The spiny palm
Desmonchus schippii in the semi-evergreen forest
The flora of Shipstern Nature Reserve is in many ways unique for Belize. It is the only area in the country supporting seasonal and dry forests typical for the Yucatan Peninsula. More than ten distinctive vegetation types exist in the reserve, with several dozen tree species identified so far. The Kuka-Palm Dry Coastal Forest occurs on Belize’s mainland only in Shipstern. This is a rare coastal vegetation type of the Yucatan Peninsula, found only in three coastal areas between Cancun (Mexico) and Belize, where it is rapidly disappearing because of tourism development along the peninsula.
The forest of Shipstern was completely destroyed by Hurricane Janet in 1955 and has been regenerating ever since, without major disruptions. Several species of trees find their last shelter in the Reserve, as legal and illegal logging has dramatically depleted stocks of the sought after species such as mahogany and Spanish cedar throughout the country. Besides the rare Kuka-Palm, several other astonishing species occur in the dryer areas of the reserve, including the Purple Gumbo-Limbo and the Tuc Tree.
An extensive botanical trail was first laid out in 1990, with nearly one hundred species of trees labeled today.