Puerto rico vegetation: Geography of Puerto Rico

The Flora and Fauna of Puerto Rico

© Jim, the Photographer/flickr

Kris Pethick

26 January 2018

Visitors to Puerto Rico often leave feeling that it is the most beautiful place they have ever seen and cannot wait to return. The flora and fauna of the island add to the rainbow of color that abounds. Here’s a guide to some of the incredible animals and plant-life you might see on your next visit.

Iguanas are native to Central and South America, but were introduced to Puerto Rico in the 1970s through the pet trade. Some of these pets were released into the wild and have now become a full-blown pest control issue, mostly due to the fact that they have no natural predator on the island. Their herbivorous diet makes the agricultural southeast region of the island a perfect area for them, but a detriment to the farmers. Harvest and sale of their meat may be a solution to this problem. If you want to see a lot of them, visit Puerto Rico in March, which is their mating season.

Green Iguana | © Cyborg / Flickr

In July, the roadsides and mountains glow with the fiery red of the flamboyant tree. These gorgeous trees are also found in yellow, but are not as prevalent. There is also a rare blue flamboyant, but there is some debate whether this is a true flamboyant. Red, yellow or blue, they are all breathtaking.

Flamboyant tree | © Jonathan Wilkins / Wiki Commons

This small brown owl is native to Puerto Rico, and is found primarily in El Yunque rainforest, but can also be seen on the islands of Vieques and Culebra. They help with pest control by eating large insects like cockroaches, small lizards like anoles and various rodents.

According to elboricua.com, Puerto Rico’s national flower is the flor de maga. The maga is closely related to hibiscus, but unlike the common hibiscus the maga is a saucer-sized flower and grows on a large tree. The maga is native to Puerto Rico and is grown in tropical climates as an ornamental plant, with pink or red flowers. The maga flowers are cup-shaped with five overlapping petals. These flowers grow on a tree, not a bush, and they depend on birds and bats for dispersal.

Hibiscus is the national flower of Puerto Rico | © Jean-Marc Astesana/flickr

At the time of the first Spanish colony in the early 1600s, there were believed to be a million parrots on the island. But over the years, as human population increased and deforestation occurred, the numbers dropped drastically until in 1973 there were only 13 iguacas, the Taino word for the parrot. The Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program was making great strides to renew the population and at last count, before hurricanes Irma and Maria, there were almost 60 parrots in the wild. The scientists at El Yunque continue to work at locating and reviving their parrot population.

Puerto Rican parrot | © Tom MacKenzie / WikiCommons

Beehive ginger have a unique shape and are a sturdy flower that comes in a number of different colors. Chocolate beehive ginger is a chocolaty brown, yellow beehive ginger is yellow with splashes of red, and Pink Maraca has a reddish-pink lower bract area topped with gold. Depending on the variety, beehive ginger can grow from four to 15 feet (1.22 to 4.57 meters) tall.

Beehive Ginger | © m.prinke/flickr

You will find the most amazing avocados in Puerto Rico. The variety grown here is a very large avocado with tremendous flavor and a very creamy texture The fruit is ready around September and October, and the trees only produce every other year. Two trees are needed to produce fruit.

Avocado | © Amanda Govaert/flickr

Cayo Santiago is also known as “Monkey Island.” In 1938, 406 rhesus macaque monkeys were shipped there and have been studied ever since. It took the monkeys a little time to adjust, but they eventually did and started breeding. They quickly ate most of the naturally-available food, so monkey chow was shipped to the island and still is to this day. Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and scientists who work with the populations indicate that they are skittish, probably suffering from some PTSD, but employees were going to the island the day after Maria to check on them and take them food. The monkeys used their survival skills to hide and huddle, and they continue to survive.

Rhesus macaque monkeys | © jinterwas/flickr

Coccoloba rugosa is an ornamental plant that is also known as red sea grape. This plant is native to Puerto Rico and can be identified by its long thin cluster of red globe-shaped lobes.

No article about the fauna of Puerto Rico is complete without including the ever-present and very loud coquí. The male coquí’s mating call of “ko-kee,” from which it gets its common name, has been measured at 90 to 100 decibels, making it the loudest existing amphibian. Once found only in Puerto Rico, the coquí is the cultural symbol of the island. There are 17 different coquís on the island that range in color from green to yellow to brown with various accent colors.

Coquí | © US Fish and Wildlife Service/flickr

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The Climate and Geography of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a rectangular island, situated roughly in the middle of the Antilles, a chain of islands that stretches from Florida to Venezuela and forms the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The Antilles are divided into two regions—Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles. Puerto Rico is the smallest and easternmost island of the Greater Antilles, which include Cuba, Hispañola (Dominican Republic and Haiti), and Jamaica. In addition to the main island, which is 111 miles east to west and 36 miles north to south, Puerto Rico comprises several tiny islands or cayos, including Mona and Desecheo off the west coast and Vieques, Culebra, Palomino, Icacos, and others off the east coast. The northern and eastern shores of Puerto Rico are on the Atlantic Ocean, and the southern shores are on the Caribbean Sea. To the west is Mona Passage, an important shipping lane that is 75 miles wide and 3,300 feet deep.

[pullquote align=”right”]Puerto Rico has three main geographic regions: mountains, coastal lowlands, and karst country. More than 60 percent of the island is mountainous.[/pullquote] The island was believed to have been formed between 135 million and 185 million years ago when a massive shift of tectonic plates crumpled the earth’s surface, pushing parts of it down into deep recesses below the ocean floor and pushing parts of it up to create the island. This tectonic activity resulted in volcanic eruptions, both underwater and above it.

