Nurseries: seeds of future

Planta!’s volunteer’s passion for conservation makes a whole forest grow. José Angel, Duniel and Sandy take part in the propagation of threatened species at nurseries of four Eastern Cuba provinces.


Date: 19/03/2019


Proyecto: Conservación, evaluación y recuperación de Dendrocereus nudiflorus.


Travelling to Eastern Cuba on an expedition to assist with nursery species propagation it may not seem like a big deal. Unless a very rare cactus is propagated at these nurseries, the huge “aguacate cimarrón” (Dendrocereus nudiflorus), exclusive of two Caribbean islands including Cuba. Despite the fact that it is one of the tallest cacti in the world (reaching up to 10 meters), its giant rough appearance has not been able to intimidate tourism and oil extraction, which have drastically reduced the natural populations of the species.

From nursery to nursery, we travelled across four eastern provinces in just five days. We spent more time on the highway than on “mainland”. We were not working in natural areas but at Planta!’s volunteers’ backyards. It is here where they grow the saplings, and we recorded values of temperature and humidity at almost all the nurseries we visited to monitor for the optimal growing conditions of this cactus.

The nurseries of Aguacate cimarrón are in good shape

Some individuals of Aguacate cimarrón are ready to be planted in natural populations

Returning seeds

Our backpacks were not empty when we started our trip. This was a “going home” trip for 150 saplings of Leuenbergeria zinniiflora, known as “abrojo”. These plants were grown at nurseries from South Havana but the seeds from which they germinated came from El Retiro -Santiago de Cuba, so they travelled with us to their final destination. The saplings will be acclimatized at local nurseries before being used to reinforce natural populations of the species.

Method is everything

When we arrived to El Retiro, I was surprised with the speedy growth of the saplings of Dendrocereus nudiflorus, grown by our colleague Maritza Deroncelé, director of the Reserve. As we talked, she revealed her secret. First, she spreads the fruit pulp with the seeds directly on the soil of the containers. Once they germinate and the seedlings start to show the first spines, she transfers the seedlings into bags. After the plant reaches a certain height, they are transfered again to bigger bags prepared with the soil from where the fruits were collected. This soil has the calcium that allows the plants to grow quickly.

Maritza Deroncelé, director of the Reserve, has a secret to grow Dendrocereus

Plants are growing successfully at the nursery

A forest at the nursery

Saplings of the “aguacate cimarrón” were also growing successfully at three nurseries of Baitiquirí, Guantánamo. Once there, we realized the potentialities of this species as a flag species. The conservation of the “aguacate cimarrón” has raised awareness among locals towards the conservation of native plants. A nursery that was initially created to propagate this rare cactus, is also growing other local native species like guayacán (Guaiacum officinale), uva caleta (Coccoloba uvifera), gavilán (Simarouba glauca), cúrbana (Canella winterana), caoba (Swietenia mahagoni) and yarey macho (Copernicia sp.). The goal is to create a plant cover with native plants and to substitute the exotic invasive ones.

“It is amazing to witness the effectiveness of a flag species. Due to this cactus, other native species are currently grown at conservation nurseries”.


José A. García Beltrán


Member of the arid zones project -Planta!

Researcher at the National Botanical Garden

University of Havana

We also suggested another native trees that could be grown at these nurseries. It is encouraging to share with other conservationists our curiosity and our pride for our flora.

A Planta! team monitors threatened cacti nurseries in Eastern Cuba.

Duniel was in charge of recording temperature and humidity in the area.

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