Aim of study: The objective of this work is to compare tree diversity and richness among one grown-shade coffee plantation (CAE) and two sites of montane cloud forests, one preserved (MCF1) and other perturbed (MCF2). We also develop an analysis of the importance of coffee plantations as a refuge of tree species, holding a potential role for conservation. Area of study: Our study area is the coffee region of Coatepec-Xico, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. Material and Methods: We compiled a list of all tree species in each site to determine tree diversity and floristic similarity (dissimilarity). We used different similarity indices and a cluster analysis to show relations among sites. Main results: 2721 individuals from 154 species were registered in the montane cloud forests as a whole. In the grown-shade coffee plantation we registered 2947 individuals from 64 species. The most similar sites were the perturbed montane cloud forest and the grown-shade coffee plantation and the least similar were the preserved montane cloud forest and the grown-shade coffee plantation. The high biodiversity found in all sites and the differences in tree composition between the two montane cloud forests supports evidence of the ecosystems richness in the region. Research highlights: Diversity differences among sites determine that the grown-shade coffee plantation is not substitute for montane cloud forest. CAE’s are developed under similar environmental conditions than the MCF; therefore, coexistence and recombination (replacement) of species make them particularly complementary. CAE’s in Veracruz have a potential role as refuge for biodiversity.