The Pterocarpus Forest

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Mr. Antonio Maldonado, Secretary, PHA Forest, Inc.

Mr. Antonio Maldonado, Secretary, PHA Forest, Inc.

The Pterocarpus Forest nature preserve at Palmas is a unique 51-acre swamp forest, opened to the public in March 2013.  This is one of the largest remaining swamp forests in Puerto Rico and serves as habitat to 44 species of flora and 52 species of fauna, of which 13 are considered endemic. This Forest grows in an area permanently flooded by fresh water and the predominant species in this type of wetland is the Pterocarpus Officinalis tree (“Dragonsblood Tree”), commonly known in Spanish as palo de pollo because of the shape of its aerial roots. The tree may grow more than 65 feet tall, with large aerial roots that allow it to grow in flooded soil.

Once common in Puerto Rico’s coastal wetlands, the remaining Pterocarpus forests are few, widely inaccessible, fragmented and in danger of disappearing altogether. The Forest restoration project, including the construction of a new 3/4-mile, elevated Boardwalk and the establishment of permanent conservation, education and research programs is an undertaking of the Palmas del Mar Homeowners Association (PHA) and the Friends of the Pterocarpus Forest (incorporated as the nonprofit PHA Pterocarpus Forest, Inc.). It is a community effort which represents an opportunity to preserve a unique, increasingly rare ecosystem, and make it available so that the public in general can enjoy this invaluable recreational, educational and ecological resource now and in the future.

With donations from friends of the Forest, foundations, corporations, government agencies and other organizations such as Para la Naturaleza, PHA has completed the cleanup of the Forest and created a 3/4mile boardwalk that takes visitors inside the Forest allowing them to explore the environment at close range.   In addition, interpretive signage about the nature and functions of Pterocarpus forests and the forest’s flora and fauna have been installed at numerous stations inside the Forest.  Educational materials have been created as well.  Also, an information/activity gazebo and a bird observation tower have been built at the entrance to the Forest.

Through interactive opportunities the Forest preserve will, over time, become create an “outdoor classroom” for visitors and students.  The educational goals of the Pterocarpus Forest preserve are to:

(1) Teach the concepts, interactions and value of the increasingly scarce Pterocarpus forest, herbaceous wetland ecology, and their flora and fauna.

(2) Explain the role of Pterocarpus swamp forest in water quality, wildlife habitat and biological productivity.

(3) Facilitate conservation and create an appreciation for the Pterocarpus ecosystem and Puerto Rico’s natural resources.

These objectives support the goals of conservation by creating a group of educated citizens who will become allies in the effort to preserve properties of high ecological value. The project will result in the first exhibition of its kind ever devoted to the interpretation of the ecology of Pterocarpus forests.

The project offers an unparalleled opportunity to create a study and research preserve and a new eco-tourism attraction, while conserving one of the few remaining Pterocarpus Forest and the only one that will be effortlessly accessible to the public for recreational and educational purposes.

 

 

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