The Dwarf Forest
High Altitude Forests
of El Yunque
The higher the elevation, the fewer the animals.
Palo Colorado Forest
This forest type ranges from 1,9870-2,950 feet in valleys and mountains and is characterized by 3 species but dominated by the palo colorado (Cyrilla racemiflora), a crooked, reddish-colored tree which dominates this zone.
This is the region where the endangered Puerto Rican parrot makes its nests, using openings in the palo colorado trunk made by other animals.
Sierra Palm Forest
The sierra palm forest is found in the highest points in the mountains of Luquillo and in ravines over 968 feet above sea level. Compared to the tremendous diversity of the rain forest, the palm forest is unique, a kind of mono-culture consisting only of the sierra palm (Presto Montana).
Sierra palms have white flower spikes and erect prop roots. This is the most open of the 4 forest systems. The sierra palm fruit is a main food source for the rare Puerto Rican parrot.
The Dwarf (Elfin) Forest
Of El Yunque's 4 distinct forest zones, the smallest (only 3%) is the stunted and twisted vegetation of the dwarf forest.
It grows only on the highest peaks and mountain ridges. Although referred to as dwarf forest in Puerto Rico , this same zone on other islands is often called elfin woodland or sometimes even cloud forest.
The weather is often harsh, and the adaptive, evolutionary process has created a vascular flora that is almost 40 percent endemic to Puerto Rico, found nowhere else in the world.
As in most dwarf forests, animals are scarce . Amphibians include mainly tree frogs like the common coqui, the burrowing coqui, the tree-hole coqui and the warty coqui.
Reptiles are limited to anoles, including the Puerto Rican giant Anole, and only a total of 14 different bird species have ever been sighted in the dwarf forest. The elfin woods warbler was unknown to science until its discovery here in 1971.
The best trails for exploring the dwarf forest are El Yunque and El Toro, which pass through all the various forest systems. The path peaks at the 3,523-foot Pico El Toro, highest point in the Caribbean National Forest.