Phenology of flora components in the use of natural and traditional medicine in the community of Verraco, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba

Revista Cubana de Ciencias Forestales. 2020; September-December 8(3): 392-409


Translated from the original in spanish


Phenology of flora components in the use of natural and traditional medicine in the community of Verraco, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba


Fenología de componentes de la flora en el uso de la medicina natural y tradicional en la comunidad de Verraco, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba


Fenologia de componentes da flora na utilização da medicina natural e tradicional na comunidade de Verraco, Santiago de Cuba, Cuba


Miguel Ángel Castell Puchades1*

Yenisei Revilla Gongora1

Gustavo Polanco Durán1

Yamila Baró Bou1


1Centro Oriental de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad, Santiago de Cuba. Cuba.


*Correspondence author:


Received: May 18th , 2020.
Approved: July 3rd , 2020.


Based on ethnobotanical studies carried out in the community of Verraco, belonging to the Baconao Biosphere Reserve, province of Santiago de Cuba, the components of the flora used in natural and traditional medicine were identified in situ, and the reproductive phenology of each of the identified species was determined. The objective of the work was to present the flowering and fruiting patterns of flora species that are components of natural and traditional medicine in the coastal community of Verraco, which belongs to the Baconao Biosphere Reserve. A total of 82 species of flowering plants used by the community for natural and traditional medicine were recorded, which are grouped into 75 genera and 49 botanical families. Of the total species studied, 46 % (38) were recorded with flowers and fruits, while only 12 % (10) and 39 % (32) were determined in the flowering and fruiting stages, respectively. Of the total species, only four are endemic and 24 % are naturalized, while 19 % correspond to non-indigenous but possibly naturalized species. Forty species flowers, coinciding with the rainy season, while 36 bear fruit during the same period. In the dry or low rainfall stage, a total of 57 species were recorded to flower in this period. A total of 27 species present a flowering stage of more than four months, while 21 species bear fruit in a similar stage of time. Only one species was recorded that flowers and bears fruit all year round: Heliotropium angiospermum. A total of 21 species present synchrony, as both phenological periods coincide in the same reproductive stage.

Key words: Ethnobotanical perception studies; Reproductive phenology; Medicinal plants.


A partir de los estudios etnobotánicos efectuados en la comunidad de Verraco, perteneciente a la Reserva de la Biosfera Baconao, provincia Santiago de Cuba, se identificaron in situ los componentes de la flora que son utilizados en la medicina natural y tradicional, y se determinó la fenología reproductiva de cada una de las especies identificadas. El trabajo tuvo como objetivo dar a conocer los patrones de floración y fructificación de especies de la flora que son componentes de la medicina natural y tradicional en la comunidad costera de Verraco, perteneciente a la Reserva de la Biosfera Baconao. Se registraron un total de 82 especies de plantas con flores que son empleadas por los comunitarios para el uso de la medicina natural y tradicional, las que se agrupan en 75 géneros y 49 familias botánicas. Del total de especies estudiadas, el 46 % (38) se registró con flores y frutos, mientras que solo se determinaron en las fases de floración y fructificación el 12 % (10) y 39 % (32), respectivamente. Del total de especies, solo cuatro son endémicas y el 24 % son naturalizadas, mientras que el 19 % se corresponde con especies no indígenas, pero posiblemente naturalizadas. Florecen 40 especies, coincidiendo con la época lluviosa, mientras que 36 fructifican en igual período. En la etapa de seca o poco lluviosa, se registraron un total de 57 especies que florecen en este período. Un total de 27 especies presentan una etapa de floración superior a los cuatro meses, mientras que 21 especies fructifican en una etapa similar de tiempo. Solo se registró una especie que florece y fructifica todo el año: Heliotropium angiospermum (alacrancillo). Un total de 21 especies presentan sincronía, al coincidir ambos períodos fenológicos en la misma etapa reproductiva.

Palabras clave: Estudios de percepción etnobotánica; Fenología reproductiva; Plantas medicinales.


