Reprinted from BGCI Cultivate #121 October 2023
In an era marked by global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and habitat degradation, the conservation of endangered endemic plants has become a pressing concern. Eye on the Rainforest, an organization in Puerto Rico, has joined forces with Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) to address this issue. Their collaborative efforts are focused on the preservation of precious endemic plant species found in Puerto Rico. Eye on the Rainforest plays a vital role in connecting visitors with nature, while highlighting their collaboration with BGCI in the conservation of these botanical treasures.
Connecting Visitors with Nature: Eye on the Rainforest, though not officially certified as a botanical garden, stands as an enchanting haven for visitors, captivating them with its breathtaking natural beauty and rich biodiversity. The organization’s immersive trails and cultivated gardens provide a unique opportunity for individuals to establish a profound connection with Puerto Rico’s exceptional endemic plant species. By showcasing the remarkable diversity of the island’s flora, Eye on the Rainforest nurtures a deep-seated understanding and appreciation for Puerto Rico’s ecological heritage.
Educational Outreach and Interpretation: To effectively convey the urgency of conserving endemic plants, Eye on the Rainforest employs a comprehensive array of educational outreach and interpretation strategies. Workshops, lectures, and informative signage serve as powerful tools to enlighten visitors about the ecological significance of plant species and the challenges they face. Collaborating with BGCI provides Eye on the Rainforest access to invaluable resources, online info, and global expertise, ensuring accurate and up-to-date information is shared with visitors. Invitation to speak at botanical conferences has helped to highlight the work being done, and helped generate confidence that it matters. By promoting awareness and understanding, the organization empowers visitors to actively contribute to the preservation of Puerto Rico’s unique botanical heritage.
Endangered Endemics Nursery
Experiential Learning: Recognizing the transformative power of experiential learning, Eye on the Rainforest engages visitors in hands-on activities such as seed or seedling collection, propagation, plant awareness workshops, nursery-work, and habitat restoration projects. Currently volunteers have been working on a landslide mitigation project, understanding the power of the volume of water that flowed over the land in 2022 Hurricane Fiona and for 5 weeks after. They have been actively handling and planting Vetiver, (Chrysopogon zizanioides), a deep-rooted grass plant, on slope edges and sun-tolerant seedlings of tree species such as Tabebuia heterophylla, (that also has deep taproots), directly into the open gash of the landslide. These tangible experiences allow individuals to become active participants in the conservation efforts on land with plants. By immersing visitors in these authentic encounters, Eye on the Rainforest fosters a sense of ownership and stewardship, inspiring visitors to become advocates for the protection of Puerto Rico’s exceptional forests and plant life.
Landslide mitigation, planting vetiver and trees
Conservation Partnerships: The collaborative efforts between Eye on the Rainforest and BGCI exemplify the pivotal role played by partnerships in addressing complex conservation challenges. Through this alliance, the organizations synergistically leverage their collective resources, expertise, and networks. Collaborative research initiatives, exchange of conservation strategies, and pooling of efforts bolster the long-term survival prospects of endangered endemic plants in Puerto Rico. This partnership not only strengthens the conservation efforts directed towards these plant species but also serves as a model for global cooperation in safeguarding any botanical treasures confronting the threat of extinction.
Processing the seeds from collected fruits of endangered endemic Ravenia urbanii.
Promoting Sustainable Gardening Practices: Eye on the Rainforest recognizes the significance of promoting sustainable gardening practices beyond the boundaries of its premises. By engaging visitors and local communities through workshops and demonstrations focused on organic gardening, native plant landscaping, and sustainable water management, the organization encourages individuals to create green spaces that support local biodiversity. This holistic approach not only contributes to the conservation of endemic plants but also builds a culture of environmental stewardship.
Creating a Botanical Team for Surveys: One noteworthy aspect of Eye on the Rainforest’s conservation efforts is the creation of a dedicated team who embark on surveys together, developing not only scientific collaboration but also cultivating enduring friendships that stretch across disciplines. These botanists, armed with their collective expertise and passion for plants, venture into the rich landscapes of Puerto Rico to document and study endemic species, including the remarkable Ravenia urbanii and Garcinia portoricensis.
The team’s expertise crosses fields of botany, ecology, mycology, silviculture, forestry, dendrology, horticulture, plant taxonomy, farming, agronomy, botany, tropical ecology, taxonomy, bryology, arboriculture, herpetology, biology, sociology, orchidology activism, lepidopterology, lichenology, and pteridology. The arts are included as several team members are also artists and architects.
Through their shared experiences in the field, enduring challenges, and witnessing the beauty of Puerto Rico’s flora firsthand, this team of botanists develops deep bonds of camaraderie and mutual respect. This collaborative approach not only strengthens scientific research but also promotes a sense of pride, community, and shared responsibility in safeguarding the invaluable plant biodiversity of Puerto Rico. Social media has become an important tool in drawing the public into discussion and understanding of the work being done.
Eye on the Rainforest’s collaboration with BGCI in the conservation of endemic plant species showcases the organization’s commitment to nurturing Puerto Rico’s unique flora. The project has developed enchanting trails and gardens, promoted educational outreach, offered experiential learning opportunities, and promotion of sustainable practices. Eye on the Rainforest inspires visitors to develop an enduring affection and reverence for the island’s botanical treasures. The partnership with BGCI magnifies the impact of their conservation endeavors and reinforces the imperativeness of protecting Puerto Rico’s biodiversity; by developing profound connections between individuals and nature, Eye on the Rainforest and BGCI pave the way for a sustainable future, wherein endemic plants thrive, and the botanical heritage of Puerto Rico endures for generations to come.
All photos By 3t Vakil, Sept 2023.
Written by Thrity Vakil – President of Eye On The Rainforest (Las Casas de la Selva, Puerto Rico)