Scientific research began on the base almost immediately after it was founded in 1903. Brian Boom, director of the Caribbean Biodiversity Program at the New York Botanical Garden, says the NYBG has been doing plant studies at the base for just over a century. "The Botanical Garden's founding director, Dr. N.L. Britton, made some important collections there just over a century ago, in 1909," Boom says. In the photo above, Britton is pictured among specimens of the organ pipe cactus (Lemaireocereus hystrix), on a Botanical Garden expedition to the base. "Some of the plant species he found there are today apparently very rare or even extinct outside of the boundaries of the base," Boom adds.
The botanist Alberto Areces, formerly of the NYBG and currently the director of Parque Dona Ines in San Juan, Puerto Rico, agrees. Areces, who was born in Cuba, has studied cacti at Guantanamo. In a published interview, Areces says that he has found the most primitive genus of the cactus family on the base. He has seen species on Guantanamo that he has never seen off the base in "Cuba proper."
Image: LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden