- Andes: At 7,000km (4,300mi) long, this South American mountain range is the longest, mainland chain in the world. Running north to south, it extends through Caribbean Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Its width ranges from 200km (120mi) to 700km (403mi) and its height averages 4,000m (13,000ft). Mt. Aconcagua, its highest peak, reaches 6,962m (22,841ft). Due to its varied habitats it has had a major influence on flora and fauna evolution, and is responsible for the speciation of over one hundred hummingbird species.
- Bamboo Thicket: A dense growth of Bamboo, a grass with a hard woody, hollow stem, which typically grows to heights of 4.5 to 12m.
- Bois Canot (Bois Canon): (Cecropia peltata) A species with separate male and female trees that grows to 5 to 10 metres. It has a hollow trunk and its notched branches are covered with short stiff hairs. Large lobed leaves (somewhat like an open fist or palmatipartite) are set on long 20-50cm (8-20in) stems, which may be up to two feet wide, but typically are around 20cm (8in). There are obvious lineations (from the veins) on the upper surface of the leaves and its underpart is covered with minute hairs with longer ones intermixed. The male and female plants produce distinct flowers and it bears a small, cylindrical or finger-like, fruit, enclosed in a fleshy sheath, with small seeds.
Its leaves have reputed health benefits, e.g., as an anti-inflammatory. Regularly, where there is an opening in the forest canopy, it forms a thick stand. Its natural range is southern Mexico, Central America, northern South America, and the West Indies.
- Broadleaf: One of two type of trees--the other being conifers with needle-like or scale-like leaves--some of which are deciduous, of hardwood, with flat broad leaves, and that bear fruit with seeds within.
- Bromeliads: (Bromeliaceae). An herbaceous plant, some, the epiphytic, without stems and absorptive roots, that has leaves of a variety of shapes, e.g., strap-like (lorate), linear, or lancelike, and, with or without spines. Its leaves grow in a tight circle or rosette—giving some species, the ability to store water. The bromeliad's leaf may range in colors from shades of green to maroon, to gold. The leaves of other varieties are yellow, red, white and variable cream. Yet, others may be spotted red, purple, or cream, and others have different colors on the top and bottom.
Bromeliads are mostly epiphytic and the variety of this kind lives mainly on trees—others on rocks—above the forest floor using firm wiry roots to fasten themselves. On the other hand, the terrestrial bromeliad, e.g., the pineapple, have complex root systems to acquire nutrients and water from the soil. Bromeliads produce an inflorescence, i.e., flowers on a stalk that may grow to 10 metres in some species.
The tank bromeliads are examples of the epiphytic variety without stems and absorptive roots that gain its water and nutrients from pools formed in their overlapping leaf bases. The leaves of this type are convex forming an arch relative to the host surface. Its natural range is the Americas, from South America to the southern Unites States; one species is found in Africa.
- Canopy: The upper stratum of a forest consisting of the tree crowns, i.e., the topmost branches and leaves.
- Caribbean Pine (Pitch Pine)/Caribbean Pine Forest: (Pinus caribaea) A tall conifer, reaching to 45m. It has an upright main trunk. An irregular crown, which starts high up in older trees, is comprised of spindly, upward-striking branches and green needlelike leaves, 15-26cm (5.9-10.24in) that are amassed in bundles of 2 to 3.
It subsists at elevations between 1-700m forming coniferous forest—insular oddities in a sea of surrounding broadleaf forests—in acidic, fully-drained, deficient, soils.
Caribbean pine is native to the Bahamas, Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Central America but it has been introduced in other territories, such as Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and China. The species have three accepted varieties: Pinus caribaea var. caribaea; Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis; and Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis.
N.B., conifers are trees that bear cones containing naked seeds, i.e. seeds not enclosed in an ovary.
