas or dry rainforests. If the fronds turn yellow, it’s a sign of potassium deficiency.
8. Psidium sintenisii
This tree is a rare wild guava tree.
Psiudium sintenisii belongs to the Myrtle family and is endemic to Puerto Rico. This tree is commonly called Sintenis’s guava or Hoja menuda.
It’s rare but grows in a few pockets in the El Yunque National Forest’s wet mountain habitats.
Hoja menuda can reach 30 feet and has rough, gray bark that strips off in long, thin ribbons. In contrast, its branches remain faint green. The shiny leaves reach 2.5 inches, and solitary flowers bloom on long delicate stalks. Their sweet fragrance attracts pollinators, and they mature into delicious inch-long guava fruits.
The Psidium sintenisii is critically endangered and just one step away from becoming extinct in the wild.
9. Magnolia portoricensis
This magnificent tree is native to Puerto Rico and found in the Toro Negro State Forest at 1640 to 3000 feet above sea level. Jaguilla or the Puerto Rico magnolia are its common names.
The Puerto Rican magnolia is an evergreen tree that can reach 82 feet in cloud forests. It is often found balancing on peaks in volcanic environments that receive lots of water. Its rather rare preferred growth environment has contributed to its endangered status.
An interesting fact about the Puerto Rico magnolia is beetles pollinate its large white flowers. After pollination, its seed sack splits open and glows bright orange to attract birds, but many rodents get there first.
Incredible Trees Native to Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has so many incredible native trees this list could be much longer! Some, like the palms, are quite common, but the wild guava and magnolia are on the brink of extinction. It’s a timely reminder to take care of our world or lose magnificent species forever.
Summary of 9 Incredible Trees Native to Puerto Rico
|1||Acrocomia media||Evergreen top-heavy crown of pinnate leaves on a straight brown trunk|
|2||Crescentia portoricensis||Long, slightly oval foliage is deep glossy green, and in summer – a white bellflower|
|3||Ilex cassine||Small dark evergreen leaves with spines and white-petalled flowers that mature into bright red berries|
|4||Juglans jamaicensis||Tall tree with lance-shaped green leaves and white flower inflorescences with dangling catkins|
|5||Licania rigida||Many-trunked and branched with large evergreen leaves that form dense structure, tiny yellow flowers|
|6||Hippomane mancinella||Gray-red bark with glossy leaves and tiny greenish-yellow flowers – poisonous|
|7||Sabal causiarum||Massive gray-brown trunk with a crown of 20-30 green fan-shaped fronds|
|8||Psidium sintenisii||Rough, gray bark that strips in ribbons, shiny leaves, flowers that bloom on stalks|
|9||Magnolia portoricensis||Evergreen with large white flowers|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © SubstanceTproductions/Shutterstock.com
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- , Available here: https://ecos.fws.gov/ecp/species/6800