In honor of the 111th anniversary of the birth of Doña Inés María Mendoza, on Thursday, January 10, 2019, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto signed Municipal Ordinance 15 of 2019 transferring the Arboretum Doña Inés to the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation (LMMF). Traditional vibrant “bomba” music and a Doña Inés appearance by artist Rosabel Otón, marked the occasion, dedicated to the students of the Colegio Nuestra Señora del Carmen, neighbors of LMMF, and celebrating the First Lady of the first elected Puerto Rico Governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, who served from 1949-1964. An educator and Spanish language advocate, Doña Inés was a strong defender of the island’s natural resources throughout her life. The Arboretum Doña Inés, named for her, is a 12-acre urban forest space planted with native and endemic trees—that is, trees found naturally in Puerto Rico.

The Municipality of San Juan purchased the land on which the Arboretum sits, adjacent to the Muñoz-Mendoza Museum House, in 2000 from the Puerto Rico Land Administration for $2.8M. Since that time, the LMMF has operated the Arboretum as a public-private partnership under a 30-year usufruct. “This arboretum is among three other public gardens in Puerto Rico, but is the only one that focuses on protecting, studying and educating about its native flora which includes 2,335 native species with 9% endemics. The current living collections were significantly decimated by 35% after hurricanes Irma and María, but currently hold 1,200 specimens of 250 species, including 60% of the most common trees and nearly half of the State and Federally listed plant species for the island,” said Christian Torres-Santana, the Director of the Arboretum Doña Inés.

According to the President of the LMMF Board, Marisara Pont Marchese, “We cannot imagine a better way to celebrate the life of Doña Inés than the formal cession of the lands of this Arboretum, which welcomes all Puerto Ricans and visitors to our Island. Doña Inés was a pioneer in protecting the environment. Her love and respect for nature marked her existence. This act pays tribute to her life, because we are assuring that this space serves for the enjoyment and education of our future generations, so that they learn about our native and endemic species and the value of natural resources.”

The Arboretum began to develop in 1998 after the destruction of the Sinz farm, adjacent to the 4-acre historic estates, where the Muñoz-Mendoza resided on the weekends and after their departure from La Fortaleza in 1964. According to Pont Marchese, “From its inception, the Doña Inés Park was conceived as an Arboretum where native species would be grown, with the purpose of educating children and the general population about the history of our natural resources. The nature sanctuary has become a place of learning for students of the public system where hours of the Green Contact Program are credited through guided excursions.”

Pont Marchese joined the Board of Directors of the LMMF and wishes to “deeply thank the Major Cruz Soto and the Municipal Assembly, chaired by Mr. Marcos Rigau. This measure guarantees future youth a natural space to study and enjoy our native flora.”

Since its inception, the Arboretum has enjoyed enormous support from both the public and private sectors. Among its main donors are various Puerto Rican companies and non-governmental organizations, as well as foreign companies and government agencies. Among the donors is the Ángel Ramos Foundation, the Aireko Foundation, the Popular Bank of Puerto Rico, Toyota Puerto Rico, and the PR Department of Transportation and Public Works, which carried out most of the infrastructure works as part of a mitigation. The arboretum suffered severe damage from hurricanes Irma and María and, although it has recovered significantly, rehabilitation is an on-going process.

Chad Washburn, Vice President of Conservation at Naples Botanical Garden in Naples, Florida, one of LMMF partners since 2017, was present at the event and says “This celebration of the life and legacy of Doña Inés, along with the transfer of land, marks a new era of opportunity for the Arboretum that bears her name.  The act ensures that many more generations of students and visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the natural history of Puerto Rico and the vibrant and rare flora that makes the island so special.”

Not owning the land has been an impediment for LMMF when requesting additional funding support for the Arboretum; however, Pont Marchese says the land transfer codified in the ordinance erases that barrier, opening the doors to new donor and grant support. What is more is that the land transfer specifically includes the protection of native and endemic species within this natural area in perpetuity helping Puerto Rico move forward to achieve the Targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.