Winner avatar
2023 Continuation Funding
2016 WSCF
2014 Whitley Award
Luis Torres Cuba Terrestrial
A national movement to protect Cuba’s plants

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

A passion for plants

Cuba’s biodiversity stretches across an extraordinary variety of biomes: 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.


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.



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.


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.


2023 Continuation Funding

Planting the seeds for long-term conservation projects in Cuba
£100,000 over 2 years

Luis Torres has spent decades working to safeguard Cuba’s unique and diverse flora, empowering local communities, and supplying native plants to conservation initiatives across the country.

He and his team at Planta! have successfully reversed the decline of 12 threatened native plant species and are restoring over 500 ha with rare and endangered saplings. By establishing partnerships at every level – from farmers and local communities to the IUCN and the National Network of Botanic Gardens – Luis is helping sustainably manage and conserve plants and ecosystems throughout Cuba.

With further Continuation Funding, Luis will develop detailed germination and seed storage protocols, maximising the potential of native plant nurseries by improving successful propagation rates. To increase the availability of conservation-grade native plants, he will support the establishment of 20 native plant nurseries, training 40 local horticulturalists to oversee and manage the expanded network. New nurseries will grow more than 22,000 rare and threatened species that occur outside of protected areas, returning biodiversity to farms and local lands and protecting communities from weakened monoculture crops.