Like “sangre de doncella”

Harpalyce macrocarpa or “sangre de doncella” (maiden’s blood), is one of the Top 50 most threatened plants of Cuba.Enma Torres leads and interesting project to save this endangered species.

 

Date: 04/04/2019

 

Project: Conservation of riparian forests in serpentines of Central Cuba.

Fotos: Ignacio Díaz, Enma Torres y Arnaldo Toledo.

 

San Felipe’s eldest inhabitants still recall when many years ago, just as Spring was starting, the savanna surrounding the village was as red as “maiden’s blood”. The flowers of Harpalyce macrocarpa were claiming the attention of pollinators and neighbors alike. Today, it is hard to believe that such a vibrant landscape, dominated by Harpalyce macrocarpa, has only three small trees left. But it is not too late to rescue this vast local legend. With just three remaining plants, we intend to bring it back.

Enma (to the right) examines the flowers of Harpalyce macrocarpa in San Felipe along with Plant volunteers!

The beautiful maiden

Harpalyce macrocarpa is an exclusive plant from Central Cuba. It is a fabaceous, from the bean family, but infinitely more beautiful. Its big red flowers, sometimes orange or yellow, are grouped in clusters covering almost the entire plant, which highlights this small tree among others. The plant can reach up to 4 m in height and relies in the humidity provided by nearby streams to thrive in the dry serpentine ecosystems.

 

The colorful flowers are pollinated by birds and bees, but despite their successful claim, pollination does not occur efficiently and the number of fruits and seeds have decreased significantly in the past years. The plant’s life cycle it is not then completed and this is where Planta!’s team can make a difference.

The vivid flowers are visited by birds and bees that pollinate them.

Harpalyce macrocarpa can have red, orange or even yellow flowers.

Following the color

“It is just an illusion” -Faife told me when a bright red spot captured our eyes from the distance. We were a little sceptical in our search for flowering plants. A month before our visit none of the trees had flowers due to the intense heat. We walked several kilometers clearing our way through high dry grass. The riparian forest where Harpalyce macrocarpa grows has been continuously altered by illegal logging and the waterbed that this forest borders is very narrow due to the intense drought.

Enma and his colleagues carry out the manual pollination experiments that were proposed.

When we arrived, we were delighted to see that the small trees of Harpalyce macrocarpa were flowering, although there weren’t many fresh flowers left. Nevertheless, we were able to carry out several hand pollination experiments.

From flower to flower, like bees

The fresh flowers were concentrated in the highest branches. We had to check every plant meticulously, from bottom to top, looking for more accessible flowers. More than once we climbed the trees to pollinate the flowers. I must say that my colleagues Michel Faife and Liemnys Vázquez accomplished this task better than I did, I’m still a long way from being a bee.

“This project aims to preserve one of the most colorful plants of the Cuban flora and to restore the massive red color that used to cover the hills of San Felipe”

Enma Torres

Coordinator of the project Conservation of Harpalyce macrocarpa

Professor at the University of Las Villas “Marta Abreu“

Even though we encountered an annoying stinging vine (Platygine hexandra) while pollinating the flowers, we were going home filled with hope. The covered flowers will take a few more weeks to produce fruits, but we have already taken the first step. The seeds from these fruits will be used to propagate the species. This is just the beginning. The hills of San Felipe will only have to wait.

The flowers of "maiden blood" continue their maturation process until they form fruits that will serve for their propagation.

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