Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in Memory of William Brake

A passion for plants

Christopher Columbus described Cuba as “the most beautiful land that human eyes had ever seen”. In one short journey, a visitor can experience deserts and rainforests, lowlands and mountains, valleys and cliffs; all uniquely embellished by an ancient and rare flora. Luis, Head of Conservation of the Cuban Botanical Society, launched the Planta! Campaign in 2012 as a nationwide effort to inspire the preservation of this diverse mosaic of plant life.

Luis Torres profile

The Caribbean’s richest flora

Cuba hosts one of the four richest island floras of the world and supports 7,500 species of flowering plant, more than half of that of the entire Caribbean. 53% of all Cuban plant species are endemic to the country. Plants have cultural, economic and medicinal value and perform crucial ecosystem services.

Planta!

Undervalued

Poor awareness of the importance, value and perilous situation of Cuba’s flora means that allocation of resources for conservation is insufficient and exacerbated by poor enforcement of legislation and inadequate commitment of citizens and decision-makers. A lack of skilled conservation practitioners at local level also reduces the effectiveness of conservation actions, limiting the development of local initiatives.

reintroduction of an endemic cactus to the wild

His project aims to:

  • Educate Cubans about the importance of their native flora and inspire them to conserve it.
  • Build capacity for developing and implementing community-based conservation projects.
  • Connect conservationists nationwide to create a network where resources and expertise can be exchanged.

Why it matters:

  • Cuba has the greatest plant diversity of the Caribbean Biodiversity Hotspot.
  • The endemism of Cuban plant communities can reach up to 85%, making their conservation of global importance.
  • Mining, urban development and unsustainable harvesting threaten Cuban plants.

“The greatest contributions come from local people who are encouraged, committed and trained.”

Project Update

Winning the Whitley Award has raised the profile of Planta! with a visit from the Cuban Minister for the Environment and support from the National Centre for Protected Areas, the University of Havana, the University of Las Villas and the National Botanic Garden, Cuba. In 2014 Luis was appointed Chair of the IUCN/SSC Cuban Plant Specialist Group.

With WFN support Planta! has:

  • Sixteen active conservation projects with direct impact in 11 local communities and 3 cities; and trainees are developing a further 7 new plant conservation projects for Cuba addressing the recovery of threatened endemic plants and invasive species management.
  • Helped establish a nationwide network of Cuban plant conservationists to design a methodology for producing the Red List for Cuban Plants. Assessments were published for the conservation situation of 299 species and compilation of information for another 415 species is on-going.
  • Trained 520 plant conservationists, including undergraduate students, technicians, conservationists and farmers, thus building vital capacity for plant conservation. Planta! also organised the 2014 Conference on Conservation of Biodiversity in Cuba for 134 attendees from 28 institutions.
  • Organised a wide range of public outreach activities to help Cubans understand the importance of plants for ecosystem services and to inspire them to support conservation efforts. These included the Del Monte Sol exhibition and ‘plant walks’ in Old Havana attended by 500 people. Planta! also targeted the fashion industry, working with an artist to create a calendar featuring models wearing floral outfits that was launched at a fashion show and distributed widely. Finally, the ‘My Green Pet Del Monte’ festival reached school and university students as well as 6,520 members of the public. Planta! has also distributed its message through the media, participating in 87 radio and TV programmes.

Full winners list