The red flower oak of Guamuhaya

A project of Planta! brings hope for several species of rare trees of Central Cuba. Ernesto tells us all about the reintroduction of two valuable species of trees in this part of the Island. Piño, the best seed collector we know, was a key person in this story.


Date: 11/09/2019


Project: Conservation of threatened mountain species.


The mountains of Guamuhaya in the province of Cienfuegos treasure a great diversity of plants, many of them endemics. This time, it is also the final destination of our trip. I am accompanied by Eldis, my colleague of adventures, and Julio, specialist of the Botanical Garden of Cienfuegos and the best guide for an expedition to the Carso of Buenos Aires, since his mother lives at the base of these limestone hills. He knows this place since infancy, he walks skillfully through the woods and knows where to find each interesting plant. The purpose of our trip to the Carso of Buenos Aires was to reintroduce one of the threatened species we work with. Heavy boxes filled with nursery plants stayed on the porch of the house while we enjoyed a strong and exquisite cup of coffee, ideal for the hiking ahead.


Neighbours and Julio’s friends helped us to carry all 12 boxes up hill, each one with 16 nursery plants. A curious dog, Canelo, joined us until we reached a small cliff we had to crossed.

Julio and Eldis were my companions in this difficult conservation task.

Walking through the Carso is a tricky thing. It has big sharped stones that could slow anyone down and the humidity is high since it rains most of the year. Preparing holes for planting is quite a challenge here but we were lucky to find rocks with cavities where some soil accumulated. We planted 190 seedlings of Tabebuia sauvallei, an exclusive threatened oak of Guamuhaya.

Later on, we continued climbing to find mature oak trees. With numerous loose stones along the way this hill is the most dangerous one. We found several trees of the species and collected mature fruits. Going down the hill was a little tricky but the dozens of new seeds in my backpack made it all worth it.

Ernesto Testé is the protagonist of this conservation story.

Topes de Collantes and the nurseries

We woke up early the next day and started our trip to Topes de Collantes, home of many endemic species of the Cuban flora. Once there, we monitored the progress of the nurseries created in the backyards of volunteers of the project. In one of them we planted the seeds collected at the Carso of Buenos Aires. This will ensure a reinforcement of the population for the next year.

While we were in Topes, Norlys, our friend and local collaborator, let us know that one of the farmers was looking to plant seedlings of sabina in his property. This is the local name given to Podocarpus angustifolius, a species Critically Endangered. Carrying several young plants of sabina, we arrived to his farm and found out that they knew about Planta!’s project with endangered species in this area and wanted to support this initiative. It is comforting to see our effort multiply!

“The previous experience with the magnolia conservation project has been essential to involve the local community in the conservation of other native trees of these mountains”

Ernesto Testé

National Botanical Garden

Coordinator of the Mountain species conservation project

“The Cat”

Jorge Luis Moscoso, best known for “Piño” has been the key person of this conservation story since the beginning. He worked as a technician of the protected area when the magnolia project started ten years ago and his contribution collecting magnolia seeds for the local nurseries has been essential. Currently, as a farm owner, he continues to take care of the nursery with threatened species. Along with Norlys, Piño plants the seeds and takes the young plants to other farmers who share his passion. All the magnolia seeds collected during the project are a result of his great skill to climb trees, which is why we call him “The Cat”.

Piño and Ernesto check the collected seeds.

Piño is the protagonist of a story we like to tell over and over. After a hard day of field work, we gathered for a cup of Norlys’s excellent coffee. We talked about a rare oak with red flowers that had been seen in the area many years ago. Exclusive from Guamuhaya, this oak (Tabebuia sauvallei) could not been identified without the flowers since the leaves were very similar to those of other related species. Then, someone in the group commented that the oaks were flowering around that time and that the rare oak could be the one growing at Pico Potrerillo. Pico Potrerillo was several miles away from where we were and over 900 meters high. We were still enjoying our cup of coffee, when we saw Piño walking towards us with a branch of Tabebuia sauvallei in his hands, filled with red flowers. This was the beginning of the present conservation project that has started to multiply.

As I write this story, back in Havana, I make a brief stop to check the social network.  A neighbour from Topes sent me a text saying: “Piño says that he does not like internet but that you are welcome anytime to share with us a good cup of coffee”.  This is Planta!’s extensive family, joined by conservation.

Piño’s nursery is an inspiration for tree conservation in Topes de Collantes.

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