New royal oaks in the “Pan de Matanzas”

After planting 75 new royal oaks at Pan de Matanzas, this native species that came close to extinction, secures its future in the Island.


Date: 29/11/2019


Project: Conservation assessment and recovery planning of Ekmanianthe longiflora (Royal Oak)


Pan de Matanzas is a legendary elevation of Western Cuba with almost 400 m height. When observed from the city it looks like a woman sleeping, which is why most locals call it the sleeping Indian. However, few people know how mysterious and unique is the flora of this site. Up to the top of this hill we went on a bright sunny day to plant nothing less than 75 royal oaks!

An original campaign, the first of its kind in Cuba, is encouraging citizens to find new individuals of the Royal Oak, one of the 50 most threatened species of Cuba…

A barely known tree

We were not just planting another endangered tree. This species with huge white flowers is extremely scarce in Cuba with only 12 individuals found so far. Our team reported seven individuals in the Pan de Matanzas, two in a close by elevation known as “El Palenque” and another two in “Sierra del Grillo”. The twelfth individual was found in Yarigua by a colleague from Cienfuegos.

“The royal oak is at high risk of extinction. In 2015 was declared Critically Endangered, the maximum category for a species before going extinct, and it is among the Top 50 most threatened plants of Cuba. The team of Planta! is working closely to revert this situation.”

Duniel Barrios

Leader of the Conservation Group

National Botanical Garden

If we ask locals about this oak, they probably won’t know which one is. It was not until 2016 that we started working directly with the conservation of this tree and few people knew the species despite the value of its timber. This was most likely the main cause of its actual threatened status. Propagating the royal oak is essential for its preservation.

Trainign a tree to reign

My mentor, Duniel Barrios, started to prepare this expedition two weeks in advance. First, he took down the cover that protected the growing trees and exposed them to open sunlight. This way they were going to start adapting to dryer and more difficult conditions. Three days before our trip, the plants were carefully placed in boxes and were intensively watered. The purpose was to ensure that the plants were properly hydrated but, as we expected, it made our boxes heavier.

A team of Planta! leaded by José Angel arrived to “Pan de Matanzas” with royal oaks.

Duniel was the loyal keeper of these royal oaks for quite a while. So much time dedicated to these plants makes one become fond of them. In fact, Duniel could not give away the first plant he propagated from a single seed in 2018. He adopted this royal oak as a pet and will take care of it until is ready to be planted in the park of his home town. Another 25 smaller seedlings will be sent to several botanical gardens in the country for its ex situ conservation.

The national campaign launched to find new plants of the royal oak (Ekmanianthe longiflora) is proving to be successful. A new report at Sierra del Grillo (southeast of Havana) confirms the effectiveness of this initiative…

The advantages of planting in the Summer

On our way towards the Pan of Matanzas I was very worried. This time we were not taking cacti to be reintroduced. With Leptocereus wrightii, for example, planting was fairly easy and the species is very resistant. The oaks lose water way faster through their leaves. Luckily, Duniel was a good trainer for these trees and prepared them for a life in their natural habitat.

Going up the hill this time was the toughest of all our trips to the Pan. The heavy boxes forced us to stop every 20 meters for a break and the slope became more vertical with every step. Once we reached the rock a sense of joy invaded us: the first royal oaks were going to be planted here and the boxes were going to become lighter.

With these 75 introduced royal oaks Planta! is changing the future of the species.

A pouring rain started when we had just a few trees left to plant, a help that came just in time for the recently planted oaks. Along our way we saw Leptocereus scopulophilus, a good opportunity for our colleague Mayté Pernús to finally meet our distinguished cactus.

The royal oaks are spectacular plants. Once planted, their healthy leaves gave their natural habitat a boost in beauty and colour. What a pity that we had to remove some of their leaves to protect them from losing to much water right after planting. But the life of a tree is just that: losing old leaves in their way to the sky.

Mayté Pernús plants a royal oak tree in Pan de Matanzas

These healthy young royal oaks glowed in their natural habitat

José Angel happy to change the conservation situation of Royal Oak

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