Mauritius Endemic Plants

Maybe it comes as a surprise to you, that all those big colourful flowers growing in gardens around Mauritius like Gardenias, Jacaranda, almost all kinds of Hibiscus, Plumeria, Bougainvillea, Allamanda, and even Camellia, are not endemic to our island. Neither are plants such as Lemon- grass, Vanilla, Ylang Ylang or fruit trees such as Banana, Mango, Guava or Pawpaw: They have been imported by eager botanists such as Frenchman Pierre Poivre under the tutelage of Governor Mahe de Labourdonnais or brought in by the English from countries like China, India, Malaysia, Peru or even the Pacific Islands. It was very fashionable at those times to cultivate rare plants from far away and this as well as the immigrants favourite plants, which they took along on the grand voyage to their new homelands as seeds or saplings, is still reflected in the flora of Mauritius today. The following is a small introduction to Mauritius' endemic plants and how you can meet them. Portrait of Pierre Poivre
Portrait of Pierre Poivre A French Botanist
Dodo Skeleton Natural History Museum London England
Dodo Skeleton Natural History Museum London England

An island in the middle of a vast Ocean, untouched for many millennia. A population of unique plants and flowers, developed over a huge amount of time, protected from large herbivores and human destruction due to its isolated location. An island called Mauritius by the ones who came from afar to conquer its rare beauty and host of unique endemic plant life. Only after they took possession of it, a rapid decline of nature life began which went hand in hand with the disappearance of endemic animals such as the famous Dodo. Alas, the existence of animals can be proven long after they have gone with the excavation of bones and feathers; whereas from plants very often nothing remains at all.

So while we'll never know how many flowering plants once inhabited Mauritius, currently, about 677 species can be counted on the island with 277 existing only there and 147 exclusively found in the Mascarene Islands. More than a third of them figure on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list, and are classified as being critically threatened or endangered.
However, after having lived an almost clandestine life, hidden in the most inaccessible regions, the island's endemic species are finally on their way to being recognised and appreciated on an international level.

This in part thanks to the works of Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, a dedicated specialist, a winner of international prizes such as the L'Oreal-UNESCO prize for "women in science" and who is now the President of The Republic of Mauritius; but also to the many workers at the regional forestry offices and last but not least to the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation. Part-government organisation, the latter has been entrusted with the care of several islets off the coast of Mauritius and turned one of them into a wonderful nature site, where endemic plant life has been restored and visitors may find the last coastal ebony forest, its trees clinging to a thin layer of top soil deposited over the millennia on a huge coral block in the Bay of Mahebourg.

Ile aux Aigrettes shows the state in which Mauritius once was, before it was stripped bare of ancient forest and unique fauna and flora to make room for houses, roads and agriculture; predominantly for sugar cane fields. Today, only 1% of the endemic forest which covered Mauritius like a blanket 200 years ago is left. On Ile aux Aigrettes, scientists from all over the world collaborating with local nature lovers, have set up a plant nursery which furnishes not only the entire island of Mauritius, but also neighbouring Rodrigues with seeds and saplings.

Professor Ameenah Gurib-Fakim The L'Oreal-UNESCO Winner
President and the winner of L'Oreal-UNESCO Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
black river gorges national park mauritius
Black River Gorges National Park Mauritius

All in all there are 15 Nature Reserves, on and around the island. The smallest ones are situated in the Tamarin Falls region and close by sacred Lake Ganga Talao. Several are located on the islets off the coast, and others can be found on the slopes of Landmark Mountains Le Pouce and Corps de Garde, or down south at Combo near Souillac. Two of them, the largest one stretching from Mare Longue Reservoir to Plaine Champagne and al of Round Island are scientific reserves with permission granted only to bearers of a special permit.
The Black River Gorges National Park is not only the Mauritian's favourite weekend spot, but also the place where some huge ancient ebony trees stand tall still today, where rare Bois Colophane Batard trees blossom with flowers sprouting directly out of their trunks, where endemic orchids can be spotted all year round and where once believed to be extinct birds hide in the branches of botanical rarities like Tetratraxis Salicifolias, while eager conservationists and dedicated park rangers work hard to keep invasive species out and endemic species thriving.

It can truly be said that endemic plants are becoming very popular on their native island once again, finding access into hotel gardens, and being sold by specialised nurseries such as Endemika in the far north.
Even the managers of the famous Botanical Gardens in Pamplemousses, where plants imported from all parts of the world are proudly exhibited, have created an endemic section containing a number of rare pandanus species and predominantly some Trochetia bushes, planted right in front of the château. Trochetia, after all, is considered to be Mauritius' National Flower but it remains a well hidden treasure. Just like the orange-coloured endemic hibiscus commonly called Mandrinette and extremely rare Bois Chevre, its two pink blossomed species, which look like sprinkled with fairy-dust, grow well hidden on the inaccessible heights of Le Morne Mountain or La Tourelle above Tamarin.
In the botanical garden of Curepipe, the “loneliest palm tree” or Hyophorbe Amaricaulis can be visited, greatly appreciated and regarded as the last of its species, standing lonely and a bit forlorn, dreaming it seems, about the old and golden days, when company was plentiful and life was sweet.

Pamplemousses Botanical Garden Mauritius
Pamplemousses Botanical Garden Mauritius
Ilot Gabriel and Flat Island Mauritius
Ilot Gabriel and Flat Island Mauritius

Who wants to see another last stand of a real endemic treasure must go on a boat and brave the waters between the northernmost tip of Mauritius and Ilot Gabriel, a tiny islet separated by a channel from neighbouring Flat Island. Contradicting the name of its place of origin – or perhaps the last remnants of a once flourishing population extending over both small islands, the two varieties of Baume de l'Isle Plate or Psidia are remarkable for the sticky texture of its leaves, and also for the fact that they only grow on such a remote place and nowhere else in the world.  Rare endemic screw pines grow along the coastline of the islands. Thankfully both of these rare species have survived the transfer of the tiny island into the hands of a private entrepreneur, who cut down dozens of rare Bois de Ronde trees, had the nests of white tailed tropical bird removed with the  flightless chicks still in them and caused an uproar amongst the population.

At last, it must be emphasised that many of the endemic plants have been traditionally used as healing herbs for many generations; namely Bois de Ronde, which has strong diuretic properties and is even known to eliminate kidney stones, and Baume de l'ile Plate, which is strongly expectorant when taken as a tea and releases stress when ingested as a flower essence. National flower Trochetia has also been made up into a flower essence and is known to cure trauma and emotional pain. Books have been written about the wonderful qualities of the endemic plants of Mauritius and visitors will certainly be enchanted by their beauty and the magical environment in which they grow: Island treasures indeed! Bois De Ronde Erythroxylum Laurifolium
Bois De Ronde (Erythroxylum Laurifolium) An Endemic Plant