25 February 2009

Irie... The Blue Mountains, Mon!

In June 2008, Lindsay and I vacationed for a week in Jamaica. We stayed in the resort town of Ocho Rios, but one day embarked on an approximately two hour bus trip to the east side of the island. The purpose of our journey was to see the largest mountain range in Jamaica, the Blue Mountains, made famous in the minds of many by the coffee that is grown there, Blue Mountain Coffee.

While some people on our tour might have been there to sample the coffee, we were there to ride cruiser bikes down the mountain, view the breathtaking scenery, and observe the flora and fauna of the area.

Consisting mostly of shale, mudstone, sandstone, and limestone bedrock, the Blue Mountains are mostly at an elevation of greater than 3500 feet, and peak at 7402 feet. They consist of several vegetation communities that vary in levels of anthropogenic disturbance. The southern slopes below 5250 feet have mostly been cleared of forest and now are either fallow fields or are used to grow coffee, vegetables, or ornamental plants.

Coffee plantation

Coffee plant

Above 5250 feet, the forest is more intact, though scattered clearings are present.

The Blue Mountain forests are diverse and vary depending on elevation. On the northern slopes below 2950 to 3300 feet, trees grow to a height of 100 to 120 feet, and woody vines are abundant. This area is known as the lower montane rainforest. At elevations above the lower montain rainforest is what is known as the upper montain rainforest, an area characterized by heavy fog. Within the upper montain rainforest, elfin woodlands are located between 6500 and 7400 feet, and are characterized by shorter trees and many lichens and mosses. Below these areas are forests made up of taller trees.

Many of the openings created for agriculture and tourism have been colonized by weeds from Europe and North America; there are also abundant native weeds in these disturbed areas. Spanish needles (Bidens alba) is one such native weed.

Another, and one of my favorite weeds of the trip, is Cupid's paintbrush (Emilia fosbergii).

Most of the plants found in the undisturbed areas of the Blue Mountains, however, are native to Jamaica. In fact, 50% of the flowering plants within Blue Mountain forests are endemic to Jamaica, meaning that they are found growing naturally only in Jamaica. Of these endemics, 30 to 40% are only found in the Blue Mountains! One of those endemics is begonia (Begonia minor), a shrubby plant that grows on exposed rock cliffs.

Because we were bicycling down the mountain, we didn't have as much time as I would have liked to observe and study the flora and fauna of this beautiful area. If we ever make it back to Jamaica, we have agreed that we would like to spend much more time exploring the Blue Mountains.

Most of my information comes from A Guide to Plants in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica by Susan Iremonger.


Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

My family and I vacationed in Jamaica in June 2007 - we also went to the Blue Mountains for ziplining. Lots of fun, but traveling through the canopy at 30 mph didn't give me much chance to observe the natural history closely.

That's quite an extraordinary level of endemism!


Tom said...

Hi Lindsay and Scott- Looks like you had a great trip. Thanks for the link. I'm always on the lookout for great new nature blogs, and yours looks awesome.


Scott said...


Thanks for visiting. Your blog is great, too; your photos are amazing!

Scott said...

Hi Ted. When we were in Costa Rica in 2007, Lindsay wanted to zipline, but I didn't think there would be enough of a chance to see the plants and wildlife. We only had a half day at the preserve, so she ziplined and I did the canopy walk. I saw plants and birds that day that we didn't see at any other time on our trip. Lindsay didn't have that opportunity. She also ended up with a large, nasty bruise on her forearm.