- Cloud Forest/Elfin Forest (Dwarf Forest): A tropical or subtropical, montane, evergreen, moist broadleaf forest, at elevations between 500m and 4,000m, varying according to latitude, distance from the sea, and exposure, that undergo persistent cloud cover. The forest may experience annual rainfall between 500 to 10,000mm per year and mean temperatures of 8 to 20°C. The trees in this forest are stunted, with gnarled trunks and branches, the stems are denser, leaves are smaller, harder and thicker, and the crowns are lower and compact. Mosses cover vegetation and the ground.
Trinidad's Cloud Forest (Elfin Woodland), for example, at Cerro del Aripo and El Tucuche, arise above 850m and experiences annual rainfall up to 400cm. Jamaica's Cloud Forest of the Blue and John Crow Mountains arise at 1,000m
- Cultivation: In the Caribbean, small plots of land that was prepared (sometimes, a shallow till with a fine surface finish that results in the killing of weeds) and planted with row crops, e.g., tomatoes, peas, chives, sugar cane &c.; and on which the said plants are tended.
- Deciduous Forest: In the case of the Caribbean, a tropical dry forest (tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests), with upper open canopy at 20m high, where the bulk of the trees lose their leaves during the dry season as a strategy to conserve water—unlike a tropical seasonal forest where a minority of trees, less than one-third, may shed their leaves in the dry season or in temperate climates where leaves are dropped seasonally. Examples are the deciduous seasonal forests on the lower slopes of the northern range in Chaguaramas, Trinidad or the leeward coast of Martinique.
- Ferns: (Pteridophyte). A class of flowerless, seedless, vascular, herbaceous plants or trees with delicate compound green leaves known as fronds. The leaves—suggestive of feathers—have stalks with a blade divided into segments, called pinnae, lending the feathery look. The fronds, via the stalk, are connected to rhizomes, which may be erect, lateral or vertical. New fronds, produced from the rhizomes, unfurl slowly from tightly coiled spirals known as fiddleheads while maturing. The smallest fern species is 2-3mm (.08-.12ins) tall and the largest can reach 25m (80 feet) in height.
Epiphytic species grow on tree trunks and branches, and, in general, they tend to flourish in shady moist environments of forests, fields, wetlands, and riparian zones. They reproduce by spores that are situated on the underside of the leaves.
The tropics have a greater abundance of ferns when compared to higher latitudes. Example Caribbean species are the Southern shield fern (Thelypteris kunthii) and West Indian Tree Fern (Cyathea arborea), with a trunk reaching 12m high.
- Foothills: Low hills that directly precede a higher mountain range.
- Forest: An expanse with vegetation consisting primarily of trees. Generally, it is composed of a canopy (overstory), emergent layer—containing a few immense trees termed "emergents" that grow beyond the average canopy level, attaining heights of 45–55m and taller—and understory—the understory can be further subdivided into a shrub layer and moss layer. The Caribbean islands, according to Holdridge life zones system, have tropical rain forest, wet forest, moist forest, and dry forest.
- Forest Boundary/Edge: A transition zone between a forest to open spaces, fields, or scrubland, in the tropics vines may predominate this zone.
- Forest Undergrowth/Shrubbery/Understory: An underlying layer, typified by low light conditions, with plant life (stunted trees, small trees, saplings, shrubs, herbs, vines, and other undergrowth) growing beneath the forest canopy (overstory).
- Gallery Forest: A ribbon of forests, in the riparian zone—located on the banks of a river or stream—along a river or wetland that projects into open spaces, e.g., grasslands, savannahs, and deserts.
- Garden: A cultivation of ornamental plants, in a determined space, incorporating natural and occasionally artificial objects for display, and enjoyment. Or else, as a hobby, a cultivation of food crops on a small scale. Hope Botanic Gardens, Kingston Jamaica, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Port of Spain Trinidad are examples of ornamental gardens.
- Glade: An open area, empty of trees and usually grassy, in a woodland resulting, maybe, from a fire, poor soil conditions, &c.
