I have never seen anything so beautiful. The country around the river is full of
trees, beautiful and green and different from ours, each with flowers and its own kind of
fruit. There are many birds of all sizes that sing very sweetly, and there are many
log of Christopher Columbus
|Pristine coastline of Dominica|
The term tropical rain forest was coined by the German explorer Schimper in his
classic text (1898) Plant Geography. He gave this definition for rainforest -
"Evergreen, hygrophilous in character, at least 30 m high, but usually much taller,
rich in thick-stemmed lianes and in woody as well as herbaceous epiphytes". Others
have noted the species richness of the rainforest community.
rainforest of the Caribbean islands is known as the Dacryodes-Sloanea association
after the two dominant trees (photos below) of the principal canopy. It is also known as submontane
rainforest. The forest comprises an upper closed canopy 30 m high, a discontinuous
middle tree layer at 20 m and a low storey of small trees at 10 m.Gommier
(Dacryodes excelsa) is the dominant tree and is joined in the uppermost layer by, among others,
several species of chataignier ( Sloanea
spp.) with their large plank buttress roots. Bois côte
(Tapura antillana) is the commonest tree of the middle layer while the swizzle stick
tree (Quararibea turbinata) is a common understorey species. Members of the coffee family are common in
the shrub layer but also present may be tree ferns as well as palms such as the macaw
palm (Aiphanes minima). On the branches and trunks of the lowest trees are found epiphytic ferns,
bromeliads and aroids (e.g. the bird nest anthurium - Anthurium hookeri). There may
be a sparse herb layer with the fern ally Selaginella flabellata, a Lesser
Antillean endemic. There are woody vines or lianas which are rooted in the ground
and climb and spread in the canopies. The rainforest trees tend to have largish leaves and
are without spines. The undergrowth of shrubs, herbs and saplings is usually easy to
Rainforest at Grand Etang, Grenada.
Buttress roots of chataignier (Sloanea sp.)
Bird nest anthurium (Anthurium hookeri) growing epiphytically
The forester John Beard in his classic (1949) Natural Vegetation of the Windward & Leeward Islands points
out some 40% of the tree species are endemic to the Lesser Antilles and many of the others
are natives with a wider distribution (e.g. endemic to the Lesser Antilles and northern
South America). Our improved knowledge of regional flora would suggest a slighter lower
figure of 30% for rainforest trees that are Lesser Antillean endemics. Few if any
introduced species have become naturalized in this plant community. Not surprisingly, these
Lesser Antillean endemics are especially centred on the four older islands of the
archipelago, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St Lucia. In the Easter
Caribbean, rainforest is limited to the high volcanic islands.
Where this forest is cleared, vegetation dominated
by the tree ferns Cyathea arborea and
Cnemidaria grandifolia is the first to develop.
This is termed Tree fern brake.
Enjoying the thirst-quenching sap of a rainforest
liana called liane chasseur - St Lucia
The two dominant trees...
|Gommier (Dacryodes excelsa) trunk exuding
which is used as incense
|Chataignier (Sloanea sp.). Note the white cap and t-shirt of the guide for a sense of scale!|
This forest occurs in the wet zone (> 1800 mm / 70 " rainfall annually) and, although there is still a period of reduced rainfall, there is always an excess of water supply over demand such that there is effectively no dry season. It lies typically at 300 -750 m and in Dominica may receive annual rainfall of 4000-7500 mm (170-300")!
| Caribbean Vegetation Mapping Project Equivalent
I.A.1.N.b. Submontane tropical or subtropical rain forest
I.A.1.N.b. Dacryodes excelsa - Sloanea massonii Forest Alliance (Dacryodes excelsa - Sloanea massonii submontane rain forests) I.A.1.N.b. Dacryodes excelsa - Sloanea massonii Forest Alliance (Dacryodes excelsa - Sloanea massonii submontane rain forests)