Elfin forest covers an area of approximately eight hectares on top of Saba’s tallest point, Mount Scenery (877 metres/2,910feet). It grows above 825 metres (2,707 feet), where the air is cooler and passing moisture-laden clouds often reduce light. The forest absorbs water from the humid air so the plants and trees are constantly moist and grow abundantly. Saba’s elfin forest stands apart from similar cloud forests environments in the Caribbean because its dominant tree species, the Mountain Mahogany (Freziera undulata), can reach a height of 15 metres (49 feet) while canopy height in other cloud forests rarely exceeds six metres.
The Mountain Mahogany trees are smothered with epiphytes that hang from the branches and act like sponges, soaking up moisture from the clouds and rain and feeding the forest and all the vegetation down slope with a constant trickle of life-sustaining water. Orchids are among the most common epiphytes present. Other epiphytes include liverworts, bromeliads and mosses. The forest is full of life, with many insect and bird species. The elfin forest is an especially critical habitat for the regionally endangered Saba Trembler (Cinclocerthia ruficauda pavida). The forest comes alive at night, resonating with the pulsating whistle of the island’s tiny native tree frogs.
Sadly, hurricane Georges caused significant damage to Saba’s elfin forest in 1998. Many of the Mountain Mahogany trees toppled over and mosses, epiphytes, bromeliads and orchids suffered extensive damage. Thankfully, the elfin forest is showing signs of recovery. The Saba Conservation Foundation now carefully monitors the growth of Mountain Mahogany trees.