Like any good tropical island, Puerto Rico has a bounty of flowering plants. Probably the one most commonly encountered, particularly in gardens but also in the wild, is the beautiful sun-loving bougainvillea. The plant produces great clusters of blossoms with thin papery petals, which come in an assortment of colors, including pink, magenta, purple, red, orange, white, and yellow. The plant is actually a vine, but in Puerto Rico bougainvillea often grows freestanding, with its long thin branches hanging heavy with blooms.
The mountains are home to many varieties of flowering plants, including one that home gardeners in the States may recognize—the shade-loving impatiens, a lovely ground-covering plant with white blooms. They can be seen blooming in great drifts along mountain banks. Other mountain flowering plants include more than 50 varieties of orchids, but don’t look for corsage-sized blossoms—Puerto Rico’s orchids tend to be small, some the size of a fingernail. Where you find orchids, you can usually find bromeliads, which, like the orchid, grows on other plants that serve as hosts. Bromeliads are typically distinguished by overlapping spirals of leaves with a tubular punch of color in the center, but the family includes some atypical variations, including Spanish moss and the pineapple, both of which grow on the island.
Other plants found commonly in Puerto Rico are a large variety of ferns, large and small, in the mountains. Along the beaches, the sea grape, a low-lying compact shrub that grows in clusters, creates a cave-like reprieve from the sun. Several varieties of cactus grow in the subtropical dry forest along the southwestern coast and on the islands of Vieques and Culebra.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition