El Yunque National Forest

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
El Yunque National Forest
Puerto Rico El Yunque 1.jpg
El Yunque from the east
Map showing the location of El Yunque National Forest
Map showing the location of El Yunque National Forest
LocationPuerto Rico
Nearest cityRío Grande, PR
Coordinates18°19′N 65°47′W / 18.317°N 65.783°W / 18.317; -65.783Coordinates: 18°19′N 65°47′W / 18.317°N 65.783°W / 18.317; -65.783
Area28,434 acres (115.07 km2)[1]
EstablishedJanuary 17, 1903
Governing bodyU.S. Forest Service

El Yunque National Forest (Spanish: Bosque Nacional El Yunque), formerly known as the Caribbean National Forest (or Bosque Nacional del Caribe),[2][3] is a forest located in northeastern Puerto Rico. It is the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System and the United States Forest Service.[4] El Yunque National Rainforest is located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains, encompassing 28,000 acres (43.753 mi2 or 113.32 km2) of land, making it the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico.

The highest mountain peaks in the forest rises 3,494 feet (1,065 m) above sea level. This forest is commonly known as El Yunque, which may be attributed to either a Spanish approximation of the aboriginal Taíno word yu-ke which means "white land", or the word "anvil," which is yunque in Spanish. The second highest and arguably most famous mountain within El Yunque forest is also named Pico El Yunque. Other peaks within the national forest are Pico del Este, Pico del Oeste, El Cacique and El Toro, which is the highest point in eastern Puerto Rico and the Sierra de Luquillo.

Ample rainfall (over 20 feet a year in some areas) creates a jungle-like setting—lush foliage, crags, waterfalls, and rivers are a prevalent sight. The forest has a number of trails from which the jungle-like territory's flora and fauna can be appreciated. El Yunque forest is also renowned for its unique Taíno petroglyphs. It is said that indigenous people believed that El Yunque was the throne of their chief god Yúcahu, so that it is the Caribbean equivalent to Mount Olympus in Greek mythology.


El Yunque National Forest map

The forest region was initially set aside in 1876 by King Alfonso XII of Spain and represents one of the oldest reserves in the Western Hemisphere. It was established as the Luquillo Forest Reserve on 17 January 1903 by the General Land Office with 65,950 acres (266.9 km2), and became a National Forest in 1906. It was renamed Caribbean National Forest on 4 June 1935.[5] It is home to over 200 species of trees and plants, 16 of which are endemic to the forest.[6] The critically endangered Puerto Rican amazon (Amazona vittata), with an estimated wild population of 58–80 individuals in the wild, occurred exclusively in this forest until 19 November 2006, when another wild population was released by the Department of Natural Resources in the municipality of Utuado's Río Abajo State Forest.

An executive order signed by President George W. Bush on 2 April 2007 changed the name of the Caribbean National Forest to El Yunque National Forest, better reflecting the cultural and historical feelings of the Puerto Rican people.[7]


Kids at play at El Yunque rainforest in 2007

Because Puerto Rico is located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, it has a tropical climate, more specifically a tropical rainforest climate. There is no distinct wet or dry season in El Yunque; it rains year round. The temperature and length of daylight remain fairly constant throughout the year. The average temperature in the summer is 80 °F(26 °C) high and 68 °F (20 °C) low and in the winter 72 °F(22 °C) high and 58 °F(15 °C) low, Temperatures can drop below 50 °F(10 °C) on clear nights during the winter, but never below freezing. All of these factors provide a year-round growing season.

Skyline of the El Yunque National Rainforest from a trail.

Ecology and conservation[edit]

Coca Falls

Its ecosystem is specifically surveyed by the Management Team of Ecosystems (Equipo de Manejos de Ecosistemas), which is led by Pedro Rios.[8] Due to its location in the northeastern part of Puerto Rico, the incoming trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean bash into the mountains, leading to an excess of rainfall registered at about 240 inches (6.1 m) per year.[8] This process is called orographic lift and accounts for the intense rainfall and constant cloud presence in this mountainous region. This constant cloud cover and persistent winds produced by the adiabatic process of air particles rushing up through the mountainside has affected the morphology of El Yunque, but the most effect has been on the bosque enano or dwarf forest.[9]


View towards Pico Los Picachos from the top of Pico El Yunque with exceptional visibility

El Yunque is composed of four different forest vegetation areas: Tabonuco Forest, Palo Colorado Forest, Sierra Palm Forest, and the Dwarf Forest. El Yunque forest supports a vast array of animal and plant life that varies depending on the altitude range in the rainforest.

