Included here is the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Jamaica, Hispanola and Puerto Rico), the Lesser Antilles (including Montserrate, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenado), the Bahamas, Bermuda and the southern tropical part of the Florida Peninsula.

West Indian Limestone Scrub

These sclerophyllous shrublands occur on the dry limestone terraces and lowland karstic ‘dog tooth’ formations. In Cuba extensive stands occur in Oriente between Puerto Padra and Gibara and in the southern terraced coast between Cabo Cruz and Maisi where the climate generally has two dry seasons totaling about 8 months per year.  This formation rarely exceeds 3 m in height but is very rich in species. Characteristic small trees are Colubrina elliptica, Erithalis fruticosa and several endemics like Auerodendron cubense (Rhamnaceae), Cordia leucosebestena (Boraginaceae), Diospyros grisebachii (Ebenaceae), Picrodendron macrocarpum (Picrodendraceae), Pseudocarpidium multidens (Verbenaceae) and Spirotecoma spiralis (Bignoniaceae). Elements of the sub shrub layer include various species of Cordia such as the endemic Cordia lucidus (Euphorbiaceae), together with Eugenia cowellii, Polygala guantanamana and many endemic species such as Bellonia spinosa (Acanthaceae), Coccothrinax munizii (Arecaceae), Grimmeodendron eglandulosum (Euphorbiaceae), Jacquinia berteroi (Theophrastaceae) and Randia spinifex (Rubiaceae). Of the succulents, several Melocactus species occur together with the endemic Dendrocereus nudiflorus (Cactaceae), but herbs and epiphytes are few in number. Lianas are more conspicuous with about 30 species including the endemic Distictis lactiflora (Bignoniaceae), Jacquemontia jamaicensis (Convolvulaceae) and Passiflora santiagana (Passifloraceae).

West Indian Limestone Forest

In Jamaica these sparse scrub forests are confined to arid southern areas with possibly some of the most undisturbed areas on the Portland Ridge.  With virtually no soil the plants find support and sustenance by developing long branched root systems that permeate cracks and crevices. The more disturbed areas lack any distinct stratification but those of Portland Ridge have three stories including emergents reaching 25 m, a canopy between 12-20 m and a sub-canopy of 6-10 m. Among the emergent species are Chlorophora tinctoria, Pisonia fragrans and the endemic Rhamnidium jamaicense (Rhamnaceae), while canopy and sub canopy species include Adelia ricinella, Albizzia berteriana, Anona squamosa, Bauhinia divaricata and a variety of Jamaican or West Indian endemics taxa like Bourreria succulenta (Boraginaceae), Brya ebenus (Fabaceae), Bumelia rotundifolia (Sapotaceae), Coccoloba krugii (Polygonaceae), Erythroxylon rotundifolium (Erythroxylaceae), Linociera ligustrina (Oleaceae), Ocotea jamaicensis (Lauraceae) and Oxandra lanceolata (Annonaceae). Most of the trees are thin boled and spindly with branches close to the ground. The shrub layer is well developed with many Jamaican or West Indian endemics such as Allophyllus pachyphyllus (Sapindaceae), Casearia nitida (Flacourtiaceae), Castela macrophyllus (Simaroubaceae), Eupatorium dalea (Asteraceae), Helicteres jamaicensis (Sterculiaceae), Phyllanthus angustifolius (Euphorbiaceae), Portlandia grandiflora (Rubiaceae) and Psidium albescens (Myrtaceae). Climbing and scrambling plants are also well represented but true lianas are absent. Some of the endemic species include Galactia pendula (Fabaceae), Ipomoea jamaicensis (Convolvulaceae), Passiflora perfoliata (Passifloraceae), Paullinia barbardense (Sapindaceae), Smilax balbisiana (Smilacaceae) and Stigmaphyllon emarginatum (Malpighiaceae). Epiphytes are mainly composed of xerophytic bromeliads, cacti and orchids including the endemic Broughtonia sanguinea (Orchidaceae). A ground flora, on the other hand, is often absent but may include a few ferns, cacti and several non-succulent flowering plants such as the endemic Vernonia divaricata (Asteraceae). In Cuba the limestone or karstic forests are varied but can be extremely species-rich, and endemic taxa are estimated to account for about 40% of their flora. On the karst slopes of Sierra de los Organos they form open forests up to about 8 m tall. Characteristic trees include the barrel-like Gaussia princeps and many endemic tree-shaped species such as Bourreria polyneura (Boraginaceae), Ekmanianthe actinophylla (Bignoniaceae), Ophalea hypoleuca, Sapium leucogynum (Euphorbiaceae) Spathelia brittonii (Rutaceae), Thrinax punctulata (Arecaceae) and the interesting living fossil Microcycas calocoma (Cycadaceae). Succulents are also well represented with endemic species like Agave tubulata (Agavaceae), Leptocereus assurgens and Selenicereus grandiflorus (Cactaceae), while ianas include the endemic Philodendron urbanianum (Araceae) and Siemensia pendula (Rubiaceae).  There are other species that can be broadly described as chasmophytes including the endemic Anthurium venosum (Araceae), Gesneria celsioides (Gesneriaceae), Peperomia verticillata (Piperaceae) and Rhytidophyllum rupincola (Martyniaceae).

