Cuba touts the most impressive species diversity of any Caribbean island. Despite four centuries of devastating deforestation, extensive tracts remain cloaked in a dozen shades of tropical green. Coastal mangroves and wetlands, dry forest, scrubby pine forest, pockets of lowland rainforest and montane cloud forest, and desert-dry terrain supporting cacti are strewn like isles within an isle.
Cuba boasts more than 6,700 higher-plant species, of which some 3,180 are endemic and about 950 are endangered.
The countryside flares with color. Begonias, anthuriums, “Indian laburnum,” oleander, and poinsettia are common, as are mimosa, hibiscus, bright-pink morning glory, and bougainvillea in its rainbow assortment of riotous colors. Trees such as the vermilion flame-of-the-forest, purple jacaranda, blue rosewood, and yellow corteza amarilla all add their seasonal bouquet to the landscape.
Cuba’s national flower is the brilliant white, heady-scented mariposa, a native species of jasmine that became a symbol of rebellion and purity at the time of the wars for independence.
Cuba has several hundred known species of orchids. At any time of year dozens of species are in bloom, from sea level to the highest reaches of the Sierra Maestra. The greatest diversity exists in humid midelevation environments, where they are abundant as tropical epiphytes.
The majority of Cuba’s fauna species are invertebrates (mostly insects), with a great many species endemic to specific regions. Unique species and subspecies include the world’s smallest frog (Sminthillus limbatus) and smallest bird (the bee hummingbird, or zunzuncito); an endemic crocodile species; and unique, beautifully colored snails of the genus Polymita.