Botanizing in Cuba

Botanists in Cuba

La Sallian Brothers Lèon and Marie-Victorin

By Janet Mosely


8369 Brother Leon at Harvard House

Brother Lèon (standing on the left with hat in hand) and others in front of the Harvard House at Soledad Garden. Harvard House was built in 1924 to serve as a headquarters, laboratory and herbarium for visiting scientists. February, 1939.

8370 Seedlings on specimen case
Seedlings arranged on Brother Marie-Victorin's specimen case. Notes on the original photo indicate these are a group of xerophytes - plants resistant to drought - collected on the Isle of Pines and include Zamia silicea. February 1939.
Trough made from Colpothrinax wrightii
A water trough made from a hollowed trunk of a Colpothrinax wrightii on the Isle of Pines. February, 1939..
8377 Dr. Francis E. Lloyd
Dr. Francis E. Lloyd (1868-1947) was an American botanist and cytologist who taught at several universities including McGill in Montreal, Harvard and Teachers College at Columbia University.

David Fairchild traveled to Cuba at least three times: in 1933, 1935 and 1939. The Fairchild Archives contain 165 photos from these trips, which have been scanned and indexed. Of these, 78 were taken during a February 1939 trip to visit the Harvard Botanical Garden at Soledad (about 45 minutes outside the city of Cienfuegos) and the Isle of Pines (now known as Isla de la Juventud). Marian Fairchild and Anne Archbold accompanied Fairchild. Dr. Thomas Barbour, his longtime colleague and the custodian of Soledad Garden (as the Harvard Garden was known), hosted them. From the photo indexing, it appears that botanists Dr. Elmer D. Merrill and Dr. Francis E. Lloyd also joined them on the trip.

This trip coincided with the first of seven expeditions to study Cuban flora undertaken by famed botanists Brother Marie-Victorin and Brother Lèon. Brother Lèon (1871-1955) was a French botanist specializing in the flora of Cuba. Shortly before the 1939 trip, Harvard appointed Lèon and his assistant Josè Perez Carabia as official collaborators of the Soledad Garden. Brother Marie-Victorin (1855-1944) was a professor of botany at the University of Montreal and is known as the father of the Montreal Botanical Garden. Both men were members of the LaSallian order of Frères des ècoles chretiennes or Brothers of the Christian Schools. They had been corresponding for 30 years when Lèon was finally able to convince Marie-Victorin to visit Cuba. From then on, every winter from 1938 to 1944, Lèon and Marie-Victorin explored almost the entirety of the island nation.

Marie-Victorin's death in an automobile accident in 1944 brought an end to their collaboration on Cuba's flora. Using the results of their extensive fieldwork and building on the work of earlier botanists, Lèon went on to publish two volumes of a Flora of Cuba in 1947 and 1951.

An accomplished photographer, Marie-Victorin has 26 photos in the archive's David Fairchild Collection, some of which are included here. In 2008-2011, the Montreal Botanic Garden created a virtual exhibit entitled "Under the Cuban Sun with Marie-Victorin" and included photos from the Fairchild Archive.

All photos by Brother Marie-Victorin, David Fairchild Collection, FTBG/Archives.

A stand of Colphthrinax palms

A stand of Colphothrinax palms on the Isle of Pines. February 1939.

Young girl with Aechmea nudicaulis 8375 Jose Perez Carabia
Young girl posing with Aechmea nudicaulis at San Miguel de los Banos, a seaside resort on the Isle of Pines. Brother Marie-Victorin wrote that this was one of the most remarkable terrestrial bromeliads in Cuba.

 The man on the left with the tree fern is believed to be Josè Perez Carabia. Isle of Pines. February, 1939.


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