The fruits of the Guano palm

Collecting seeds of Coccothrinax borhidiana has always been a challenge for the team of Planta! After several months of lockdown due to Covid-19, Duniel, Ilsa, Mayté, and Héctor travel to Punta Guanos, hoping for the best.

 

Date: 27/10/2020

 

Project: Conservation of threatened species of arid Cuban sites

 

These are tough times, but not particularly for Nature. More than once, the world has seen landscapes that were covered in smoke and contamination shine again. It is also the case of Punta Guanos, known by some as Risco Alto due to the cliff that borders a beautiful blue sea. The guano palm (Coccothrinax borhididana) grows here.

 

After four months of lockdown due to Covid-19, and knowing that the province of Matanzas was at its last recovery stage, we decided to go to Punta Guanos to collect seeds of this valuable palm, from which we have included some news before.

An endangered and very attractive species of the Cuban flora is visited by a Planta!’s team. Named after Dr. Atila Borhidi, a Hungarian botanist who devoted many years to the study of the Cuban flora…

Greener than ever

I have conducted over ten expeditions to the area, but this one seemed like the first time. It usually happens when I revisit places dear to me, like the Pan de Matanzas. I had never see Punta Guanos in July, and I know from experience that every site looks different according to the season. During the rainy season, the vegetation turns deep green, and you might discover species you have never seen before.

The guano palm mostly covers the landscape of Punta Guanos. However, some native cacti are also growing here, like the tree-like aguacate cimarrón, who just a few days ago was renamed as Leptocereus nudiflorus. The area has been divided into plots for oil extraction. There is also a small urban community growing, yet it is not hard to imagine how beautiful this site must have been before any human intervention.

Ilsa and Mayté collect mature fruits of Coccothrinax borhidiana.

The importance of seeds

Over the past three years, we have counted guano palms in the area and assessed their threats. We have been trying to collect seeds to produce plants, given that the site is so damaged that the germination process is very slow, and there is no warranty that the young plants will become adults. Despite our efforts, we have not been able to collect seeds since 2018.

We have found flowers on several occasions, but in the following months, no fruits or very few of them have been seen. Therefore, we have been studying this palm’s phenology: when it blooms, fructifies, and has mature seeds. Now we know the best time to collect the seeds to take them to the nurseries.

“With great effort and just a few available seeds, today we have a little over 100 small plants that keep slowly growing in our nurseries. The survival of Coccothrinax borhidiana” is in our hands

MSc. Duniel Barrios

Project leader

Researcher at the National Botanical Garden

The forest in all its splendor

As soon as we took the road towards Punta Guanos, we noticed an intense floral scent. A small tree known as “Guairaje” (Eugenia axillaris), from the same family as the guava, was blooming. That forest smell is one of my best memories from each expedition. As we got closer, we started to see guano palms, and dozens of them had fructified; not just one cluster of fruits per plant, but up to four. I had never seen anything like it.

Upon arrival to Punta Guanos, we noticed the floral scent of "Guairaje" (Eugenia axillaris).

Along with Mayte, Hector, and Ilsa, we collected hundreds of seeds from 50 individuals. The color of the fruits and their abundance reminded me of when I used to harvest coffee with my grandpa. Every new experience can relate to a good memory. We left some fruits in each plant and were surprised not to see more birds eating from them. Was there more food available somewhere? Perhaps.

Much more to see

During the trip, we also checked the “jibá de costa” (Erythroxylum spinescens). This Critically endangered shrub is studied by Ilsa. We discovered one “aguacate cimarron” with four young plants growing close to it, which was rare considering the low regeneration of the species.

About 100 small plants of Coccothrinax borhidiana are growing in nurseries.

We visited the coastal vegetation patches remaining in the Kilometer 43 of the Central Highway on our way back. It is where we planted jíjiras (Leptocereus wrightii) a year ago. Working our way through the vegetation, we were able to find many of the planted individuals. The last surprise was to see the fruits of “icaquillo” (Bunchosia emarginata), a very rare shrub that has not been assessed yet. An iguana over 20 inches long kept watching us closely, probably wondering about our excitement after a day filled with surprises.

This iguana over 20 inches long welcomed us at the Central Highway.

Healthy small plants of jíjira (Leptocereus wrightii) planted a year ago.

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by Diana Rodríguez
The meeting “Conservation of Biological Diversity in Cuba” has been celebrated since 2012. Organized every year by the Cuban Society of Botany, Planta!, and the Cuban Society of Zoology, the event offers a multidisciplinary opportunity to share Cuban Biodiversity conservation experiences.

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