Preserving the Critically Endangered Juglans jamaicensis

Conservation problem
Critically Endangered West Indian Walnut tree (Juglans jamaicensis) is found within a restricted range in Cuba and is threatened by timber extraction and forest fires.

Project Goal
Detailed information about Juglans jamaicensis informs conservation actions urgently needed, including cultivating a reservoir of the species in Cuban botanic gardens, and working with farmers to plant the species into coffee plantations.

Why this species?

Cuba is host to one of the richest island floras in the world, supporting 7,500 species of flowering plants. Over 50% of the plant species are endemic to the island. The West Indian Walnut is a particularly charismatic tall tree, growing within central and western parts of the island, and has major potential to serve as a national emblem of Cuba’s botanical wealth. The species is reported to native to the Greater Antilles (Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico), however accurate information about the species’ distributional range is not yet available.

Mature Juglans jamaicensis specimen in the wild, Topes de Collantes, central Cuba (Photo credit: Cienfuegos Botanic Garden)

The West Indian Walnut is highly valued for its timber in carpentry, whilst the leaves and fruits are useful for medicinal, cosmetic and nutritional purposes. However, commercial forestry, intensive agriculture and growing infrastructure development are changing the natural habitat and threatening the island’s native plant diversity. The species is threatened not only by land conversion and forest fires but also targeted harvesting. As a result of these threats, the tree has suffered significant population losses and it was assessed as Critically Endangered in The Red List of the Cuban Vascular Flora (2005).

Juglans jamaicensis requires urgent conservation action to bring the species into cultivation and conservation collections at Cuban botanic gardens as an immediate insurance policy against the species’ extinction in the wild.

What are we doing?

Since 2016, we have partnered with Cienfuegos Botanic Garden (CBG) in central Cuba, to carry out field inventories and ex situ conservation actions for Juglans jamaicensis. These efforts include:

  • Conducting field surveys of known populations to assess current population status, size and distribution.
  • Collecting seeds and vegetative propagation material from known populations to create conservation collections at Cienfuegos Botanic Garden.
  • Engaging local farmers in the survey work and providing training on propagation and cultivation techniques to grow the species in coffee and other plantations, to help guarantee the West Indian Walnut’s survival for generations to come.

Juglans jamaicensis growing at Cienfuegos Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Cienfuegos Botanic Garden)

Key achievements

Field surveys carried out in 2016 and 2017 have confirmed the existence of six populations in central Cuba. Consultations with local farmers in Viñales, Pinar del Rio, indicate the existence of a further population in west Cuba. Protection measures for these additional populations will now be explored.

Over 50 seeds have been collected during the survey work and are being stored at CBG. Approximately 20 saplings out of a total of 35 survived the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma in autumn 2017 and continue to grow.

Discussions with local farmers are under way to explore the potential of Juglans jamaicensis as a shade tree in shade-grown coffee plantations. Once a more significant stock of saplings becomes available at CBG, plants will be distributed to the farmers to explore the effects of growing the West Indian Walnut and coffee together.

Juglans jamaicensis being planted within shade-grown coffee plantations

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@bgci.org

Did you know?

The loneliest palm, Hyophorbe amaricaulis, is one of the rarest trees in the world. Only one wild individual remains on the island of Mauritius.