Waking up in Aguadilla

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By: Stephanie Burke ’24, Student Attorney, Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic

I am usually up before the sun in NY. I love watching the sun rise and enjoying the tranquility of the early morning. Today as I watched the sun rise, I was surrounded by the beautiful, green rolling hills of Aguadilla. Birds of all kinds were welcoming the morning light. The staccato of the chickens mingled with the lovely song of the Northern Mockingbird.

As the child of a horticulturist and amateur entomologist, I cannot resist the biodiversity of Puerto Rico: the animals, the trees, and the flowers. As I made my coffee this morning, I noticed a giant Katydid and several (I think) stink bugs hanging out on the screen of the kitchen window. The lovely house we are staying in is surrounded by gorgeous trees: Banana trees, Mamey trees, and Mango trees.

The flowers varied from eye-catching white to a vibrant pink, yellow or orange. Hibiscus, giant Crape Myrtle, Bougainvillea (pink, magenta, white), African Tulip trees and so many others captivated me. As I researched the flowers and trees, I recognized elements of colonialism in the very soil of Puerto Rico. Bougainvillea is native to South America and the African Tulip Tree is from, well, Africa. Many of the plants and trees that decorated the institutions we visited and dotted the roadways were not native to Puerto Rico.

Colonial powers made these decisions based on their preferences, not on what was endemic to Puerto Rico. This is a disservice to Puerto Rico and anyone who visits the Islands today for two reasons: first, many of the non-native plants are now invasive species taking over the habitat of the native plants and second, the missed opportunity to show case the amazing plant life in this gorgeous archipelago. I look forward to exploring more of Puerto Rico and learning more about the native plant life in this lovely place.

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