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Arnold Arboretum

Cienfuegos Botanical Garden, Cuba

Map of Cienfuegos Botanical Garden

View images of the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden taken during the past several decades by clicking on the links above. In the near future, this collection from the Arnold Arboretum archives will be available through Harvard’s Visual Information Access (VIA) catalog.

A history of the garden

The Atkins Institution, located in Cienfuegos, Cuba, became a center for tropical plant research in the early 1900s. It combined research on sugar and other commercial crops with a tropical garden that included thousands of species.

A 1899 meeting between Edwin Atkins, an American sugar planter in Cuba, and Harvard Professors Oakes Ames and George Goodale, established The Harvard Botanic Station for Tropical Research and Sugar Cane Investigation. Mr. Atkins funded the services of Robert M. Grey, a noted horticulturist employed by Professor Ames. Grey focused on the hybridization of sugar cane as well as organizing the planting of trees and plants imported from tropical areas around the world.

In 1920, the ties between the garden and Harvard became more formal with a large endowment provided by Atkins and the recognition of the garden as part of the University. In 1924 the Harvard Biological Laboratory was constructed at the garden. In 1932, administration of the garden was transferred to the Arnold Arboretum and it was officially named the Atkins Institution of the Arnold Arboretum. During the 1930s, the garden reached its peak of beauty and diversity as a tropical arboretum. The garden was used by professors, students and visiting fellows to study tropical botany, and was tended to by local citizens who made up the grounds crew. 

In 1946, the Arnold Arboretum’s administration of the garden ended, the first resident director, Dr. Arthur G. Kevorkian was appointed, and it was renamed the Atkins Garden and Research Laboratory.  As a tropical agricultural research facility it developed more productive varieties of grains and fruits while becoming a popular tourist attraction.

With the Cuban revolution in 1959, conditions became difficult for travel and for maintenance of the Atkins Garden, and in 1962 the U.S. embargo restricted American involvement. The director, Dr. Duncan Clement, left Cuba in 1961 and Harvard terminated its support. The garden is now known as the Cienfuegos Botanical Garden.  It is run by the Cuban government and is both a National Monument and a popular tourist destination.

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