This is a shrub or small tree that measures up to 15 feet high. Its leaves are 1½ inch long and ¾ of an inch wide. Plants of this species produce two types of flowers: masculine and feminine. Each plant has both types arranged so that a female flower is surrounded by several male flowers. The fruit is a capsule with three pointy structures that look like three “horns”. Hence the common name of the plant.
Vahl’s boxwood belongs to the Buxaceae family, a group that is found in the tropics, subtropics, and temperate zones of the world. There are several species of ornamental value in this family. Species used in various countries for gardening belong to this family. Some species produce a resistant wood which does not collapse easily and on which fine carving, inlaid wood in several colors (work known as marquetry) and some instruments such as rules are done. The name of the Puerto Rican species, Buxus vahlii, honors the memory of Martin Vahl Hendriksen (1749-1804), botanist who studied plants from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
This is a plant unique to Puerto Rico and St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands). In Puerto Rico, it exists only in three places: the limestone hills west of San Juan, the Guajataca Forest, and in the area of Rincón.
Buxus vahlii is endangered because of habitat destruction by humans. Many limestone hills in the north have been modified to gather construction materials and to prepare areas for residential and industrial developments. Because of this, the population west of San Juan is in serious threat of extinction. The populations in Rincón and St. Croix can be affected by urban and industrial development. The population in the Guajataca Forest is in less danger of being destroyed, as long as management activities of this public forest address conservation of rare species.
Vahl’s boxwood was included in the Federal list of endangered species in 1985. Local and federal endangered species laws legally protect the species from any human activity that threatens their survival. Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluate projects for development or other activities that could affect B. vahlii and its habitat. There is a need to establish a propagation program for this plant in order to establish new populations on land that is specifically assigned to conservation.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1987. Vahl’s boxwood recovery plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, Georgia, 34 pp.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: August 27, 2014.
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