Cuban magnolias in Taino territory

From Baracoa, the oldest city of Cuba, Arlet narrates on her trip to nurseries growing Magnolia minor, an endemic and threatened Cuban tree. The exquisite aroma of the magnolias in the mountains brings back memories of the Taino culture, in a region where their footprint is everywhere.

 

Date: 05/07/2019

 

Project: Conservation of threatened mountain species.

 
As I approach Baracoa, one of the richest pre-Colombian sites in Cuba, I keep thinking of a time when Taíno communities lived in harmony with nature. I wander if back then the flowers of magnolia were also appreciated by their beauty and scent, contrasting the pristine white colour of the flower with the black hair of Taino women. I am travelling with another team of Planta! to work at nurseries where Magnolia minor grows, an exclusive tree of our country, and also to look for new individuals of the species in the wild.

The Canyon of the Yumurí River is a natural jewel.

The city of Baracoa is located between the Rivers Miel and Macaguanigua. It holds the title of Cuba’s prime city, because it was the first village established by the Spaniards on the Island. In addition to rich musical and culinary traditions, there are exuberant forests all over the region, filled with unique plants. Here is where Magnolia minor lives, one of the six Cuban species of this genus with primitive characters.

Belete, a nursery at the top of the canyon

The canyon of the Yumurí River is a natural jewel: four kilometers of rocky cliffs and abundant vegetation bordering the water course. A local legend tells that aborigines used to jump from the cliff to escape from slavery.

Arlet collects samples of magnolias during her trip to Baracoa.

We travel by boat to the river mouth, to reach the entrance of the protected area. There is no other access than through these emerald waters. The ascent to Belete station is made by a sinuous path of about 6 kilometers that borders or crosses endless times the Yumurí river.

 

Upon arrival, we find that the nursery of the station is ready, a great effort of local workers. However, there are no seedlings at the moment because the magnolias on the banks of the river do not have fruits yet. Specialists in the area continue to monitor the plants looking for seeds, so hopefully the new magnolias will start to grow really soon. We continue our journey amazed with the beauty of this site, the effort to reach it was completely worth it.

Loynaz Mateo is respected in Yamanigüey.

Yamanigüey, a town’s nursery

After working at locations near Baracoa, we left for Yamanigüey, a coastal town a few kilometers from the mining town of Moa. Few places in Cuba are as beautiful as this place of fishermen and miners. Any time of the day, delicious rivers and sea waters are a treat to endure the intense heat.

Arlet next to a local collaborator planting seeds of magnolias.

The nursery of Yamanigüey is in the house of Loynaz Mateo. He is a respected member of the community and the manager of a local protected area. At the nursery, 15 seedlings of magnolia grow from seeds we planted a year ago. This time we planted 54 seeds that we collected from magnolias growing along the Yamanigüey River.
«Efforts like Loynaz Mateo’s in Yamanigüey protect valuable plants, control invasive species, and preserve threatened species of animals. Local conservationists such as Loynaz are the key to successful conservation projects.».

Arlet Rodríguez Meno

Biology student, University of Havana

Searching magnolias in the woods, tracking the scent

Sixty species of birds are silencing our steps in our search for new individuals of Magnolia minor. We are also hoping to collect seeds from trees we known from previous expeditions. They are like old friends welcoming us with their distinctive fragrance.

 

We monitored the mouth of the streams Yarey and La Hoya, where we found 11 new individuals. We also found three specimens at the Yunque de Baracoa, and another two in Yumurí del Sur. At this last site, we met a farmer who claims to know a population of another five trees. However, we were running out of time, so visiting this new population will be a priority for our next expedition. What a better reason to come back?

At the nursery we planted 54 magnolia seeds collected along the Yamanigüey River.

At the nursery we planted 54 magnolia seeds collected along the Yamanigüey River.