- Grassland: Land where the vegetation is primarily grasses, which can be of various heights, with few shrubs and trees, such as savannahs of the tropics and subtropical zones, and the prairies of North America. In some local Caribbean colloquialism, it may mean a small patch of grass.
- Grove: A small group of trees growing close together without undergrowth.
- Heliconia: (Heliconiaceae). Any of the perennial, herbaceous plant species with long, oblong, banana-like leaves, which ranges in height from 0.5 to 4.5 meters (1.5-15ft). Their leaves, maybe with pearl and pink midribs, oppose each other and habitually form thickets as the plant grows older. Brightly coloured, keel-like bracts, on erect or limp stems, hide smaller, red, orange, yellow, or green flowers inside. Interestingly, the bracts limit pollination to some hummingbird species. Heliconias are denizens of tropical wet forest or rain forest preferring better-lighted areas, and they are indigenous to the Americas and some islands of the western Pacific. A familiar heliconia on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago is Heliconia bihai (Balisier), which reaches up to 3.65m (12ft).
- Highland: Land that is higher relative to surrounding areas or higher than an adjoining alluvial plain, generally from 200 to 500m above sea level. It could be a hilly region or a plateau and may have cold, rocky, fast flowing traversing rivers(s) with coarse sedimentation on the river bed.
- Karst Landscape: A landscape usually featuring caves, sinkholes, shafts, limestone pavements, mogotes (tall, rounded, hills, of dissolvable rock, that rise sharply from the plain of a valley), valleys, disappearing and reappearing streams, as well as other features fashioned from the dissolution of dissolvable rocks like limestone or gypsum. Vinales Valley, Cuba and the Cockpit Country, Jamaica are examples of this type of landscape.
- Liana: A long-stemmed, woody, evergreen, vine, rooted in the ground that climbs trees, as support and by means of tendrils, sub-aerial roots, and spiral growth of its axes around tree trunk and limbs, to reach the forest canopy. Lianas have flexible old growth, at the stem base, and stiffer young growth. They compete with trees for light, nutrients and space, hindering tree growth and reproduction and altering forest development.
- Lowland: Land area that is less than 200m in elevation above sea level and may be part of an alluvial plain, for example, the Caroni plains, Trinidad.
- Mangrove Swamp: A coastal swamp of salty or brackish water populated with the tropical mangrove tree.
- Marsh: A wetland with grassy foliage usually found near a stream or verge of a lake. Freshwater marshes, tidal marshes, and salt marshes are the three principal types. Examples are the seasonal flooded brackish marshes of the Nariva swamp, Trinidad or the marshes of the Lower Morass, Black River, Jamaica.
- Montane Forest: Forest that inhabits mountainous regions starting at elevations, on large mountains, between 1,500 and 2,500 metres (4,900 and 8,200ft). In the Caribbean islands, generally, the lower limit is roughly 800m but in some cases as low as 300.
The vegetation resembles that of the lowlands but favours wet but less hot conditions than plant life in the neighbouring lowlands.
Trinidad's montane forest (above 240m) is composed of pine forest plantations, seasonal evergreen forests (above 450m), rainforests (above the 760m contour and rainfall reaching 400cm per annum). Typically, the forest canopy is around 20-30m with emergent trees up to 45m, with mossy trunks and otherwise without epiphytes. There is also a cloud forest (above 850m).
Jamaica's montane forest, on the Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains, contain rainforests, montane scrub, montane savannah, and broadleaf cloud forest (above 1000m).
- Mountain: A mass of land that stands above its surroundings, but loftier than a hill, i.e., over 305m (1000 ft). The UN Environmental Programme's minimum requirements for qualification as a "mountainous environment" are:
- an elevation of at least 300m, with a 300m rise within 7km (4.3mi);
- an elevation of at least 1,000m, with an incline greater than 5 degrees;
- an elevation of at least 1,500m, with an incline greater than 2 degrees; and
- an elevation of at least 2,500m (8,200ft).
- Orchard: Like a grove, but unnatural and may be much larger, and planted with fruit trees.