Com base em estudos etnobotânicos realizados na comunidade de Verraco, pertencente à Reserva da Biosfera de Baconao, província de Santiago de Cuba, foram identificados in situ os componentes da flora utilizada na medicina natural e tradicional, e foi determinada a fenologia reprodutiva de cada uma das espécies identificadas. O objectivo do trabalho era apresentar os padrões de floração e frutificação das espécies da flora que são componentes da medicina natural e tradicional na comunidade costeira de Verraco, que pertence à Reserva da Biosfera de Baconao. Foi registado um total de 82 espécies de plantas floríferas utilizadas pela comunidade para a medicina natural e tradicional, que estão agrupadas em 75 géneros e 49 famílias botânicas. Do total das espécies estudadas, 46 % (38) foram registadas com flores e frutos, enquanto apenas 12 % (10) e 39 % (32) foram determinadas nas fases de floração e frutificação, respectivamente. Do total das espécies, apenas quatro são endémicas e 24 % são naturalizadas, enquanto 19 % correspondem a espécies não indígenas, mas possivelmente naturalizadas. Quarenta espécies florescem, coincidindo com a estação das chuvas, enquanto 36 dão frutos durante o mesmo período. Na fase seca ou de baixa pluviosidade, foi registado um total de 57 espécies para florescer neste período. Um total de 27 espécies apresentam uma floração de mais de quatro meses, enquanto 21 espécies dão frutos numa fase semelhante no tempo. Apenas uma espécie foi registada que floresce e dá frutos durante todo o ano: Heliotropium angiospermum (escorpiãocinho). Um total de 21 espécies apresentam sincronia, já que ambos os períodos fenológicos coincidem na mesma fase reprodutiva.

Palavras-chave: Estudos de percepção etnobotânica; Fenologia reprodutiva; Plantas medicinais.


The phenology of plant species is one of the main studies to be carried out to understand the flora of an ecosystem (Ortiz, 1990). Phenological studies in general, and especially the flowering and fruiting phases, are essential to determine the optimal time to collect seeds and thus guarantee the management of medicinal, forest, food, melliferous and other species, contributing to possible conservation programs. (Albert-Puentes et al., 1995).

Several ethnobotanical studies have been carried out in various coastal communities in the country, with emphasis on the use of traditional medicine in Cuba, including those of Rosette et al. (2019) and Polanco et al., (2011), for the Guanahacabibes and Baconao Biosphere Reserves, respectively; among others Vilamajó (1984, 1985), Vilamajó and Menéndez (1988), Figueredo et al., (2010), Figueredo et al., (2013). The aim of the work was to publicize the flowering and fruiting patterns of flora species that are components of natural and traditional medicine in the coastal community of Verraco, part of the Baconao Biosphere Reserve.

The population's knowledge and monitoring of the phenology of flora components in the use of natural and traditional medicine enables them to make appropriate use of plants for the treatment and cure of different conditions, and allows them to draw up strategies for the appropriate sowing and cultivation of these species.



Based on the ethnobotanical studies carried out in the community of Verraco by Polanco et al., (2011), and on the floristic list of Figueredo et al., (2013), the components of the flora that are used in natural and traditional medicine were selected and their phenology was determined in situ, especially the flowering and fruiting phases of each of the identified species, according to the methodology of Albert-Puentes et al., (1993ª).

Monthly monitoring was carried out between 2015 and 2016 in the community of Verraco, located in the geographical coordinates X: 639 080, Y: 139 020, belonging to the Baconao Biosphere Reserve, province of Santiago de Cuba, and the phenological field observations were complemented with reviews of materials belonging to the Spermatophyte Section of the Herbarium BSC "Dr. Jorge Sierra Calzado" of the Centro Oriental de Ecosistemas y Biodiversidad of Santiago de Cuba, noting the phenological data.

As for the duration of flowering and fruiting, the species were classified according to Castillo and Carabias (1982) as:

According to the flowering period, the criteria of Sarmiento and Monasterio (1983) were followed, where:

For the analysis of the distribution of plant species and the updating of taxonomic nomenclature, the criteria of Greuter and Rankin were followed (2017).



According to the ethnobotanical perception studies carried out in the community of Verraco, a total of 82 species of flowering plants (angiosperms) were recorded, which are used by the community for the use of natural and traditional medicine, which are grouped into 75 genera and 49 botanical families (Table 1).