Sierra palm tree forest[edit]

This forest area is located at 1,970 feet (600 m) above sea level and is dominated by the Sierra palm tree (Prestoea montana). This palm tree can be found throughout the national forest but the shallowness of the soil makes it the dominant tree at this height of the forest.

Palo colorado forest[edit]

This forest area is found above 2,500 feet (600-900 m) above sea level and is dominated by the palo colorado (Cyrilla racemiflora). The most distinctive features of this tree are its red crooked bark which gives it its Spanish name. These trees are not endemic to the island but they are native to the region. This forest area is a partial old growth forest and some of the palo colorado trees are estimated to be up to 1,000 years old. Due to the shallowness of its bark, the trunks of these trees are commonly used as nesting sites by endangered Puerto Rican parrots (Amazona vittata).

Other trees found in the palo colorado forest area caimitillo (Micropholis garcinifolia), green caimitillo (Micropholis garciniaefolia), yarumo (Cecropia peltata), Caribbean azafran (Hedyosmum arborencens) and the Sierra palm tree (Prestoea montana).

Tabonuco forest[edit]

The tabonuco tree (Dacryodes excelsa) from which this forest area got its name occurs from 660 to 2800 feet (200 to 900 meters) in the mountains of Puerto Rico as well as other islands that make up the Antilles. The laurel magnolia (Magnolia splendens), an endangered magnolia tree that is endemic to eastern Puerto Rico, can be found in this forest area as well. This forest is very diverse in trees, having over 170 species such as bulletwood (Manilkara bidentata), West Indian giant fern (Cyathea arborea), yarumo (Cecropia peltata), macho yarumo (Didymopanax morototoni), granadillo (Buchenavia capitata) and guaraguao tree (Guarea guidona).[10]

Dwarf forest (Cloud forest)[edit]

The Dwarf forest ecosystem is located at around 3,000 feet (910 m) and composes the smallest sub-region in El Yunque forest. The forest is characterized by the variation of vegetation that is only found in Puerto Rico. The vegetation shows stunted growth in which the diameter of the trunk is widened and the number of leaves on the branches is lower than expected.[9] Other specific factors that affect the growth of this sub-region are the high level of acidity and poor water runoff from the soil.

Although many species have adapted to these harsh environments, five species are frequent in the dwarf forest: Ocotea spathulata, Tabebuia rigida, Calyptranthes krugii, Eugenia borinquensis and Calycogonium squamulosum. The other abundant type of plants in the dwarf forest are epiphytes. The great amount of competition in the canopy does not allow lower level plants to develop and prosper.[11] The characteristic of having a widened tree trunk is ideal for epiphytes that require a host to live. Therefore, a substantial amount of epiphytic plants have cemented their existence in the flora of El Yunque forest, specifically in the dwarf forest due to the moisture, precipitation and protection from the sun.


The national forest is home to numerous species of animals, many of which are endemic to Puerto Rico. In addition to the critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot, other endangered species found in the forest are the Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus brunnescens), the Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus venator), the Elfin woods warbler (Setophaga angelae) and the Puerto Rican boa (Epicratus inornatus). The white-necked crow (Corvus leucognaphalus), which used to be found in the region, has been completely extirpated from the island and is now only found in Hispaniola.

Other animals found within the forest boundaries are the Puerto Rican oriole (Icterus portoricensis), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), red fruit bat (Stenoderma rufus), the Puerto Rican giant anole (Anolis cuvieri) and the Puerto Rican twig anole (Anolis occultus). The endangered American eel (Anguilla rostrata), the fat sleeper fish (Dormitator maculatus), the bigmouth sleeper fish (Gobiomorus dormitor), big claw river shrimp (Macrobrachium carcinus) and the bocú shrimp (Macrobrachium crenulatum) are found in the rivers and creeks that originate and flow from El Yunque.[12]


Approximately 16 species of common coqui, members of the diverse neotropical frog genus Eleutherodactylus, are known in Puerto Rico. Of these 16, 13 have been found in El Yunque National Forest.[13] This small frog earned its Puerto Rican common name due to the call of the most common coquí species in Puerto Rico, Eleutherodactylus coqui, which begins as the sun sets and ends in early dawn. This has made it an animal of great endearment to Puerto Ricans and in contemporary times the coqui has become a symbol of Puerto Ricans.

