By Fabián Armando Michelangeli
Mar 24 2019
A recent expedition to eastern Cuba took three Cuban colleagues and me from the coast to the cloud forests in search of rare and locally restricted species in the plant family known as princess flower or meadow beauty. The species in this family (whose scientific name is Melastomataceae) are an especially diverse group in Cuba.
Joining me were Dr. Eldis Becquer from the Jardin Botanico Nacional (National Botanical Garden) in Havana; Wilder Carmenate, director of the Holguin Botanical Garden; and Jose Luis Gomez, a researcher at the Holguin garden and a graduate student at the University of Havana. Becquer, Carmenate and I are studying the Melastomataceae while Gomez and Carmenate took advantage of this expedition to document invasive species—part of ongoing research projects developed by Carmenate to study threats to the flora of Cuba.
At all localities, we relied on the logistical support of the national park system of Cuba or the Office of Flora and Fauna (equivalent to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service). They provided housing at local lodges or ranger houses, helped with food, and provided us with work space to process our samples. Local park rangers at every site also joined us as guides and helped collect plants. An important part of our activities was to train them to identify not only rare plants but also aggressive invasive species that are being targeted for removal.
In total, we collected more than 70 species of Melastomataceae. Of these, more than 80 percent are found only in Cuba and 90 percent only in the Caribbean islands, underscoring the high level of endemism in the forests of these islands.