Table 1. - Phenology of the species with medicinal use by the Verraco community

Legend: AmC: Central América, AmN: North América (including México), AmS: South América (including Trinidad, Tobago, Curazao, Margarita, etc.), Art: Artemisa province, Bah: Bahamas, CA: Ciego de Ávila province, Cam: Camagüey province, Cay: Islas Caymán, Ci: Cienfuegos province, CuC: central Cuba, CuE: Easter Cuba, CuW: Western Cuba, Esp: Hispaniola, Gr: Granma province, Gu: Guantánamo province, Hab*: La Habana province, Ho: Holguín province, IJ: Pine Island, Ja: Jamaica, Mat: Matanzas province, May: Mayabeque province, Men: minor Antillas (including Virgens Island), PR*: Pinar del Río province, PRc: Puerto Rico, SS: Sancti Spíritus province, VC: Villa Clara province, VM: Old World (including Australia e Pacific Island), Endemic in Cuba, pointing by error, D: Present but doubtfully indigenous, N: naturalized, P: no indigenous but likely naturalized, C: widely cultivated, (C): Occasionally Cultivated or currently not cultivated, Jan: January, Feb: February, Mar: March, Ap: April, May: May, Jun: June, Aug: August, Sep: September, Oct: October, Nov: November, Dec: December.

These results are congruent with Polanco et al., (2011), Rosete et al., (2019), and Nina (2017), who in different ethnobotanical studies on the use of biodiversity for medicinal purposes report that community members use mainly curative and aromatic plant species to address certain health conditions, using not only those available in the natural environment, but also those grown in home gardens and farms, largely using arvenous species.

From the total number of species studied, 46 % (38) were recorded with flowers and fruits, while only 12 % (10) and 39 % (32) were determined in the flowering and fruiting stages, respectively (Table 1). According to Polanco et al., (2011), the fruits and flowers of medicinal plants represent, after the leaves, the organs most used by the inhabitants of this community to combat the various conditions and diseases.

The best represented botanical families are: Lamiaceae with seven species, followed by Asteraceae and Fabaceae with five, while the genera with the largest number of infra-generic taxa were Citrus (Rutaceae) with three species, followed by the genera Annona (Annonaceae), Bursera (Burseraceae), Jatropha (Euphorbiaceae), Plectranthus (Lamiaceae), and Solanum (Solanaceae), with two in each case. In ethnobotanical studies conducted in the community of Gran Piedra, Hernández (2001) reported the Fabaceae and Asteraceae families as the most represented for their medicinal uses.

From the total of species, only four are endemic: Acrocomia crispa C.F. Baker ex Becc, Vernonanthura havanensis (DC.) H. Rob., Protium cubense Urb. and Phyllanthus tenuicaulis Müll. Arg. subsp. tenuicaulis. 24 % of the identified species are naturalized (many of them are fruit trees), while 19 % correspond to non-indigenous but possibly naturalized species, according to Greuter and Rankin (2017). A total of eight species are cultivated.

There is a report on the floristic diversity of Verraco (Figueredo et al., 2013), where 57 % of the total plant species grow in the surroundings of the community and only 44 % are cultivated by the inhabitants.

Pelicié and Hernández (1985) obtained 91 % of endemism at the ethnobotanical level in that coastal sector (Verraco-Cazonal); later, in 1988, they updated the list of medicinal plants for that locality, identifying 59 species with 27 % of endemism.

According to Albert-Puentes et al., (1993), 40 species flowers during the rainy season from May to October, including Bromelia pinguin L. and Cyperus rotundus L., while 36 species bear fruit during the same period, such as Solanun torvum Sw. and Solanum americanum Mill., both of the family Solanaceae.

In the dry or low rainfall stage, a total of 57 species were recorded that bloom during this period, although many of them overlap this phenophase during the months of April and May, which mark the end of the dry stage and the beginning of the rainy stage (Bermúdez and Durán, 1991). The possible dependence of the phenological patterns on environmental factors, as well as their relationship with other plants and animals was pointed out by Ramírez and Brito (1987).

Figure 1 shows the categories of species according to the period in which they bloom, highlighting in this aspect the Late Blooming (FTA) with 31 species, followed by the opportunistic species (CP) with 24, those that bloom at any stage of the year.

