When the effort is fruitful

A team of Planta! explores the intricate shores of the Agabama River in Santa Clara looking for new individuals of Rhodogeron coronopifolius, a unique plant from the riparian forests of Central Cuba. After two days of intense walking, they feel rewarded.

 

Date: 24/04/2019

 

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

 

Dwarf jewel of our flora and the only species of its kind in the world, Rhodogeron coronopifolius is an exclusive plant of the savannas of Santa Clara at risk of extinction. It grows only in a few remnant forests of this region, strongly rooted on the shore of nearby streams that provide the humidity this plant desperately needs to thrive.

Finding new individuals and identify areas to establish other populations of this species were our guiding goals. We travelled to a unique place of the protected area “Sabanas de Santa Clara” in Central Cuba.

The landscape where Rhodogeron coronopifolius lives, is dominated by the Agabama dam.

In the kingdom of Rhodogeron

When the Agabama dam appears before us after two kilometers of walking, we know we have trespassed a threshold. Soon enough, everything that is known and documented will be left behind. This looks like an abandoned site, filled with untold stories and treasures yet to be discovered. Part of the upper slope of the stream collapsed after a flood of the dam, and beyond this point the stream disappears in cluster of ponds where some fishes aim to survive.

 

The drought at this time of the year leaves a trail of dry branches everywhere and a grey soil where calcium salts accumulate after water evaporates. This is particularly bad for R. coronopifolius. In fact, previous attempts of propagating the species using traditional methods have failed because it is very difficult to control the humidity of the soil. Since we cannot increase the chances of rain either, the challenge stands. “There must be something we can do to increase their survival in the wild“. Holding on to that thought, we continued upstream.

The protagonist of this project is a small herb. Rhodogeron coronopifolius , one of the 50 most threatened plants in Cuba, is exclusive to this area.

Going back in time

Our eyes scan every inch of the shore of the Agabama River looking for new individuals of the species. Suddenly, we realize we are not alone. Up on the many endemic trees around us, we can hear an ongoing concert of birds, with hawks and woodpeckers among them. Out of nowhere, we come across a hut built with palm leaves with a charcoal furnace beside it; and the ruins of a fortress from colonial times, and what remains from a telegraph that belonged to the Spanish army. For a moment, this vision took us back in time.

 

Rhodogeron coronopifolius lives in the intricate shores of the Agabama River.

At sunset on the first day, we decided to camp by the river so we set up the tents for the night. It was hard to sleep, but eventually fatigue overcame us. 

“To save the Rhodogeron, it is essential the support of motivated volunteers with skills to work in these difficult circumstances. That’s why we dedicate many hours to the training of our team”.

Michel Faife

Coordinator of the Rhodogeron coronopifolius conservation project 

Professor at the Central University of Las Villas “Marta Abreu” 

Conquering new spaces

The next morning, after breakfast, we packed everything and restarted our search. The river was widening up along our way, tempting us for a short swim. Then we saw them. One by one, new individuals of Rhodogeron were guiding our steps in a site with no previous records of its presence. We started counting and measuring the plants while our vision of the species in this location expanded.

 

There are two populations now, with the dam in between. Neither the floods nor the drought have managed to banish this little plant from its land. New adventures await us. Our work will continue until we rescue Rhodogeron coronopifolius from the edge of exctintion.

While training our volunteers, we counted and measured some parcels.

Rhodogeron coronopifolius , one of the top 50 most threatened plants in Cuba, inhabits the intricate shores of the Agabama River.

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