Looking for «melas» in Piedra La Vela: a true passion’s rewards

Miconia baracoana is an exclusive species of the Cuban flora. It was last seen more than 35 years ago but in Piedra La Vela, a secluded place of our island, everything is possible…


Fecha: 02/08/2019


Project: Lost melastomes of the Cuban flora.

Nobody has seen Miconia baracoana for the last 35 years. Botanists have lost its trail, and for a melastome as unimpressive as Miconia baracoana, the chances of being rediscovered by any other than a botanist are quite small. The status of the population is unknown, so finding this unique species of our flora was our main mission when visiting Piedra La Vela, in the northeast of Cuba.

Going up the hill

Piedra La Vela is included in the National Park “Alejandro de Humboldt”, almost 800 meters above the sea level. To reach it we walked about 10 kilometers, with the mules carrying our cargo. Along the way, a heavy downpour fell with an intensity not seen in the area for months. The interesting thing was that when we arrived at our destination, the site was mostly dry with only a few visible drops that barely wet the ground.

Protected area technicians take advantage of our visit to learn how to herborize samples.

Monitoring the plants is complicated within the thicket.

For three days we explored localities with different types of vegetation: pine forests, serpentine thickets and rain forests. My fellow traveler is Wilder Carmenate, Director of the CISAT in Holguín and a passionate about melastomes like me. Coach Roelkis and his rangers Yannia, Roelvis and Ariolvis accompanied us, all with very unusual names, which seemed liked a tongue twister to name the entire team.

Another miconia without a name

In a place like this even the fantastic becomes real. Looking for Miconia baracoana alongside of the streams near the station, we found a population of another possible new species of Melastomataceae. Over thirty years ago, I had seen a herbaria material of a plant like this one at the Herbarium of the National Botanical Garden. It seemed rare at the time, but the material did not have flowers or fruits, which makes it difficult to identify. And suddenly, here it is at Piedra La Vela, with flowers and fruits!

Eldis preparing samples of the new species of Miconia.

Eldis with part of the team.

The new Miconia, still without a name, is less than one meter tall and inhabits the bank of streams, very humid and shady places. It has hairy young twigs and bright green leaves, soft to the touch. Its flowers are very tiny, but the fruits are quite striking, fleshy and sky blue colored. We are already studying this species to corroborate the novelty. This would be the third new species of melastomes discovered thanks to our project!

The new Miconia, still without a name, has bright green leaves and it is soft to the touch.

Miconia baracoana and a singular garden

We finally found a population of Miconia baracoana on the ecotourism trail “La Torre”. The smooth, small and thickened leaves due to soil toxicity make this species unmistakable. It occupied a very small area, and we never saw it again in any of the routes we took to other localities with the same type of vegetation.

The flowers of Miconia baracoana are tiny and not very distinctives.

Fruit of Miconia baracoana.

On this visit to Piedra La Vela, I wanted to do something in retribution for everything I have learned here since 1993. Then, I realized that the gardens of the facilities had planters with exotic plants, typical of most Cuban gardens. So I asked myself, why not bring some of the native plants, even endemic ones, like the ones we show to the park rangers while looking for the threatened species? This could also facilitate their environmental education work with the visitors.

“We must promote a garden of native species in each protected area of the country. Not only because of its beauty and the possibilities to encourage environmental education, but also because they are better adapted to climatic conditions, they require less attention and less irrigation.”

Dr. Eldis R. Bécquer

Researcher, National Botanical Garden

Taxonomist and Conservationist

The day before we left, after herborizing and pressing the samples collected, we started what could be the garden of native species of Piedra La Vela. Taking advantage of the proximity of tree ferns, we planted five of them at the entrance of one of the facilities. Everyone collaborated, and the enthusiasm was such that they were planning to bring other native flowered species to the new garden.


Miconia baracoana may never reach this garden, but it will not be because is extinct. There are plants that only persevering botanists can love as they deserve. Which is why our best destiny is to find them.

We started a garden of native species with workers of the area.

Spathelia splendens.

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