Dendrocereus nudiflorus, commonly known as aguacate cimarrón, is the biggest tree-like cactus of Cuba. This endemic species grows in dry xeromorphic thickets and dry forests in coastal areas of the island. The large white flowers and the massive habit of this tree (up to 13 m high) distinguish it from all the other species occurring in Cuban dry forests and thickets. This cactus captures the attention of local people and visitors alike and can encourage them to conserve and restore areas where this species occurs. Dendrocerus nudiflorus when in bloom is also an important food source for bats and moths.
The population of this tree is declining due to urbanization, tourism and oil field development. During 2017, our team with the support of the local community conducted surveys in 9 of 12 remaining subpopulations of Dedrocereus nudiflorus. We accounted a total of 798 adult individuals among all the nine subpopulations. Additionally, the natural recovery of the population of Dedrocereus nudiflorus is constrained by the low recruitment of seedlings observed and the population grows old without hope of replacement.
One of the top 50 most threatened plants of Cuba, the conservation of Dendrocereus nudiflorus is part of a Planta! project. The project aims to reinforce the subpopulations of Dedrocereus nudiflorus with the participation of local people, to survey 100% of the localities where the species has been reported for remaining individuals of Dedrocereus nudiflorus and assess their conservation situation, and to elaborate and share a detailed recovery plan for Dedrocereus nudiflorus with backing of the stakeholders.
So far we have been able to survey every locality where the species have been reported. The conservation status of every subpopulation has been assessed. A total of 772 new individuals have been found and five new subpopulations were discovered. Additional threats have been identified, such as the occurrence of fires, displacement by invasive plants, grazing, wind farming and habitat degradation by timber extraction among others. Moreover, a detailed recovery plan for Dendrocereus nudiflorus was elaborated with backing of the stakeholders and has been widely shared.
Nevertheless, one of the most significant results of the project is the 1.144 plants of Dendrocereus nudiflorus that have been reintroduced in their natural habitats. The population has almost doubled its size with plants propagated in local nurseries created by the project.
There is still lots to do to restore the habitat of this cactus and rejuvenate its populations. But everything seems possible for this species that capture our eyes from the first glance like a desperate call to preserve it.