Although the coquí is an amphibian, it possesses some features that are unusual in frogs. These differences are seen mainly in its morphology, reproduction, and developmental stages. In terms of morphology, the coquí does not have webbing between its toes because it is a tree dweller in moist environments. Another significant difference is that it does not have a definite larval stage and the eggs laid by the female are terrestrial instead of aquatic.[13] This means that a miniature frog-let, rather than a tadpole, arises from the incubation period.

Other species of coqui found in the forest are the grass coqui (Eleutherodactylus brittoni), Eneida's coqui (Eleutherodactylus eneidae), the cricket coqui (Eleutherodactylus gryllus), Hedrick's coqui (Eleutherodactylus hedricki), the web-footed coqui (Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti), the locust coqui (Eleutherodactylus locustus), the upland or forest coqui (Eleutherodactylus portoricensis), the bronze or Richmond's coqui (Eleutherodactylus richmondi), the dwarf coqui (Eleutherodactylus unicolor) and the melodious or wrinkled coqui (Eleutherodactylus wightmanae).

Puerto Rican Amazon[edit]

The Puerto Rican parrot is a little parrot that measures 11.0–11.8 in (28–30 cm). The bird is a predominantly green parrot with a red forehead and white rings around the eyes. The species is the only remaining native parrot in Puerto Rico. The total estimated population as of 2012 was 58–80 individuals in the wild and over 300 individuals in captivity.[14]


Per a study published October 2018, by Bradford C. Lister and Andres Garcia, arthropod biomass in the Luquillo rainforest data taken during the 1970s compared to 30 years later has fallen 10 to 60 times. The study revealed synchronous declines in the lizards, frogs, and birds that eat arthropods. The study indicated that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest's food web. Over the past 30 years, forest temperatures have risen 2.0 °C.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

El Portal Rainforest Center[edit]

El Portal Rainforest Center
El Portal Rainforest Center of El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico

Opened in 1996, the El Portal Rainforest Center was designed by Segundo Cardona, FAIA of Sierra Cardona Ferrer Architects to give visitors an introduction or beautiful beginning of what the rainforest looks like. Built on a 28,434-acre tropical forest, the Portal was built as a model headquarters for ecotourism and economic development and training, the center was built to educate those concerned about the wellbeing of the Caribbean National Forest and preserve the unique tropical forest heritage and environment.[24] It is lovated within the national forest in the municipality of Rio Grande.

A walkway set at 60 feet (18 m) above the ground allows for a view of the tops of trees, and another walkway winds along tree bases. Exhibits at the center focus on the plants and animals of the rainforest, the importance of rainforests around the world, and threats to rainforests and efforts to conserve them.[25]

The entry experience begins atop an elevated walkway that unites the facility with the surrounding forest and provides views to the mountain peaks, ocean and reforested terrain. The Center contains 9,000 square feet of exhibits, an enclosed theater, conference center classrooms and laboratories, as well as administrative offices. To preserve natural conditions, care was taken to use existing openings for roads, parking areas and buildings while the arrival sequence and parking lots were designed with contours to save existing trees.[26][27]

The Portal has survived several major hurricanes including Hurricane Georges. On September 21, 2017, Hurricane Maria on caused major damages to the center and renovations are underway as of 2020.[28]


America the Beautiful quarter depicting El Yunque National Forest
Yokahu Tower

El Yunque National Forest has been incorrectly called the only rainforest in the United States National Forest Service,[note 1] but it is actually the only tropical rainforest.[29] There are others that are temperate rainforests including some in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.[30]

There are two observation towers including Yokahu Tower and Mount Britton Tower.

