Mountain Mahogany

Photo credit Christian König: SHAPE/DCNAThe Mountain Mahogany (Freziera undulata) can be found on Saba, where it mostly grows within the elfin forest on top of Mount Scenery. Its common name often leads to confusion, as this tree is not a true mahogany species but belongs to the tea family (Theaceae). While usually uncommon or absent in elfin/cloud forests on other Caribbean islands, it is not only the dominant tree species in Saba’s elfin forest, but here it grows to a height of 15 metres (~50 feet), while normally canopy height in other cloud forests rarely exceeds 6 metres (~20 feet). The reason for the abundant growth is that Saba’s elfin forest is typically shrouded in clouds, giving the forest, and the Mountain Mahogany trees, plenty of moisture. Although not listed on any of the major international species conservation lists (e.g. SPAW, CITES, IUCN Red List), the Mountain Mahogany is endemic to the Lesser Antilles; it is found on Saba, Dominica, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent. These special characteristics make the Mountain Mahogany a unique addition to Saba’s higher plant biodiversity.

The Mountain Mahogany is shrub to tree-like with simple, serrated leaves and small flowers that have five petals. The evergreen plant has glossy green leaves, the flowers are white to light pink, and the small fruit is dark with dark red seeds. The branches of the trees are usually covered with mosses, liverworts, ferns, bromeliads and orchids.

In the 1960s, a hurricane destroyed many of Saba’s Mountain Mahogany trees. After recovery, in 1998 hurricane Georges caused more significant damage to the trees. While the hurricane itself did not knock over many trees themselves, it is believed that wind damage to tree roots combined with overexposure to sunlight caused the death of many Mountain Mahoganies within three months of the hurricane. The growth of recovered trees is now carefully monitored by the Saba Conservation Foundation, which has actively managed the Saba Terrestrial Park since 1999.