Flora of Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor
Designated as a protected Nature Reserve of Puerto Rico, the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC) is a spectacular untamed coastal region between Luquillo and Fajardo. Covering an area of more than 2,969 acres, the NEC features beaches, coral reefs, a lagoon, wetlands and forests which boast a variety of interesting flora and fauna, some of which are rare and endangered. Preservation of the biodiversity of the region has met with some resistance over the years from would-be developers, but thanks to the untiring efforts of conservationists, Governor Alejandro García- Padilla signed a law in 2013 declaring the NEC a nature reserve.
Researchers have identified and described up to 488 species of plants in the NEC, nine of which are endemic to the region, and 77 identified as having been introduced from elsewhere, with the balance being native to Puerto Rico. Plants classified by the Puerto Rico Department of Nature and Environment (DNER) as critical from a conservation point of view include the Matabuey (Goetzea elegans); the Arana (Schoepfia arenaria); the Black Cobana (Stahlia Monosperma) and Fajardo Guayabacón (Eugenia fajardensis) . The Fajardo Guayabacón was originally discovered and described by Paul Sintenis, a German botanist, between 1884 and 1887. However, his specimens stored in Berlin were destroyed during WWII. The rare and endemic plant was re-discovered in on Vieques Island in 2005 by Puerto Rican botanists Juan Carlos Trejo, Miguel Vives, Tomás Carlo and Marcos Caraballo. Today it is only found in the NEC, Vieques and Culebra.
In areas buffeted by coastal winds and salt spray there are dwarf shrubs, cacti, Tintillo (White Indigoberry), Uva de Playa (Seagrape) and Alelí (Caterpillar Tree). The NEC is also home to four mangrove species – Red Mangrove ( Rhizophora mangle), Black Mangrove ( Avicennia germinans), White Mangrove ( Laguncularia racemosa) and Buttonwood Mangrove (Conocarpus erectus). There are several species of lichen in the NEC and the presence of these fungus-based organisms is considered to be an indication of a healthy ecosystem.
Visitors to Puerto Rico’s Northeast Ecological Corridor will no doubt appreciate the efforts of conservationists to preserve this beautiful region of the Enchanted Island.