Ecological Services in the Caribbean
Oficina de Servicios Ecológicos del Caribe -- Southeast Region
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September 9, 2014 - Press Release  PDF ver (163KB)

Comunicado en español  PDF ver (68KB)


Scientific name: Varronia rupicola

Previously named: Cordia rupicula

Common Name: No common name

Status: Threatened

Distribution: Yauco, Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, and Vieques Puerto Rico and Anegada Island, British Virgin Islands

On September 9, 2014 the Service listed the Varronia rupicola as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

See the map with designated as critical habitat areas: Varronia rupicola Index Map (PDF 31KB)

Species Description 

Varronia rupicola is a large shrub reaching 5 to 16 feet in height. The surface of the alternate leave is rough and densely covered

by hairs. Flowers are white and very small in solitary, globular heads. The fruit is a one-seeded red drupe. The species flowers and

fruits in December-January, also in June-July. Varronia rupicola was traditionally lumped into the genus Cordia, a group of about 250

or more species of trees and shrubs of tropical and subtropical regions. Varronia was recently recognized as member of the Varronia

genus, comprised of multi-stemmed shrubs with very small flowers and evenly notched leaves.


Varronia rupicola occurs in dry forest habitat along southern Puerto Rico and Anegada, British Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, habitats

in the municipalities of Guánica, Yauco, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and the Island of Vieques occur on forested limestone hills with

open to relatively dense shrublands; low forest with canopy; and at the edge of a dense low coastal shrubland forest. In Anegada, British

Virgin islands, the species is located in open limestone pavement and sand dunes.

The proposed critical habitat  units for Varronia rupicola occupies about 6,547 acres (2,648 hectares) that the Service believes are essential

for the conservation of this species. Five of the seven proposed units are currently occupied by V. rupicola. Two units lie entirely on private

lands, three are within lands managed by the Puerto Rico Department of natural and Environmental resources (PRDNER), and two within

the lands managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Vieques National Wildlife Refuge).

Varronia rupicola Critical Habitat Units:

   1. Montalva, Guánica

   2. Guánica Commonwealth Forest, Guánica, Yauco and Guayanilla

   3. Montes de Barinas, Yauco and Guayanilla

   4. Peñon de Ponce, Peñuelas and Ponce

   5. Punta Negra, Vieques

   6. Puerto Ferro, Vieques

   7. Cerro Playuela, Vieques

Habitat and Biological Features Necessary for the Plants Survival:

The following are the physical or biological features that make it essential for the survival and recovery of Varronia rupicola. The proposed

critical habitat boundaries were selected based on these features. They include the following:

  1. Remnants of native shrubland/scrubland forest vegetation on limestone substrate within the subtropical dry forest life zone. Dry shrubland/scrubland includes:

             (a) Shrubland vegetation with canopy from 6.5 to 9.8 ft (2 to 3 m) high.

             (b) Limestone pavement.

             (c) Associated native vegetation.

             (d) Shrub layer is dominated by Croton humilis, Eupatorium sinuatum, Lantana reticulata, and Turnera diffusa.

      2. Dry limestone semi-deciduous forest includes:

             (a) Low forest with canopy from 8 to 15 ft (3 to 5 m) high.

             (b) Limestone pavement.

             (c) Associated dry forest native vegetation.

             (d) Shrub layer is dominated by Croton humilis, Eupatorium sinuatum, Lantana reticulata, and Turnera diffusa.


Conservation Potential

The service looks forward to exploring potential partnerships to recover this specie.

The staff members from the Royal Botanical garden (Kew) have developed a germination and cultivation protocol for V. rupicola. Kew is

also conducting studies to determine the generic variation within and among known populations, reproductive biology, and population

ecology to develop and management plan for the recovery of the species (Hamilton, KEW, pers. comm. 2012)

Varronia rupicola material germinated in the greenhouse at Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge were flowering and producing fruits in about

one year after germination. the rapid reproductive development of the species and the finding of individuals along recently disturbed sites

(new dirt roads) and natural forests gaps (openings) may indicate that V. rupicola is an early colonizer or pioneer species. Further

preliminary germination experiments have been conducted in Puerto Rico at the nurseries of the Guánica Commonwealth forest and the

Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge.

Current evidence indicates that the majority of suitable habitat and known populations of V. rupicola lie within private lands in Yauco,

Peñuelas, and Ponce in southern Puerto Rico. These lands are subject to habitat destruction or modification and impacts to habitat and populations have been documented. The Service's evaluate federally funded projects or projects requiring federal permits proposed within

the species range. As part of the evaluation, the Service recommends surveys to identify populations and recommends conservation

measures to protect the species habitat.

Populations located within the Guánica Commonwealth Forest have been affected by management practices such as trail and power line maintenance. Habitat destruction further results in the intrusion of exotic plant species that have the potential to outcompete V.rupicola

and create favorable conditions for fire. Furthermore, implementation and enforcement of regulatory mechanisms to protect the species

have not been effective, particularly because enforcement on private lands continues to be a challenge. If listed, the service will work with

others to develop a species recovery plan and conservation strategies to address threats and stabilize populations.

Existing Legal Protections that need to be promoted and enforced:

One of the currently known populations of V. rupicola is located within the Vieques Wildlife Refuge. Collecting and managing plant material (including seeds) within a national wildlife refuge is regulated and requires a special use permit from the Refuge. In the case of federally

listed species, coordination with local field offices and the acquisition of the a federal permit (FWS Form 3-300-55) is required to ensure that the proposed action does not affect such species.

Varronia rupicola is considered a critical element by the PRDNER Natural Heritage Program as defined by Law No. 150, known as the

Puerto Rico Natural Heritage Law (Ley del Programa de Patrimonio Natural de Puerto Rico). A critical element is defined as a species

that should be considered for conservation because of its contribution to biodiversity and because of its importance to Puerto Rican natural heritage.

Law No. 241, also known as New Wildlife Law of Puerto Rico (Nueva Ley de Vida Silvestre de Puerto Rico) protects, conserves and enhances both native and migratory wildlife species, including plants; declares all wildlife species within its jurisdiction as property of Puerto Rico, regulates permits, hunting activities, and exotic species.

Cutting, killing, destroying, uprooting, extracting or in any way hurting Varronia rupicola within the Guánica Commonwealth Forests without a permit from the PRDNER is prohibited by Law No. 133(12 L.P.R.A. sec. 191) 1975, as amended in 2000, known as the Puerto Rico Forest Law (Ley de Bosques de Puerto Rico), as amended in 2000.





Last updated: September 10, 2014