- Orchid: (Orchidaceae). Any of the perennial herbs with beautiful, fragrant, showy flowers, many of irregular shapes. Among the orchid's visible distinguishing characteristics are bilaterally-symmetric and upside-down flowers, blade-like leaves, in some, long aerial roots of the epiphytic variety, and the tubers of the terrestrial ones. In addition, there are two characteristic forms of the plant:
- Monopodial, i.e., leaves are added to a stem that originated from a single bud and which grows longer, each year; and
- Sympodial, i.e., adjacent shoots form new growth with new leaves and roots, i.e., progressing laterally on its supporting surface, with the older growth dying after blooming.
- Park: A multipurpose recreational space with areas of natural, almost natural, or planted space (gardens, grass, trees), as well as, rocks, soil, walkways, trails and playing fields. An example of a park in the Caribbean is the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad.
A National Park, according to IUCN Category II, is an area in which the functioning ecosystems are protected by law. Human interaction is allowed with supporting infrastructure. National Parks are managed with an eye to economically support local economies through leisure and educational tourism. For long term viability surrounding areas must support the park's native species and communities. Examples of National Parks in the Caribbean are the Chaguaramas National Heritage Park in Trinidad and Tobago and El Yunque National Forest in Sierra de Luquillo, Puerto Rico. The National Park is unlike a Wilderness Area, IUCN Category Ib, which is stricter regarding human interaction and is lacking of modern infrastructure. Wilderness ecosystems are allowed to thrive or, having been unsettled, rejuvenate.
- Pasture: Enclosed, managed field covered with grass or herbage used for grazing farm animals, like horses, cattle, or sheep.
- Plantation: A large estate on which a perennial crop (usually a monoculture) is cultivated, on a large-scale, with cheap labour, systematically, and, scientifically and usually for export. In the Caribbean a plantation is more likely to look like a long, artificially-established forest; examples include cocoa in the northern valleys of Trinidad, coffee in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, citrus in Clarendon or St Catherine, Jamaica, or Layou River Valley, Dominica, or otherwise sugarcane in the plains of Caroni, Trinidad, tobacco in Cuba, or bananas in the Windward Islands (Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, &c.)
- Riverine Area/System: A complex or sub-complex of riparian zones (the adjacent land, or banks, between a river or stream and nearby country), river, channels, and inland wetlands (e.g. swamps, marshes, bogs, mangroves, except forested, scrub and emergent wetlands) in which there is a periodic or continuous, dominant water flow from upstream.
- Roadside: A narrow tract of vegetation, including flowering shrubs, grasses, and maybe trees, leading away from the curb of the roadway.
- Savannah: A type of grassland, in the tropics and subtropics, where the vegetation is predominated by grasses, which may be interspersed with shrubs and trees, e.g., Aripo Savannahs, Trinidad and the Llanos Grasslands of Venezuela. (N.B., in the Caribbean grassland and savannah have the same meaning, any distinction is nominal, except where grassland refers to a small patch of grass).
- Secondary Forest: A regenerated forest or woodland that had suffered a major disruption, like a fire, damage from human activity, insect infestation, &c. and as yet had not erased all the effects of the disruption. Example secondary forests include the abandoned Tonka Bean and Cocoa plantations leading to Edith Falls of the lower slopes of Tucker Valley in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and the forest, one time cocoa, then coffee and another time citrus plantation, surrounding Asa Wright Nature Centre, Arima, Trinidad.
- Shrubbery/Scrubland: A land area with vegetation chiefly of shrubbery—a shrub is a treelike plant (sometimes with a woody main stem but smaller than a tree) with stems that branch low to the ground; small shrubs may reach 2 metres whilst tall shrubs may be as tall as 8 metres.
- Swamp (Flooded Forest): A forested wetland in which the waters are slow-moving or stagnant. Swamps are typically located next to a river or the shores of a lake. They are differentiated from a marsh, which has grassy vegetation. Examples are the mangrove swamps of Caroni and Nariva, Trinidad or the mangrove swamps of the Lower Morass, Black River Jamaica.
