212 Miles South! Most Grateful to Dr. Zettler and NOS…

Cuba: land of cigars and rum, ghost orchids and bats! Last fall, Dr. Zettler, whose students NOS has supported with internships for six years, generously invited me to go to Cuba on a research trip as a representative of the Naples Orchid Society and Naples Botanical Garden (if no one from there could go.) Of course, we said ‘Absolutely YES!”) So, on New Year’s Day 2017, La Raw and I traveled with students, professors and the provost of Illinois College, along with Greg Mueller from the Chicago Botanical Garden and Larry Richardson, Naples photographer, to Cuba. We spent two nights in Havana and on the third day headed west. At the Botanical Garden Orquideario de Soroa, where Dr. Ernesto Mujica and his wife work, we delivered two microscopes on behalf of NOS and were witness to an historical mutual agreement signed between the Chicago Garden and Soroa. I also presented a letter from the Naples Botanical Garden to Soroa, indicating that NBG was hopeful that a mutual agreement could be signed at some future time.

I was also surprised with a certificate of recognition from the General Director of Orquideario de Soroa for my “contribution to the development of scientific relations between our countries and, in particular, between our institutions.” (meaning Soroa, the Universidad de Pinar Del Rio and Naples Orchid Society). I am very grateful to NOS for providing me the opportunity to be its representative on this incredible trip and to Dr. Zettler for the invitation.

The fourth day we traveled to Viñales where we met with the manager of the national park there, went to the Cueva del Indio (Indian Cave) and took a boat trip through the cave, ate at an agro-ecological restaurant and visited a tobacco plantation.  The next morning we met with the professors and administrators of the Universidad de Pinar Del Rio who were so welcoming and extremely earnest to establish contacts to work with US counterparts and exchange information. A memorandum of understanding was signed January, 2016, between the university and Illinois College. The provost of Illinois College reiterated a commitment to this relationship.

In the afternoon we headed southwest to Guanahacabibes National Park, our destination for research. Along the way we picked up food, water, and Yolanda, a fantastic cook (two meals of lobster, one of wonderfully fresh fish, another of pork)—who was nabbed from Soroa by Dr. Mujica for the trip—also Jose Manuel de la Cruz Mora, mammologist for the park and a bat and bird specialist, and Jose Camejo Lamas, Manager of Natural Resources of the park, who knows everything about the plants, birds, animals and geology there. We reached the park late afternoon and were given an overview of the layout of the peninsula at the visitors’ center. We traveled an hour or so, to the end of the road at the lighthouse where the five students, Dr. Zettler and Dr. Arnold (Batman), Dr. Mujica and Yolanda and her sous chef stayed at the Casa del Lenador. Dr. Mueller, Larry Richardson, Dr. O’Connell, the provost, Dr. Gardner, who arranged the whole trip and we stayed at the Villa Cabo de San Antonio, about 3 km. away. Our guide, Zuli Sosa, and bus driver, Mr. Rodriquez, also stayed there and provided transport each day. Zuli was so helpful to see that we learned a lot.

We spent five days in the park, seeing orchids, caves, turtle-nesting sites, and forest guardians at work. There were small numbers of bats at the Prejudice Cave, named after the pirate, and we saw bats brought to a larger cave where they were identified, measured, sexed and their stress cries were recorded. I was discouraged from going to the cave where thousands of bats were, (as well as cave-dwelling boas that waited in crevices to snatch a bat-meal in the evening), due to very rough, slick terrain and low ceilings. I did accompany the ghost orchid group on their second transect to measure and pollinate blooming orchids one day. We watched on-going research and helped where we could. La Raw saw about 31 or so bird species that he had never seen before, most of which were endemic to Cuba. The two Joses were so helpful to him.

An excerpt from my journal: Went off with Larry Z, Ernesto, Jose C. and students Adam Herdman, Conner Melton and Eve Bahler to do second transect along the other of the road about 900 meters. Stations are every 20 meters or so and they are recording data about ghost orchids already located and ID’d but also looking for more ghosts.

The path we walk along is very rocky with fallen branches and little soil but where the students are working, the limestone coral rock is jagged and uneven and full of holes and some rock chunks are very loose and unstable. Plus, there are large and small trees and vines growing on the rock and roots. This is very difficult to walk on; you need fantastically great balance and eyesight to choose where to place your clumsy boots most carefully. The small trees are helpful hand-holds, but some are poisonous or toxic to the skin so you also should know which are safe to grab and which aren’t and many are dead and can give way. Ouch! The students have had to go in as much as 200m. and locate a ghost at a certain tree with an identified diameter. They have gotten good at this. Well, in Cuba, there are no venomous snakes and alligators, like in FL, just flesh-tearing rocks, deep holes that probably go down into caves that you can disappear into and rash and itch/infection inducing trees and plants. Dr. Mujica has 12 years of data from this park and 2 out of 4 years of necessary data from FL so far. The research data will eventually be used with software that can predict the future populations of ghost orchids, whether declining, stable or increasing and will be useful in reestablishing orchids lost through natural and man-made disasters.

Respectfully submitted,  Kit                                                                           



Upcoming Events

  • July 6, 2017
    Monthly Meeting


    Bill’s Mini Culture Class will return in July.

    Flower Registration 6:30 p.m.
    Flower Judging 7:10 p.m.
    Meeting 7:30 p.m.
    Program 7:45 p.m.

    6:30 pm,