To the gardens first, then to the forests

After months propagating plants of Harpalyce macrocarpa, the time to reinforce the population of this endangered plant has finally arrived. Leaded by Enma, a team of Planta! arrives to San Felipe looking forward to this crucial step of the conservation project.


Date: 30/03/2020


Project: Conservation assessment and recovery of Harpalyce macrocarpa – an endemic tree from Central Cuba.


I grew up in my grandmother’s backyard, surrounded by plants. At my family home, plants are still all around, for cooking, to remediate illnesses, and to fully enjoy their colours and scents. However, my most extensive garden right now is the one on the rural community of San Felipe.


Harpalyce macrocarpa, the plant I am devoted to protect, grows exclusively in its surroundings. This time we bring 180 small plants of the species, eager to spread their roots in the rocky soil. Only that instead of going directly to the forest, they will grow in the gardens and backyards of the people from San Felipe.

San Felipe’s eldest inhabitants still recall when many years ago, just as Spring was starting, the savanna surrounding the village was as red as “maiden’s blood”. The flowers of Harpalyce macrocarpa were claiming the attention of pollinators…

Rescuing “el zapote”

In San Felipe, Harpalyce macrocarpa is not only known by the name “sangre de doncella”. Locals also call it “zapote”. This is such an interesting name because in Eastern Cuba this name is given to a tree with an exquisite red fruit, which is not the case for the plant we study. In the past, the “zapote” of San Felipe was popular due to its hardwood and when admiring the beautiful landscape covered in red flowers. Years later, overlogging and town expansion almost made this plant disappear. Only a few locals were able to remember that singular landscape. Nobody knew about the small tree that was exclusive from this site.

The people of San Felipe will look after the new plants of Harpalyce macrocarpa so they can survive the intense drought.

The community of San Felipe is very friendly and supportive, and they have started to develop a sense of pride for this plant that represents their town. This time around, they are not just helping us with our work, they agreed to be the ones taking care of the new plants until they are well stablished in that dry and difficult soil. If the plants succeed, it will be mostly thanks to the community.

Like a river, every garden could overflow

In San Felipe there are no barriers between Nature and the community. Gardens and backyards are the part of the forest that lives among people. Ulises and Dania are well aware of this and they have welcomed at home a nursery of plants of the species. Their help was vital to bring our plants into other farms, since we do not know all the farmers of the area. No one better than them to convince others in the community to adopt a “zapote”.

Planta!’s volunteers are always essential for the success of these conservation actions.

The seeds that germinated to produce these plants would not have germinated naturally in the town’s soil. The “zapote” likes to grow near the river to benefit from the high humidity of this environment, but the rain is scarce in this area and the river has drastically reduced its channel. So, every local caring for these plants agreed to water them until they are strong enough to survive the natural rain regime of the area.

Our hands multiplied

When we started planting we were delighted to see that our team was expanding. Two Planta!’s volunteers from the nearby province of Ciego de Ávila travelled a long way from home to help us with planting.

Planta!’s volunteers travelled a long way from home to help us with planting.

Enma Torres planting “sangre de doncella” in San Felipe, a site related to her childhood.

The neighbours, busy with their daily chores, were intrigued by our bags and approached us with questions. Some of them did not know which plants we were talking about and when we told them, they asked for one to grow in their gardens. We explained to them how to care for the plants and why they were so important. Among the people that approached us with questions, there were neighbours from the nearby community of Arroyo Blanco. Our conservation work with “sangre de doncella” is spreading the word.

“Ever since we started looking for the plants across the meadow and along the shore of the river close to the town, the people from San Felipe started seeing the “zapote” as something more than a natural resource. Today, they acknowledge this locally exclusive plant as a treasure of the Cuban flora.”

Enma Torres

Coordinator of the project

Professor at the National Botanical Garden, Havana

The gardens of San Felipe grow on serpentine rocks, a beautiful greyish rock with some green-blue tones. Even though there are some exotic species, common in every Cuban garden, now almost every garden has one or more “zapotes”. That rare plant with red flowers known as “sangre de doncella” is once again closer to the community. We have touched the heart of the people in San Felipe. Conservation is, more than anything, to get them involved.

In San Felipe there are no barriers between Nature and the community. Gardens and backyards are the part of the forest that lives among people.

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