Cuba’s National Botanical Garden
By: César Antonio Rodríguez Photos: Alejandro Gortázar
With the passing of time, the Cuban National Botanical Garden has blossomed into an oasis for leisure, education, and exercise.
Located beside Parque Lenin about 20 km south of Havana, the Garden aims to show the tropical diversity of Cuba's ﬂora and to promote environmental awareness for the Cuban people and foreign visitors.
With the advice and assistance of Dr. Johannes Bisse of the Friedrich Séller University of Germany, the Garden was conceived with a scientiﬁc purpose. That explains why the Garden works with the Biology Faculty of the University of Havana and has a staff which includes PhD‘s in biological sciences, botany experts, and other researchers. They conduct numerous research projects and maintain a vast specialized library as well as a lab where they are able to preserve and grow nearly extinct plants in vitro.
One place not to be missed is the Garden's herbarium. It is one of the most important on the island with more than 200,000 samples gathered over a period of more than a hundred years. The samples are preserved at low levels of humidity and are free from the potential danger of insects and diseases.
The World of Plants.
Breathing such pure and refreshing air in the middle of so much vegetation is a privilege for all of those visiting this botanical haven for Havana.
Everything is carefully selected and arranged to suit the different geographical areas. Exhibition areas are distributed over more than two thousand square metres of covered sections with three 10 m high pavilions housing around 600 species of plants from 250 genres and 90 families. There are also beautiful outdoor spaces, ponds, and decorative collections.
It is better to visit with some company so you can share all the beauty surrounding the Garden. Time will fly rapidly for all nature lovers in this park full of Cuban plants and vegetation from the tropical and subtropical areas across the island. A good example of a plant being grown indoors and out is the palm tree with more than 200 species.
Visitors can ask for a professional guide to assist them in their tour and to help learn about the seven areas of vegetation: Dry Fields; Palm Tree Fields; Residual Hillocks or Mogotes; Pine Tree Forests; Coastal Jungles; Tropical Semi-Deciduous Forests; Thorny Scrublands or Cuabals; and Eastern Rain Forests.
The Garden of Walks
One place this institution is proud of is the Japanese Garden, named Kaiyu-Shiki-Teien which means Garden of Walks. It is a unique, peaceful and inspiring place created by Japanese architect Yoshikuni Araki. This idyllic refuge, excellent for meditation, has a superb gardening style.
Everything is artistically combined in this splendid place. Plants identifying the Asian region are combined with others Whose shape and blossoms contribute to the design philosophy to capture the spirit of that ancient land.
The main visual axis of the Japanese Garden's composition is based on the technique named Shakkei and is used to absorb distant views of particular interest. In this case the Managua Hills, two miles away, provide a great background for the setting.
Framed in this picture, a soft waterfall shares its waters with three terraced platforms before falling with a sweet murmur into the calm lake. The whole landscape can be seen from different vantage points: a tea house, two wooden pavilions along the path, a stone terrace on the lake shore, and a wooden pavilion named Ukimi-dou , meaning Pavilion over Waters.
The arrangement of stones plays a very signiﬁcant role in Japanese gardening. It takes into account the composition of the materials, the colours, texture, and how it changes with light.
During the making of this Garden, stones played an important role and were carefully brought from different regions of the country: Aneon Peninsula near Trinidad; Piedra Lagoon in Viñales, Pinar del Río; Soroa; and Playas del Este and Jibacoa Beach along the north coast.
There are several details that round out the Garden’s beauty. At a turn on the path, a stone bowl is available for you to wash your hands and as an added treat, you can listen to the echo of water falling into a hidden jar. Sounds play an interesting role throughout much of the design.
Another interesting structure is the 3 m high stone tower, a simpliﬁed replica of the traditional Buddhist pagodas made with thirteen horizontal pieces placed one over the other and located at the end of the waterfall. Amateur botanists will be very pleased with the plant arrangements and ambience. There are multi-coloured bushes and many other species such as Bambusu vulgaris, Amoora rohituka, and Cassia nodosa.
There are also conifers, particularly pine trees with a marked resemblance to the ones found in Japan, which outline the boundaries of the garden.
To Take a Breather
You can find several facilities for food and refreshments at the National Botanical Garden where visitors can enjoy Cuban Creole food and “Eco-foodʺ : El Ranchón Restaurant: Located inside a pine forest, this restaurant provides traditonal Cuban Creole food. El Yarey Restaurant: Surrounded by beautiful palm trees and also serving Cuban Creole food. La Majagua Restaurant: Cuban cuisine. El Tropical Cafeteria: Located at the end of the plant exhibition pavilion and offering soft drinks and snacks.
El Bambu Eco-Restaurant: Located in the beautiful environment of the Japanese Garden, this restaurant is very popular with many options for vegetarians. The menu includes different types of soups, rice, vegetables, stews, baked dishes, salads, desserts, juices, ice cream, and various types of tea. All vegetarian and cooked with ﬁrewood. They have a vegetable garden with more than 500 varieties of plants and an apiary supplying high quality honey year-round.
Most of the customers become regulars aﬁer their ﬁrst visit and retum to enjoy the high-quality vegetarian food that also promotes good health and environmental protection. Three volumes of eco-cuisine have been published with the aim of spreading healthy eating among Cubans.
There are many experiences accumulated by all those who come again and again to the Botanical Garden in search of a universe full of blossoming nature.