A paradise of orchids

Building capacities is one of Planta! ’s primary goals. In this new adventure, professors and students are traveling to Eastern Cuba to look for rare plants. Randy, a Biology student, tells us more about this journey, the lessons he learned, and his new passion-orchids.


Date: 22/05/2020


Project: Planta!’s Capacity Building program: supporting the conservation of threatened trees..


I have been attracted to Nature since I can remember, to some extent, due to my grandmother’s influence. I used to visit her on Sundays. The backyard was in full bloom with scents that made me want to know more about plants. I could probably say that it is because of her that I am about to graduate from Biology. Later, when I started collaborating with Planta!‘s team, my motivation to learn about plants did nothing but grow. Then I started studying the Cuban flora and its conservation.

This expedition of Planta! traveled to Pinares de Mayarí with students and collaborators from different Cuban universities.

The longed-for journey

After many months of wait, finally, the day had come. Our academic year was going to end with an expedition to Eastern Cuba with a team of Planta! I was very excited about this, mainly because our primary task was to look for rare and endangered orchids. One of the best adventures indeed!

The trip from Havana to Pinares de Mayarí, in the province of Holguín, was very long. We spent almost 20 hours on the road. “It’s like we are reaching the sky”-some said. Students and collaborators from different Cuban universities joined us along the way. In our last stop, we picked up José Luis Gómez. He is a nationally recognized young botanist with a vast knowledge of the Cuban flora. Finding plants in eastern Cuba would not be the same without him.

José Luis Gómez (to the center) shares a passion for teaching and orchids.

A walking encyclopedia

José Luis works at the Botanical Garden of Holguín and has collaborated with Planta! since the beginning. He is passionate about plants. We all agree that there are two things he does better than anyone else: identifying a plant and taking a good picture of it.

He knows Eastern Cuba like the palm of his hand, which, combined with an outstanding memory, makes him perfect for fieldwork. However, Jose is not just knowledgeable about plants; he is a great teacher and an orchid passionate. He likes to teach on plant identification, and he is so enthusiastic that it’s almost impossible not to love Botany when he is around.

Planta! ’s team is entirely multidisciplinary. Rayner taught us about butterflies and night bugs.

Hard work pays off

The team of Planta! is often multidisciplinary. With Rayner, we learned about butterflies and night bugs; Félix showed us the birds at dawn; Karina was in charge of amphibians and reptiles, and Enma taught us about monitoring bats. However, since we arrived, I was helping Jose Luis in his quest for Basiphyllaea carabiana, a natural treasure that keeps eluding him. He tells me about the importance of finding this plant to work towards its preservation. His obsession is almost contagious.

“Basiphyllaea carabiana is a rare orchid threatened with extinction. One population of this orchid inhabits the thickets of “La Cueva” where a Planta!‘s team is hoping to find it”

Randy Simón Vallejo

Senior Biology student University of Havana

This type of vegetation tends to make fieldwork harder. Walking through the serpentine under bright sun is not a simple task. After five days of work, we found over 90 species of orchids in the area, many of them exclusive of this part of the Island. This place was indeed a real paradise of orchids. But there was still one more plant to find to fulfill the expectations of our journey. The “lost” orchid was resisting us.

It is hard to describe the perseverance of a botanist like Jose when facing a challenge like this one. Among the bushes, he sees a flower. He gets closer and examines the plant with curious eyes. He considers every detail, and then he shares with us the good news. We have found it!

Basiphyllaea carabiana is a rare Cuban orchid threatened with extinction

Five minutes later, and he is already planning all the conservation actions needed to preserve it. I can now appreciate what it is like to work doing something you love—what an extraordinary lesson of commitment and devotion to conservation.

Jose Luis Gómez is a true passionate about plants and one of the first collaborators of Planta!

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