Two significant things happened as a result of all this geologic activity. The Puerto Rico Trench was formed off the island’s north coast. At its greatest depth, it is 28,000 feet below sea level, making it the deepest point known in the Atlantic Ocean. Secondly, it formed the mountainous core of Puerto Rico that spans nearly the entire island from east to west and reaches heights of 4,390 feet above sea level. Volcanic activity is believed to have been dormant in Puerto Rico for 45 million years, but the earth is always changing. The Caribbean plate is shifting eastward against the westward-shifting North American plate, which has resulted in occasional earth tremors through the years. Although this activity is suspected to have led to the volcanic activity in Montserrat in recent years, its danger to Puerto Rico is its potential to cause earthquakes, not volcanic activity.

Puerto Rico has three main geographic regions: mountains, coastal lowlands, and karst country. More than 60 percent of the island is mountainous. The island’s mountains, which dominate the island’s interior, comprise four ranges: Cordillera Central, Sierra de Cayey, Sierra de Luquillo, and Sierra de Bermeja. The largest and highest range is Cordillera Central, which spans from Caguas in the east to Lares in the west. Its highest point is Cerro Punta (4,390 feet above sea level), in the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro near Jayuya. Sierra de Luquillo is in the northeast and contains the Caribbean National Forest, home to El Yunque rainforest. These two mountain ranges feature dramatic pointed peaks and lush tropical vegetation. Sierra de Cayey, in the southeast between Cayey and Humacao, and Sierra de Bermeja, in the southwest between Guánica and the island’s southwestern tip, are smaller in area and height, drier, and less forested.

The coastal lowlands span more than 300 miles around the rim of the island, 8-12 miles inland in the north and 2-8 miles inland in the south. Formed through time by erosion of the mountains, the coastal lowlands are important agricultural areas that benefit from the rich soil and water that wash down from the mountains. Much of the area is defined by sandy or rocky beaches and mangrove swamps, although the mangrove forests are being whittled away by development.

The island’s third region is unique. The karst region spans the island’s northern interior, from San Juan in the east to Aguadilla in the west, and the southern interior, from Ponce in the east to San Germán in the west. It can also be found in isolated pockets throughout the island, as well as on Mona Island off the west coast. The karst region is distinguished by a fascinating landscape of sinkholes, cliffs, caves, and conical, haystack-shaped hills called mogotes. More than 27 percent of Puerto Rico’s surface is made up of limestone, and its erosion from rain helped create the beguiling patchwork of hills and holes. One of limestone’s unique properties is that it reprecipitates and forms case rock that is impervious to chemical and climatic change, which has basically frozen the odd formations in time. In addition, water produced by reprecipitation bubbles up to hydrate the earth’s surface, and drips down, creating subterranean rivers and caves.

As a result of its karst region, Puerto Rico has some of the most significant cave systems in the western hemisphere and the third-largest underground river, Río Camuy. The public can tour part of the massive cave system at Las Cavernas del Río Camuy in the municipality of Camuy.

In addition to Río Camuy, Puerto Rico’s other major rivers include the north-running Grande de Arecibo, the island’s longest; La Plata, Cibuco, Loíza, and Bayamón, which run north; and Grande de Añasco, which runs west. There are no natural lakes in Puerto Rico, although 15 reservoirs have been created by damming rivers. But there are several natural lagoons, including Condado and San José in San Juan, Piñones and Torrecilla in Loíza, Joyuda in Cabo Rojo, Tortuguero in Vega Baja, and Grande in Fajardo.


Puerto Rico’s climate is classified as tropical marine, which means it’s typically sunny, hot, and humid year-round. The temperature fluctuates between 76°F and 88°F in the coastal plains and 73-78°F in the mountains. Humidity is a steady 80 percent, but a northeasterly wind keeps things pretty breezy, particularly on the northeast side of the island.

Nobody wants rain during a tropical vacation, but precipitation is very much a part of life in Puerto Rico. Although there are periods when the deluge is so heavy that you might think it’s time to build an ark, rains are generally brief and occur in the afternoons. The average annual rainfall is 62 inches. Although it rains throughout the year, the heaviest precipitation is from May to October, which is also hurricane season. The driest period is January to April, which coincides with the tourism industry’s high season. Keep in mind that the north coast receives twice as much rain as the south coast, so if the outlook is rainy in San Juan, head south.

Hurricanes are a very real threat to Puerto Rico. It is estimated that the island will be hit by a major hurricane every 30 years. The most devastating storm in recent history was Hurricane Georges, a category 3 storm that struck in September 1998 and rendered $2 billion of damage.

For the latest information on weather conditions in Puerto Rico, visit the National Weather Service.

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Natural hazards in Puerto Rico / Travel.Ru / Countries / Puerto Rico

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Required and recommended vaccinations

The island’s natural hazards include hepatitis B (in the northern Caribbean coast), dengue fever, bilharzia (schistosomiasis), rabies (vaccination recommended), and occasional stomach ailments. In some cases, immunization against typhoid, diphtheria, tuberculosis and poliomyelitis is recommended.

Sanitation and hygiene

Tap water is usually chlorinated and relatively safe, but bottled water is recommended. Drinking water outside the main cities may be contaminated and not recommended. Milk and dairy products are usually pasteurized and safe, as are meats, poultry, seafood, fruits and vegetables.

Dangerous plants and animals

There are no sharks or other dangerous marine life on most beaches, as the beaches are fenced off from the ocean by coral reefs and rocks. It is dangerous to swim in the open sea, since the nature of the coastal currents is quite stormy, a number of coasts are framed by underwater
rocks, and marine life is dangerous for an unprepared swimmer.

Solar activity

Insolation levels are very high — protective creams and light clothing are recommended.

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