The Spectacular Endemic Flora of Puerto Rico
The colorful Flor de Maga, the official national flower of Puerto Rico, grows on the Maga tree (Thespesia grandiflora) and while originally endemic to the humid forests near the city of San Juan, the tree is now found throughout the island. The Maga tree can grow to a height of fifteen meters and the wood of the tree, being exceptionally strong, is used for furniture, fencing posts and other practical purposes. The flowers, in shades of red and pink, are used extensively as decorations, and the trees are grown both as ornamental plants and for their timber.
Sometimes mistakenly referred to as a Hibiscus, the Flor de Maga belongs to the Tribe Gossypieae, Genus Thespesia and Species T.grandiflora, while the Hibiscus belongs to Tribe Hibisceae, Genus Hibiscus, which has more than two hundred species. Prized for its large, strikingly beautiful flowers and lush green foliage, in recent years the tree has been introduced to the states of Hawaii and Florida, as well as to other Caribbean countries and South America, where it has adapted well. In warmer climates the Maga tree produces flowers on and off throughout the year, and starts to flower when it is between five and seven years old.
In addition to the Flor de Maga, Puerto Rico has an amazingly diverse range of endemic flora, some of which are unfortunately threatened by habitat loss. Among these is Cook’s Holly (Ilex cookie) found only in the cloud forests on Cerro de Punta and Monte Jayuya – the highest peak of Puerto Rico. A plant in the same genus, Sintenis’ Holly (Ilex sintenisii) is found only on the island’s Luquillo Mountains. A perennial evergreen shrub commonly referred to as Higuero de Sierra (Crescentia portoricensis) is found in the southwestern wet forest areas, producing a large creamy colored bell-shaped flower that gives way to large green fruits containing the seeds.
A particularly unusual endemic plant is the Higo Chumbo (Harriisia portoricensis) a species of cactus found only on the three off-shore islands – Mona Island Monita Island, and Desecheo Island. The large showy flower of the Higo Chumbo develops into a fleshy edible fruit best handled with gloves, but delicious.
Puerto Rico is home to more than 120 endemic species of flora, and visitors may want to take special note of these while exploring this lovely Caribbean island.