Ekmanianthe longiflora, commonly known as the Royal Oak, is an endemic species of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti. In Cuba, as far as we know, there are only seven plants left. In Dominican Republic, the species has been reported only from ‘Sierra de Barahona’.
As shown by herbarium records, this plant used to grow in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Isla de la Juventud. Today, the species mainly occurs in less than one hectare in Matanzas where Planta!’s team discovered three individuals a few years ago, and other two in 2017. A sixth individual was found in Cienfuegos by Julio León Cabrera, and in June 2018 we found the seventh individual at Pan de Matanzas, a 5 m height juvenile. Our team have surveyed the understory for seedlings or saplings of the species, but no sign of natural regeneration has been found.
The Royal Oak is currently threatened by illegal logging, but most likely it is not the target species of timber extraction. We believe the species is surely misidentified as one of the many lowland species of Tabebuia that are more common. The small size of the remaining population increases its susceptibility to stochastic events (e.g. fires, hurricanes). Therefore, specific actions are needed to rapidly increase the size of the population, to introduce the species into protected areas and secure its long-term survival.
Major constraints have been identified so far limiting the implementation of required conservation actions. These are: (1) low seed production, (2) there is no available information about germination and recruitment requirements for the species, and (3) the habitat of the species is not protected.
Planta!’s team started working on this species on November 2016 with the support of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) and the Cuban Botanical Society for a three year conservation project. Our project Conservation assessment and recovery planning of Ekmanianthe longiflora has been running for two years now and it is starting to show the first encouraging results.
The first year focused on surveys to the Pan de Matanzas to monitor the plants and gain a better understanding of its ecology and conservation challenges. A workshop was held with partners and stakeholders on developing a germination protocol, determining the phenology of the species and locating remaining individuals.
The second year of the project was definitely a busy and productive year. A public campaign was designed to involve local communities in our search to locate more individuals of the Royal Oak while also raising awareness about this endangered plant. The TV spot created has been aired daily since December and posters of the Royal Oak can now be seeing in stations, commercial places and parks across Cuba. As part of this second year, our team also collected seeds from the only fruit we could find. It contained 8 seeds but only one germinated. We also determined the phenology of the species. According to our monthly observations, the species blooms from February to August, more commonly from May to July. Moreover, the fruits open between November and January and seed recollection demands more field work than we planned. By the end of this year, two ex situ collections of Ekmanianthe longiflora were established in botanic gardens (National Botanic Garden & Matanzas Botanic Garden) and the population at Pan de Matanzas increased in at least 50 individuals.
The third year of the project has also been planned with ambitious goals in mind. In the following months, our team will go on several expeditions to confirm the presence of the species at the localities reported to us. At each locality, we will characterize the structure of the population, the habitat and assess threats for the species and the habitat. By the end of this year, at least 25 % of the remaining fragments of dry tropical forests in Cuba will be searched for individuals of Ekmanianthe longiflora. Moreover, our team intends to have at least 150 seedlings of the species growing at local nurseries of the project- aiming the reinforcement of the wild population in the forthcoming years. The team is getting ready, results are about to come.