The diversity of plants in the Caribbean Islands is really high – and this is no different for Cuba, as nearly a quarter of the region’s vascular flora (which are land plants that have lignified tissues for the movement of water and minerals throughout the plant).
This has made Cuba the region’s most biologically significant island, in terms of flora biodiversity.
Cuba hosts more than 6500 vascular plants, 950 of which are considered rare, endangered, or have become extinct in the past 350 years. Both tourism and agriculture (which are big industries in Cuba).
In spite of this – Cuba holds many beautiful treasures of plants, and thankfully intensive conservation efforts are ongoing, to preserve its unique biodiversity, and attractive verdant lands.
This article will guide you through some of the most iconic and gorgeous plants that are native to Cuba, teaching you about their characteristics, varieties, uses and preferred environments. Read on to find out more about Cuba’s flora.
Probably the most famous, well known and iconic plant in Cuba, the orchid is a type of flower that the country is known for.
They tend to grow in the most humid regions of Cuba, like the lagoons, but are also a staple houseplant as well, as they can be grown domestically with ease.
The orchid has also been intertwined with Cuban culture, as Cuban women used to send messages to men who were on the front lines of Cuba’s battles of independence, using the orchid flower.
Specifically, the varieties White Ginger and White Mariposa are associated with Cuba. The White Mariposa is actually Cuba’s national flower (also known as the Butterfly Jasmine/Hedychium coronarium).
Throughout the Caribbean, there are an estimated 25,000 species of orchids, of which new ones being added to the roster all the time – only a few years ago, two more types of orchid were discovered.
- The Tetramicra riparia is an orchid that was discovered in Cuba’ isolated eastern mountain streams. It has delicate white foliage, and tiny flowers that are smaller than a dime.
- The Encyclia navarroli was discovered in the western area of Cuba, and is notable for its large purple and green flowers, of which there can be twenty of on s single plant. It tends to grown on the bodies of other plants, using them as a kind of scaffolding.
If you are interested in Cuba’s orchids then we recommend that you pay a visit to Soroa’s orchid gardens, where you will see an amazing 20,000 orchids in a 35,000 square meter garden.
The Palm Tree
There is a wide variety of palm trees in Cuba – with an estimated 100 different species (90 of which are endemic to Cuba, and can naturally only be found there).
Like the orchid, the palm tree is also intertwined with Cuban culture, as the Cuban Royal Palm (which has the Latin name Reistonea regia) is their national tree.
The Royal Palm can reach a magnificent 40 to 60 feet in height, and is crowned with a wide expanse of pinnacle leaves, which can reach a huge 20 feet in diameter, which give it is royal name.
The Cuban people fondly refer to this tree as the ‘queen of the fields’, because of its tall stature, and because it serves a lot of utilitarian purposes, with its timber and produce.
Another fairly common palm tree in Cuba is the cork palm (Microcycas Calocoma), which is native to the western region of Cuba, in the Pinar del Rio Province.
These trees can grow to a tall 10 m, and can be differentiated from other palm trees by their short leaves near the tree’s apex. These trees are critically endangered, with an estimated whole world population of only 600 plants.
The Cuban Magnolia
The Cuban magnolia (also known as the Magnolia cubensis, or cashew of the Maestra) is another plant that is native to Cuba. Typically, it is found in the Sierra Maestra region, which is in the southeastern part of the island.
It like fairly high altitudes, thriving well at elevations of 2,300 to 5,900 feet (which is equivalent to 700 to 1,800 m. You can also find the Cuban Magnolia fairly commonly in throughout the West Indies
In appearance, it is a tall tree, and can grow to a big 50 feet tall, or more. Like all of the magnolia species, it has thick, green, glossy leaves, which stay on the plant year round.
It also produces large white flowers around eight inches in diameter, which have a very distinctive fragrance. The seeds are typically reddish orange, though they can also be black, brown, and pink in color.
As it is evergreen, it is a beautiful plant year round. It grows best in full sun conditions, and like acidic, well drained soil.
The Mahogany Tree
The mahogany tree is a tall hardwood timber tree, which grow throughout the Caribbean and tropical America. It is most well known for the wood that it produces, which is hard, and turns a very attractive warm, reddish brown color when it reaches maturity.
The timber is prized for its hardwearingness and attractive grain, making it a popular choice for luxury furniture, homewares and flooring, especially when it was more abundant.
If you are a fan of antique furniture, you are likely to already have some mahogany in your home!
The tree products evergreen foliage, in a feather arrangement, and also sprouts spates of white flowers, which are clustered close together on branches.
If pollinated, these small white flowers will produce a fruit – though it is not a fruit in the traditional (and edible!) sense.
Instead, it is a five part woody capsule, and contains seeds that are square, and winged (like the common sycamore).
The mahogany tree that is found most frequently – but not exclusively – in Cuba, is the West Indian or Cuban mahogany (which has the Latin name Swietenia mahagoni), which used to be the dominant timber in the mahogany trade, but has not been in widespread commercial use since World War II.
Other mahogany varieties include the Honduran or big-leaf mahogany, which is distributed from Mexico to the southern Amazonia region of Brazil, and is the only genuine species of mahogany that is grown widely for commercial consumption.
The Swietenia humilis is another variety of mahogany tree, and has a unique twisted appearance, which makes it of limited commercial use compared to other varieties.
The Ironwood Tree
The ironwood tree is a tree or large shrub, which is multi-stemmed and upright, which grown to 7 to 15 feet tall when mature. In summer, the ironwood tree will produce delicious smelling flowers, which are pendant shaped, and a creamy white in color.
The tree’s foliage is waxy and thick, and turn a really beautiful and incredibly distinctive ruby red color as the seasons begin to change. When the weather is mild year round, the leaves will nearly be evergreen, only falling so that a new set can quickly grow in, and never leaving the tree fully bare.
Cuban ironwood loves full sun but will do well in filtered shade as well. It prefers moist to wet acidic soils, as it is susceptible to severe drought (but can tolerate more mild droughts). It is a great shrub/small tree for garden borders, and grows well alongside other plants.
The Heliconia Flower
The heliconia plant is a tropical flowering plant that is pretty widespread through the Caribbean, the Americas and southern Asia. It is known for its large, banana tree like leaves, and it’s interesting flowers.
The flowers are a little alien looking, and don’t have petals in the traditional sense, but rather has brightly colored bracts (an adapted kind of leaf), and last for a long time (much longer than other kinds of blooms). Typically, flowers come in shades of red, yellow, orange, or hot pink.
It is quite similar to the bird of paradise plant, which also produces unusual looking, vibrant blooms. They both produce large, lush clumps of flowers and foliage on sturdy, succulent stems.
The heliconia is an utterly tropical plant, and cannot withstand frosts, and leaves may be wind burned if left outside in sub par weather conditions.
The Golden Chalice Vine
The golden chalice vine (which has the Latin name Solandra longiflora, and the alternate common name the cup of gold vine) is native to Cuba, as well as a few other Caribbean islands like Hispaniola and Jamaica.
It is a tropical climbing shrub, that produces long vines, which can grow to cover walls, fences, and natural structures.
The flowers, as the name suggests, are a golden shade of yellow, and resemble wine glasses or chalices, in both shape and size. The leaves that this plant produces are quite big (sometimes more than six inches long), and the vines themselves can reach a whopping 40 feet.
Cuba has a rich and unique ecosystem, that supports many stunning endemic plants.
The region has developed such a unique set of native plants because of its unique climate and locations – as the largest tropical island in the Caribbean, both having vast swathes of sandy beaches, forests, mangroves, freshwater, rolling hills, and mountainous regions.
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