West Indian Seasonal Limestone Rainforest

In Jamaica these wetland forest are mainly found in inland areas at altitudes ranging from about 300-700 m with large stands occurring in the so-called Cockpit country and on limestone peaks such as Mount Diablo and Dolphin Peak. Most of the trees are evergreen and usually form two tiers but with occasional emergents such as the endemic Terminalia latifolia (Combretaceae) reaching heights of 30 m or more. The canopy, which is up to 20 m tall, is typically closed but never dense. Characteristic species include Brosimum alicastrum, Buchenavia capitata, Cecropia peltata, Dipholis nigra, Lacuma mammosa, Mimusops excisa, Pithecellobium arborea, Podocarpus purdieanus, Prunus occidentalis, Zanthoxylum martinicense and the endemic Nectandra antillana (Lauraceae), Psidium montanum (Myrtaceae), Sloanea jamaicensis (Elaeocarpaceae) and Zizyphes chloroxylon (Rhamnaceae). The dense sub-canopy which reaches heights of about 12 m comprises its own characteristic species such as Simaruba glauca, Trophis racemosa, Zanthoxylum flavum and several endemic species like Antirrhoea jamaicensis (Rubiaceae), Comocladia pinnatifolia (Anacardiaceae), Lagetta lagetto (Thymelaeaceae), Mosquitoxylon jamaicensis (Anacardiaceae), Ocotea staminea (Lauraceae), Sapium jamaicense (Euphorbiaceae) and Spathelia glabrescens (Rutaceae). However, the shrub and field layers are sparse and in places completely lacking due to the rocky substratum. The few shrubs may include Piper nigrinodum, several Melastomaceae and the endemic species Acidoton urens (Euphorbiaceae) and Carica jamaicensis (Caricaceae), while endemic components of the herb layer may include Gyrotaenia spicata (Urticaceae), Peperomia amplexicaulis (Piperaceae) and Pilea ciliata (Urticaceae). Lianas and other climbers are common especially climbing aroids with their characteristic long, thin, hanging roots, which can be seen throughout these forests. Among the many epiphytes, bromeliads are frequent and include a number of endemic species like Hohenbergia distans and H. eriostachya (Bromeliaceae). Other bromeliads of the genus Tillandsia are tree trunk epiphytes. Seasonal rain forests are also extensive in the Antilles, but in Cuba they are now of very limited extend because of the importance of these areas to tropical agriculture. The few Cuban forests left are also two canopy systems but also include large emergent stands of the deciduous Ceiba pentandra which can reach heights of 40 m. Other canopy species include Bucida buceras, Guazuma ulmifolia, Mastichodendron foetidissimum and Roystonia regia together with endemics like Lonchocarpus domingensis (Fabaceae), Oxandra lanceolata (Annonaceae) and Pithecellobium cubense (Fabaceae).


Adam, C. D. 1972. Flowering Plants of Jamaica. University of the West Indies, Jamaica.

Asprey, G. F. & Robbins, R. G. 1953. The Vegetation of Jamaica. Ecological Monographs, 23: 359-412.

Borhidi, A. 1991. Phytogeography and Vegetation Ecology of Cuba. Akademiai Kiado, Budapest.

Bretting, P. Jamaica’s Flowering Plants: Endemic Genera Revisited. Jamaica Journal, 16: 49.

Eyre, L. A. 1996. The Tropical Rainforest of Jamaica. Jamaica Journal, 26: 26-37.

Graham, S. A. 2002. Phylogenetic relationships and biogeography of the endemic Caribbean genera Crenea, Ginoria and Haitia (Lythraceae). Caribbean Journal of Science, 38: 195-204.

Graveson, R. 2009. The Classification of the Vegetation of Saint Lucia. National Forest Demarcation and Bio-Physical Resource Inventory Project Caribbean-Saint Lucia (SFA 2003/SLU/BIT-04/0711/EMF/LC). Finnish Consultancy Group (FCG) International Ltd in association with AFC Consultants International GmbH. Technical Report 3. Presented to the European Commission and Banana Industry Trust.  

Liogier, H. A. & Martorell, L. F. 1982. Flora of Puerto Rico and Adjacent Islands: a systematic synopsis. Editorial De La Universidad De Puerto Rico.

Helmer, E. L., Ramos, O., Del, T. López, M., Quiñones, M. & Diaz, W. 2002. Mapping the forest type and land cover of Puerto Rico, a component of the Caribbean Biodiversity Hotspot. Caribbean Journal of Science, 38: 165-183.

Howard, R. A. 1979. Flora of the West Indies. In: Tropical Botany. Eds. K. Larsen and L. B. Holm-Nielsen. Academic Press.

Panagopoulos, N. (ed). 1999. A Guide to Caribbean Vegetation Types: Preliminary Classification System and Descriptions. The Nature Conservancy and others.

Vazquez, O. J. & Kolterman, D. A. 1998. Floristic composition and vegetation types of the Punta Guaniquilla Nature Reserve – Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Caribbean Journal of Science, 34: 265-279.