The young generation of a Cuban plant

A wonderful accomplishment awaits for this team of Planta! working by the Ochoa river, where several propagated plants of Rhodogeron coronopifolius were reintroduced a while ago. This jewel of our flora it’s getting ready to conquer a site known as “El Playazo”.

 

Date: 16/03/2020

 

Project: Conservation status assessment and recovery of Rhodogeron coronopifolius.

 

Rhodogeron coronopifolius grows alongside the rivers of Sabanas de Santa Clara in Central Cuba. A while ago, our team planted several individuals of this rare and unique Cuban plant. Today, like parents ensuring the welfare of their children, we come back to assess the growth and survival of these plants.

Planta! ’s volunteers stablish a new subpopulation of Rhodogeron coronopifolius, a rare Central Cuba species that grows between the rocks. Leaded by Faife and carrying a drill, punches and chisels, they open their way through the rock.

Wonders with thorns

Thickets are abundant in this area. Characterized by many endemic Cuban plants, this type of vegetation has adapted to grow in soils that accumulate heavy metals. On the other hand, these plants have also evolved to avoid the loss of water by having thick cuticles, visible thorns and very much reduced leaves.

Unattractive at first glance, thicket endemic plants become more and more interesting once we get to know them better. Like when we learn that many birds use them to make nests since the plant accumulation of heavy metals offers them some sort of protection. It is behind that wall of unusual trees and shrubs that the river awaits.

Rhodogeron coronopifolius grows alongside the rivers of Sabanas de Santa Clara in Central Cuba.

El Playazo, a beach wish

The river Ochoa, where the population of Rhodogeron coronopifolius grows, is rather shallow. In the dry season, it is greatly reduced until it’s just a few centimeters deep. Thicket plants and others that need the proximity of water cohabitate alongside the shore. Trees provide shadow but also filter sunlight. In some areas along the river, human activities have changed this landscape into one where herbs are abundant.

One of the sites where the river widens is visited by many locals as a “beaching area”. They do picnics by the shore and enjoy being a little closer to Nature. Locals called this site “El Playazo” (“The Beach”), even though it is quite far from being a true beach.

Assessing the survival of reintroduced plants is a crucial step in our conservation projects.

It is finally reproducing!

As we got closer to the river Ochoa, we noticed that the usual peaceful ambiance of the site was a little disrupted. The heavy rain from the previous day increased the river’s channel so the stream was noisier than usual. Many Rhodogerons were partially or completely under water. Given that it is not considered an aquatic plant, it is remarkable to see how these plants tolerate to be submerged in water for several days, with their roots firmly attached to the ground.

While measuring the size of the individuals that survived the last reintroduction, we came upon a white inflorescence (group of flowers) instead of the usual violet flowers these plants have. This responds to a genetic variation known as albinism, very rare in nature.

Our main tasks during these expeditions are measuring the size of the plants that survived the last reintroduction and assessing their development.

Our biggest surprise was to find new juveniles of Rhodogeron in this locality.

We were still measuring plants when we came upon one of the biggest accomplishments of our project so far. We found juveniles in the vicinity of two reintroduced plants. This was the first locality where the species was spotted but, at some point, all the Rhodogerons were lost due to the occurrence of fires and other habitat alterations. Finding juveniles in this area proved us that the plants we reintroduced a while ago were able to produce seeds, and that these seeds germinated to establish new plants.

“…finding juveniles reaffirms us that Nature just needs a little push, like the one our team is doing today towards the future of Rhodogeron coronopifolius.”

Michel Faife

Coordinator of the Rhodogeron coronopifolius conservation project

Professor at Universidad Central de Las Villas “Marta Abreu“

So, it is possible to increase the populations of Rhodogeron coronopifolius with this initiative of Planta!. These unique Cuban plants have overcame their vulnerable stage and have started to naturally propagate. Soon they will be able to take their habitat back on their own. Soon they will be blooming again alongside the shore of the Ochoa river.

Rhodogeron coronopifolius has started to naturally propagate alongside the shore of the Ochoa river.

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