Cobana negra is a medium-sized tree (it can reach a height of 25 to 50 feet), with a trunk of up to a foot and a half in diameter. Its leaf is made up of 6 to 12 leaflets which have small glands that look like black spots on the leaf underside. The flowers are pale beige and bloom between March and May, depending on the rain. The fruit is a slightly fleshy with a pleasant smell (similar to that of West Indian cherries) and bright color. Each fruit contains a single seed (that is where the name of the species comes from (monosperma). The genus name honors the memory of Augustín Stahl, considered the first Puerto Rican naturalist.
Cobana negra belongs to a large family of plants (Leguminosae), which has approximately 700 genus and more than 17,000 species. This family, which is spread virtually throughout the world, is very important for mankind. Dyes, ornamental plants, and seeds for food (for both people and pets) are obtained from many species of this group. Known species such as beans and tamarind belong to this family, as well as the mimosa pudica, flamboyan tree, and carob. Stahlia is a unique genus from Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.
Little is known about the biology of cobana. The polisandro (as it is also commonly known) is one of the species that comprised the native forests of the coastline of our island. This tree can grow in places that contain high concentrations of salts, as are the saltpeter bed and land adjacent to mangroves. In the latter, it is associated with the mangrove button. Such sites can be seasonally flooded, which the cobana also tolerates.
This species is unique in Puerto Rico, Vieques, and the Dominican Republic. On the three islands it is considered very rare. In Puerto Rico, it is primarily found in the southwest and northeast of the island.
Cobana was highly sought after and harvested in the past because it produces an excellent wood. This particularly affected mature and reproductive individuals (older and larger ones). Today, the greatest threat is the destruction of its habitat by the uncontrolled development of the coastal plains of the island.
Cobana is protected by the Endangered Species Act since April 5, 1990, under the category of endangered or vulnerable species. The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are making successful projects for spreading the species with the purpose of planting trees in protected locations.
Little, E.L. and F.H. Wadsworth. 1964. Common trees of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Handbook No. 249
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1996. Stahlia monosperma (cóbana negra) Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta, GA, 15 pp.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: May 27, 2009.