For Opler et al., (1976), the phenological phases are closely related to rainfall, given that the seasonality in the tropics is fundamentally given by this climatic factor. Bawa et al., (1990) reported spatial and temporal variations in phenological patterns revealed in individual and community studies over two decades; however, the factors determining these patterns remain unknown (Bawa and NG., (1990).

Figure 1. - Species categories according to flowering period, FC: continuous flowering, FTE: early flowering,
FR: delayed flowering, FTA: late flowering, CP: opportunistic species

A plant may not develop all its phenological stages if it grows in different climatic conditions than its region of origin. Abu-Asab et al., (2001) report extensions of the flowering period in 89 species in the Washington DC area, analyzing 30-year records; correlating these observations directly with local increases in minimum temperatures.

According to Castillo and Carabias (1982), and as shown in Figure 2, a total of 45 species (55 % of the total recorded) were identified that bloom in a period of less than four months, as is the case of Argemone mexicana L. (Figure 3); that is, they could be defined as short-lived species. In the same category there are 26 species (32 % of the total recorded), whose fruiting stage does not exceed the same number of months.

Figure 2. - Species categories according to flowering and fruiting time. FLC: short period flowering,
FLL: long period flowering, FRC: short period fruiting, FRL: long period fruiting

A total of 27 species have a long flowering period and 21 species bear fruit over a period of more than 4 months, as they are: Nasturtium officinale W. T Aiton, Cassia grandis L., Mangifera indica L., among others; many of them are edible and cultivated. Only one species has been recorded that flowers and bears fruit all year round: Heliotropium angiospermum Murria.

Some species are recorded that overlap both phenological periods: Dicliptera sexangularis (L.) Juss, from January to September and C. rotundus, from May to October; both are herbaceous species. Other species, such as Cocos nucifera Lin., and Trichilia hirta L. (Figure 4), present their flowering and fruiting phases in the same period, although the latter presents several fruiting peaks (Table 1).

Figure 3. - Argemone mexicana L.

Figure 4. - Trichillia hirta L.

Other authors, such as Albert-Puentes et al. (1993), carried out phenological studies where they obtained similar results of overlapping with T. hirta (Figure 4) and other tree species such as: Prunus occidentalis Sw. and Matayba apetala f. oppositifolia (A. Rich.) Radlk. Similar fruiting patterns were found by Sanchez et al. (2009) for species analogous to those reported in these localities.

A total of 21 species are synchronized, that is, they flower and bear fruit at the same time, at the same time, as they are: Bursera graveolens Triana & Planch , and Plantago major L.; Augspurger (1983) defined synchronism as an escape of plants from flower predators and then from seeds, so it is an adaptive strategy for successful pollination and seed dispersal (Steven et al., 1987).

For Castillo and Carabias (1982), one aspect to take into account is the variability of phenological patterns (not only between species and years, but between individuals of the same species, so that not all individuals belonging to the same species flower and bear fruit simultaneously, and sometimes not even in the same year).

Bursera simaruba (L.) Sarg. (seedling), extends its flowering for nine months, while fructification is recorded for six months. These results show a very different behavior to the ones obtained by Hechavarría et al. (2000), in Itabo, Matanzas, where fruits are harvested only in July.

It is known that many species, such as Carica papaya L., are able to revert their reproductive habits in extreme conditions, which probably is a mechanism for the perpetuation of the species; for that reason it is important to complement the phenological observations in the field with the herbarium records, because according to Croat (1969) individuals can bloom in a year out of season, producing a lengthening of the period of the observed phenophase.



In the community of Verraco, Baconao Biosphere Reserve, 87 % and 61 % of the components of the flora for medicinal and traditional use are recorded with flowers and fruits, which enables the inhabitants, based on their knowledge of these plant phenophases, to make appropriate use of them for the treatment and cure of various conditions, and to be able to trace strategies for the planting and cultivation of these medicinal species


Thanks are due to the national project "Components of biological diversity used by Cuban families in natural and traditional medicine", which is part of the Natural and Traditional Medicine Program of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP), for its logistical support for the development of this research.



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Conflict of interests:
The authors declare not to have any interest conflicts.


Authors' contribution:
The authors have participated in the writing of the work and analysis of the documents.


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Copyright (c) 2020 Miguel Ángel Castell Puchades, Yenisei Revilla Gongora, Gustavo Polanco Durán, Yamila Baró Bou