- Tidal Flats (Mudflats): A piece of low, muddy, coastal wetland, often traversed by winding channels, that is covered during high tide. They are formed from the mud deposited by the tides or rivers, in sheltered bays, bayous, lagoons, and estuaries, where the tidal waters flow slowly. Tidal flats are part of the terrain at Cayo Coco and Zapata National Park, Cuba and Caroni Swamp, Trinidad and Tobago.
- Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest (TSMF) or tropical moist forest: A super-classification (of biotic communities or biome) of broadleaf lowland equatorial evergreen rainforests, tropical seasonal forest, montane rainforests, and flooded forests (swamps).
- Tropical Rainforest: A type of tropical forest that occurs typically within 10 degrees north and south of the equator; it is mostly evergreen and wet experiencing annual rainfall above 168cm. The canopy is at least thirty meters high, but is usually much taller and is lavishly bedecked with thick-stemmed lianas, and woody and herbaceous epiphytes. It may be further distinguished as lowland equatorial evergreen rainforest, moist tropical seasonal rainforest, montane rainforests, or flooded rainforests.
Caribbean islands rainforest, typically, experience rainfall between 2,000 to 4,000mm (79 to 157in) and occur at altitudes 200 to 900 m (660 to 2,800ft). This unique type of rainforest, with an upper closed canopy at 30m and a disjointed middle canopy at 20 m, is known as the Dacryodes-Sloanea association, (a.k.a. submontane rainforest) due to the dominance of two tree species, gommier (Dacryodes excelsa) and chataignier varieties ( Sloanea spp.), a large buttress root species.
- Tropical Seasonal Forest: A super-classification of biotic communities (biome) inclusive of seasonal (monsoon) and semi-evergreen (mixed) seasonal forests. These forest types have layered canopies—less obvious in a mixed forest—and a preponderance of lianas; they experience an annual rainfall of 100 to 200cm.
- Semi-evergreen seasonal forest: (coarsely, a semi-deciduous forest) a two level broadleaf forest with an upper closed canopy at 20m and a lower tree layer around 10m that straddles lowlands and highlands, from 100-300m, or sheltered locations. Species of both layers are evergreen but one-third of the species of the upper level may shed leaves outside the rainy season.
- Evergreen seasonal forest: like a semi-evergreen seasonal forest but comprised mainly of broadleaf evergreen trees with emergent species—trees with canopies above the main forest canopy level. In the dry season, the forest experiences some foliage loss.
- Volcanism/Volcano: Volcanism is the collection of processes, such as thermal convection in the earth's mantle and plate tectonics, that causes magma to erupt to the earth's surface and the ensuing, associated effects such as, magma intrusions, lava flows, volcanic ash, gas vents, craters, geysers, fumaroles, hot springs, mud pots, earthquakes and volcanoes.
A volcano is a breach in the earth's crust through which lava, volcanic ash, and gases escape from a subterranean magma chamber. In many instances a conical mountain is formed from the buildup of expelled material (ash, rocks, or lava). The 19 volcanoes of the Caribbean archipelago are concentrated in the Lesser Antilles, e.g., from Mt. Scenery on Saba in the north, La Grande Soufrière on Guadeloupe, Montange Pelée in Martinique, to Mt. St. Catherine in Grenada, in the south.
- Wetlands: A permanently or seasonally saturated land area, including swamps, marshes, mudflats, bogs, and mangroves, resulting from a high water table that develops a distinct ecosystem.
- Woodland: A forest in which the trees are spaced further apart and there is less interlocking of branches and foliage of the trees at the canopy. As a result of the more open canopy more light is permitted to reach the underestory where there may be shrubs and grasses. An example woodland is the Caribbean Pine forest on the trail to Mount Tabor, above Mount St. Benedict, St. Augustine, Trinidad.