El Yunque National Forest was chosen to be Puerto Rico's entry in the America the Beautiful Quarters program. Its only National Park Service site, San Juan National Historic Site had already been featured on the District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarters in 2009.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress designated areas bounded by the Río Mameyes, Río de la Mina, and Río Icacos in the Caribbean National Forest as components of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See, for example, Puerto Rico - Nature and Scientific Wonders. Smithsonian Institution. 6 November 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2013; Frommer's Puerto Rico. Frommer's Introduction to El Yunque. Retrieved 15 August 2013;Puerto Rico Chapter Marks Milestones, Looks Ahead. Sierra Club. Retrieved 15 August 2013;Hiking in Puerto Rico. Archived 2014-04-07 at the Wayback Machine Matthew Gilbertson and Amanda Morris. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 15 August 2013.


  1. ^ "Land Areas of the National Forest System" (PDF). U.S. Forest Service. January 2012. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  2. ^ "History & Culture". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 2012-02-01.
  3. ^ "Executive Order 7059-A of June 4, 1935 Changing the Name of the Luquillo National Forest".
  4. ^ Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document: "El Yunque National Forest". Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  5. ^ Davis, Richard C. (2009-09-29). "National Forests of the United States" (PDF). The Forest History Society. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-28. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ "Endemic plants". USDA. Archived from the original on 2021-04-23.
  7. ^ "Executive Order: Renaming a National Forest in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico". Business Wire. 2007-04-02. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2008-12-04.
  8. ^ a b "About the Forest". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 2011-06-11.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b Weaver, Peter L. (2008). "Dwarf Forest Recovery After Disturbance in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico". Caribbean Journal of Science. 44 (2): 150–163. doi:10.18475/cjos.v44i2.a4. S2CID 130838921.
  10. ^ https://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/pubs/misc/ag_654/volume_2/dacryodes/excelsa.htm
  11. ^ Mohlenbrock, Robert H. (October 1991). "Epiphytes of El Yunque, Puerto Rico". Natural History: 76.
  12. ^ "Fauna - Threatened, Endangered, and Species of Conservation Concern". United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  13. ^ a b Burrowes, Patricia A.; Ana V. Longo (June 2010). "Persistence with Chytridiomycosis Does Not Assure Survival of Direct-developing Frogs". EcoHealth: 185–195.
  14. ^ https://www.fws.gov/caribbean/ParrotMoU2012.html
  15. ^ Garcia, Andres; Lister, Bradford C. (30 October 2018). "Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115 (44): E10397–E10406. doi:10.1073/pnas.1722477115. PMC 6217376. PMID 30322922.
  16. ^ "Two degrees decimated Puerto Rico's insect populations". phys.
  17. ^ "Huge Arthropod Declines Documented in Puerto Rican Rainforest". The Scientist Magazine®.
  18. ^ "Here's what's devastating Puerto Rico's insect populations—and the animals that eat them". Popular Science.
  19. ^ "'Hyper-alarming' study reveals dramatic decline of insect population". The Independent. 16 October 2018.
  20. ^ Graham, Flora (16 October 2018). "Daily briefing: Insect populations are crashing even in lush, protected tropical rainforests". Nature. doi:10.1038/d41586-018-07082-w – via www.nature.com.
  21. ^ Resnick, Brian (17 October 2018). "Why scientists are so worried by the huge, sudden loss of insects". Vox.
  22. ^ Schlanger, Zoë. "Humanity is obliterating millions of years of animal evolution". Quartz.
  23. ^ ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss
  24. ^ "Nuevos tiempos, nuevas ideas y nuevos momentos". Ocean Drive. 21 December 2010.
  25. ^ "Explore El Portal Tropical Forest Center in El Yunque Forest". PuertoRico.com. Retrieved 2012-02-01.
  26. ^ "Forest Service USDA". Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  27. ^ Cardona, Segundo; Hermida, Teresa, eds. (2008). Segundo Cardona. Guaynabo: DASE. ISBN 978-0-615-15402-2.
  28. ^ "El Portal Visitors Center". El Yunque National Forest. 2020-04-03. Retrieved 2020-07-15.
  29. ^ "El Yunque National Forest - Home". U. S. Forest Service. United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  30. ^ "America's Rainforests". Prince William Network. USDA Forest Service. Retrieved August 26, 2020.
  31. ^ Caribbean National Forest Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 2002. H. R. 3954. One Hundred Seventh (107th) Congress of the United States of America. SECOND SESSION (2nd Session). (PUBLIC LAW 107–365. DEC. 19, 2002. 116 STAT. 3027) 23 January 2002. Retrieved 13 August 2013.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]